Fads, even when they are founded in something really good, always have backlash. It doesn’t matter whether the fad is righteous (consider not eating your body weight in meat) or dubious (stirrup pants). Even backlash backlash. In that spirit, the Food Police have been cracking down on Cannabinadiol, one of the active compounds in hemp (and hemp’s psychoactive relative marijuana). If this is confusing to you, you’re not alone. Yes, CBD is generally legal (in 47 states. Idaho, South Dakota and Nebraska, if you want alternatives to your anti-anxiety meds, sleep aids, anticonvulsant therapies, antidepressants and mood stabilizers, write your Congressmember.) And no, CBD is not psychoactive (though it is bioactive, as are coffee and turmeric and chocolate). Given that, you might be wondering why Health Departments would be coming down on bars and restaurants that put it in menu items.
The basic answer is state legality isn’t Federal legality and there are not currently clear overarching FDA guidelines designating CBD as an “approved food additive.” Are there clear health related reasons why that doesn’t exist? Not affirmatively. Like, you know how there’s a huge volume of data on the explicit health risks from alcohol (or tobacco) but yet these things are still legal? There is no equivalent data, scientific or anecdotal, suggesting CBD is potentially harmful. They just don’t have a huge pile of paper saying it definitely isn’t. If you’re thinking “Well, broccoli doesn’t have affirmative approval as a food additive and yet here I am adding it to my dinner,” you’re not alone.
Do we need to ensure our food additives and supplements are safe to use? Sure. Do we need regulation based on sound research? I won’t say we don’t. Do we need this to be enforced on CBD versus any of a million other additives and supplements that might or might not be safe or effective? Might-could depend whether we’re defining “need” as “feeling economically threatened by a plant substance that cannot be patented and might be as effective or more effective than pharmacological alternatives.”
It’s all enough to make a person a little cynical, really, so in an effort to cut through the noise, I spoke with Andrea Drummer, a cannabis cuisine expert and Food and Beverage Advisor for CannabisMD, about how the F&B landscape has changed with the rise of CBD, and how it’s changing again as food safety agencies descend on CBD with their talons extended. As you might imagine, it’s a complex… well, cocktail. “There’s still so much research to do,” she said, adding that failing to acknowledge that reality would ultimately threaten the mission of legitimizing a medicinal plant whose healing potential currently appears almost limitless.
People have been consuming cannabis for like 8000 years and mixing it with alcohol for probably just as long. With respect to extracted CBD, is it correct to say there are no known interactions with alcohol that would make mixing them clinically significant?
Andrea Drummer: Due to federal regulations not allowing for more scientific research on cannabis because it is a schedule 1 drug, there isn’t conclusive scientific evidence about the effects of CBD and alcohol interactions. There is limited research that shows that those who consumed CBD and alcohol had lower blood alcohol levels than those who consumed alcohol alone. However, since both products are relaxants, it is possible that using both together can make the effect more intense. The lesson is that there really need to be more studies, and laws need to be changed to allow for further research. Perhaps now that the Farm Bill has passed, as it relates to CBD, more research will be forthcoming.
Are there attributes to CBD that could, even theoretically, provoke a contraindication with alcohol? Or an enhancement for that matter – like caffeine is thought to improve the bioavailablity of MCT oil, and for that matter black pepper improves the bioavailability of curcumin.
AD: Research from Free Radical Biology & Medicine showed that rodents that ingested CBD 30 minutes before ingesting alcohol were less likely to experience alcohol-induced oxidative damage in the liver than those that didn’t have the CBD. While they’re just animal studies, experts think they’re quite telling. “Alcohol decreases autophagy [degradation of damaged cells] in the liver, causing fat to accumulate in the liver and therefore cause fatty liver, inflammation, and hepatitis,” Soyona Rafatja, a New York-based functional and integrative family medicine physician, explains. “CBD does the opposite, spurring damaged cells to degenerate, which can counteract alcohol’s effects.”
