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Mixing Marijuana with Other Drugs or Alcohol: Its Effects and Health Risks

People commonly combine marijuana and alcohol, and as marijuana becomes legal for recreational purposes in many states, this practice is likely to increase. Both of these drugs have many similar effects, but act through different mechanisms. Both result in sedation, alterations in judgment, perceptual effects that include time distortions and even minor hallucinogenic effects, and physical effects that include slowed reflexes and decreased motor coordination. Marijuana affects the cannabinoid receptors in the brain, whereas alcohol primarily affects the neurotransmitters gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter) and NMDA (N-methyl-d-aspartate, an excitatory neurotransmitter). When these drugs are combined, particularly at high doses, the effects of both drugs are enhanced, and this can lead to some significant issues.

The Adverse Effects

  • Decreased judgment: Both alcohol and cannabis products can reduce one’s ability to think rationally. Because these drugs have synergistic effects, combining them can result in an increased potential to act impulsivity, have poor judgment, or engage in behaviors that can lead to accidents and serious consequences. One would also expect that combining these two drugs increases the potential for drug-related blackouts, memory issues, and long-term cognitive problems that are associated with the use of either drug.
  • Increased dehydration: Alcohol acts as a diuretic, meaning that it makes people lose water in their system. This happens due to numerous factors but one of the most well-known is that individuals who drink lots of alcohol urinate more frequently. Combining alcohol with cannabis could potentially exacerbate this effect. 
  • Overdose Potential: It is a well-known fact that when combining drugs of any kind with alcohol, there is an increased potential to overdose on either substance. Overdose on THC can very harmful, especially in younger people, but the overdose effects associated with alcohol are far more dangerous. Combining cannabis products and alcohol or other drugs can result in an increased potential for developing alcohol poisoning or suffering an overdose which is very serious and can obviously be fatal.
  • Intensified side effects: It is well known that using alcohol in conjunction with marijuana and other drugs intensifies the side effects that occur afterwards. Cannabis side effects can be numerous, including anxiety, hallucinations, and other issues mentioned above. Combining alcohol and drugs with cannabis products can result in increased potential for deleterious effects associated with cannabis, including a potential increase in allergic reactions.
  • Long-term effects: The health risks associated with mixing marijuana and alcohol or other drugs runs the gamut from cardiovascular issues, liver disease, kidney disease, gastrointestinal issues, cancer, and decreased functioning of the immune system. Hence, it can be surmised that chronically combining alcohol and drugs with cannabis products would be a viable risk factor that can increase the potential to develop any one or several of these specific conditions.
  • Psychological effects: Statistics show that chronic use of either of combining marijuana and other drugs or alcohol is strongly associated with having some other form of mental illness. What is more is that the chronic abuse of marijuana in conjunction with drugs/alcohol would also be associated with increased potential to be diagnosed with some other form of mental illness, such as depression, an eating disorder, or an anxiety disorder.

All in all, Individuals who have recovered from any type of substance use disorder are always at an increased risk for relapse; however, the risk for relapse decreases sharply after the individual has been abstinent for 5-7 years and maintained active participation in treatment-related activities. Nevertheless, lifelong participation in some form of treatment-related activities, such as peer support groups, is strongly recommended for individuals who are recovering from any form of substance use disorder.


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