“Thanks for coming to our school – I didn’t quite know how to ask you this one in front of everyone. I keep hearing the line ‘Beer and grass, you’re on your arse, grass and beer, you’re in the clear’ – if you smoke weed before you drink if that better for you?”
This simple rhyme has been around for a long time and is one of the top questions I get asked in schools by young men in relation to illicit drugs. It’s not a surprise that it is asked so often as the combination of alcohol and cannabis is without doubt the most popular ‘mix’ of drugs amongst young people.
Cannabis, also known as marijuana, grass, weed, hash, ganga, mull, hooch, and spin, is a drug that most young people will come into contact with at some point in their life. There are a range of risks associated with using cannabis, some of which are far greater if you use the drug when you are young. Smoking cannabis holds many of the same risks associated with smoking any drug, including cancer and respiratory disease. There is also some evidence to suggest that regular use can decrease memory and learning abilities. There are also issues around the drug’s impact upon mental health, particularly for those with a family history of such problems.
People who mix cannabis and alcohol (or any combinations of drugs) usually do it to get more ‘out of it’ or more drug-affected, often because they believe that the second drug will increase the effect of the first. One of the greatest problems that people appear to experience when they mix these two drugs is ‘greening out’ (also sometimes called ‘whiting out’). This is where people, for reasons that we don’t fully understand and cannot predict, feel physically sick after smoking cannabis. They may go pale or even ‘green’ (or ‘white’); feel sweaty and dizzy; experience nausea and even throw up in some cases; and they may have to lie down, but even then, they still don’t feel particularly well.
Like any drug, cannabis is unpredictable, even if someone uses it many times, there is always the possibility that something could go wrong. So what about the old saying, ‘beer and grass, you’re on your arse, grass and beer, you’re in the clear’ – is it true? Will smoking weed first, before drinking alcohol, make the experience a safer one?
Although the effects are not totally predictable, it does seem that you’re more likely to have a bad reaction if you drink and then puff on a bong than if you smoke and then drink. Anecdotally, many cannabis smokers say that the ‘greening out’ effect is far more likely to happen if they have a smoke after they’ve been drinking. Some research has found that when you have alcohol in your blood, it enables you to absorb THC (the part of cannabis that gets you stoned) faster. So even though you have what is a normal amount of cannabis for you, because you have drunk alcohol, it gets absorbed too quickly and can result in a much stronger, and often far more unpleasant effect than usual. Interestingly, other research suggests that smoking cannabis can actually slow the absorption of alcohol, reducing the effects you feel from the alcohol.
So it would appear that the old saying is correct to a point. It needs to be remembered, however, that using one drug is risky and mixing two drugs together greatly increases the risk of something going wrong no matter what the rhyme says. It certainly doesn’t mean that either mix is risk-free!
First published: May 2015
Updated: March 2018