When most people discuss bioavailability of CBD, it typically refers to the method in which it is ingested (topical intravenous, edible, sublingual, or vaping). However, there are certain foods co-administering CBD with medium and long-chain triglycerides (fatty acids) such as coconut oil, olive oil, and nuts, that can improve its effectiveness – essentially fatty foods that allow the CBD to bind to them and better pass through the digestive system without being completely broken down.
Funny you should mention caffeine because caffeine and CBD go really well together. In fact, caffeine and a low dose of CBD can actually give you a boost that is much longer than just your morning cup of joe, potentially lasting all day rather than a few hours.
The bottom line is: A dropperful of CBD tincture in your cocktail is not the same as inhaling or ingesting whole cannabis, just like taking a vitamin C tablet is not the same as eating an orange. CBD can theoretically improve a host of physical and psychological unpleasantness (it has proven or significantly likely applications for insomnia, chronic pain, mood disorders and neurological disease for starters). And like anything that influences the chemistry of human bodies, there are amounts that are beneficial, amounts that are pointlessly large meaning you don’t benefit more from consuming more-and there are possibly amounts that are the opposite of beneficial and those might vary person to person because bodies are not identical. You can lethally overdose on water, so it’s reasonable to assume you can also “overdose” on CBD, but you’re very unlikely to do either one.
If you’ve never taken CBD before it’s probably worth trying it alone and seeing if it, for example, fills you with an urgent and extreme need for a nap. It probably won’t, but “relaxing” is one of its purported effects so it’s worth finding out if you are very sensitive to it. If you are, expect the effect to be amplified by alcohol. If you’re not, it seems likely that adding a few drops of CBD to a gin cocktail won’t produce a completely different effect than a regular old shot of gin.
In the end, the “should I put CBD in my drinkiepoo?” question kind of comes down to asking yourself what you want from it. If it’s the compound’s anti-inflammatory painkilling nature, it’s worth noting that alcohol is highly pro-inflammatory and might erase some of the benefits. If your issue is anxiety or insomnia or both, you might want to get real about the fact that alcohol is an antagonist in both of those battles too. If your deal is wanting to experiment with buzz-nuance, that’s reasonable, and a CBD element will theoretically modulate the feeling of a couple of drinks, making it more mellow and contemplative. (I have not personally noticed a markedly different effect, but that doesn’t mean you won’t.) As Drummer points out, research is suggesting CBD-enhanced cocktails might result in a lower blood alcohol level than the same amount of alcohol alone. But I wouldn’t assume that translates to safe driving or a get out of jail card on hangovers, because it almost certainly doesn’t. Some people posit that combining the two causes amplified lowering of inhibitions (but I wouldn’t assume that’s really the case either). Evidence also suggests significant neuroprotective qualities in CBD, suggesting that it could buffer or counteract potential neuro-degradation from drinkin’. That said, a better plan is to be moderate with alcohol in the first place, because it is legitimately toxic in large amounts.
As far as a thumbs up or down on CBD cocktails generally, Drummer has made more than a few in her time, but she said she prefers a “mocktail” approach (a non-alcoholic riff on the Bellini is a favorite of hers). Whether you take it alone or add it to your after-work libation, it seems that CBD has a lot of potential and that there’s a reason so many people swear by it. But research is ongoing, even for a plant that’s been cultivated and consumed for at least 8000 years, so do your homework, and if you can cultivate Andrea Drummer-grade patience and sanguinity, so much the better, because government fishtailing on the subject of its efficacy and safety will probably keep going for quite a long time.
And for anyone interested in CBD for the home bar, my current draft pick is MedTerra, among other reasons because their CBD oil is remarkably neutral in taste and scent, so it will disappear into a drink with ease. The company seems solid, the product is made in the USA, and it’s one of the only CBD products I’ve sampled that made a noticeable difference in my sleep quality. Mileage will always vary so be prepared to shop around.