Chances are that you’ve thought about the safety of your marijuana consumption at some point in time. In broad strokes, general perceptions are that marijuana is much safer than drugs like cocaine, heroin, meth, and even alcohol.
However, what many people may not realize is that marijuana can interact with other drugs, and that taking them at the same time can lead to undesirable, and sometimes even dangerous, results.
Alcohol and marijuana are two of the most popular substances in the U.S. and across the globe, so it follows that the two are commonly taken at the same time. As it turns out, the two substances appear to go hand in hand when it comes to risk.
One study of 36,309 adults in the United States found that those who had consumed alcohol within the past year were six times more likely to report active marijuana use (Kerridge, Addict Behav, 2018). Other studies have shown that a majority of daily recreational marijuana users also binge drink alcohol (Hughes, Psychol Addict Behav, 2016).
Although using marijuana with alcohol does not lead to direct life-threatening interactions, there are particular dangers of co-use that are important to be aware of.
When combined, the effects of both alcohol and marijuana add up. This can be enjoyable with low doses and in safe settings, but if too high of a dose of either drug is consumed, the enhanced high can lead to an unpleasant sensation.
The informal term you may have heard in reference to this adverse reaction is being ‘crossfaded’, which can include symptoms like nausea or vomiting, head spinning, sweats, anxiety, paranoia. In extreme situations, this combination can even induce panic attacks or frightening hallucinations.
Additionally, marijuana has the ability to suppress the gag reflex, which can impair your body’s ability to vomit and remove excess alcohol when you’ve consumed too much. This opens the door to alcohol poisoning, which has a slew of potentially life-threatening effects, including seizures, trouble breathing, a slowed heart rate, and even coma, permanent brain damage, or death.
Brian Canfield, Ed.D.
Professor, Counselor Education at Florida Atlantic University. Founder of the International Association of Psychology and Counseling.
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