Alcohol and cannabis are two substances commonly taken together recreationally to enhance the effects of one or both. However, mixing the two can lead to serious consequences, including a polysubstance use disorder.
What is a polysubstance use disorder?
A polysubstance use disorder refers to the abuse of more than one substance. This includes both illicit and legal substances. The primary reason for mixing substances is to intensify the effects on the brain and body. Using cannabis with alcohol is common because this combination results in quicker intoxication.
Should you mix alcohol and cannabis?
Mixing alcohol and cannabis is not recommended. While drinking alcohol in moderation is not considered a risk, combining it with even a small amount of cannabis can result in side effects that range from uncomfortable to life-threatening.
The effects of alcohol & cannabis
Illegal drugs like cannabis can be unpredictable at times, which is why mixing it with other substances carries a huge risk. When there is alcohol in the system, THC – the psychoactive ingredient found in cannabis – is absorbed into the bloodstream much quicker, causing any of the following effects:
- Change in mood
- Slurred speech
- Relaxed muscles
- Altered sense of time
- Increased sense of wellbeing
- Trouble with memory
- Excessive sweating
Combining the two drugs can amplify the side effects of each substance. You may also experience a quicker onset of the drug’s effects than you normally would, and in a more pronounced way. Cannabis impacts certain areas of the brain, including the ones that are responsible for memory and time perception.
What are the risks?
Abusing any substance can be detrimental to your physical and mental wellbeing, so using more than one only increases the potential of experiencing these risks. The side effects of mixing cannabis and alcohol include:
- Enhanced effects of THC
Alcohol is always metabolised first by the liver, so using cannabis while consuming alcohol means that the THC in your system will stay there, and the effects will continue to build up until it can be metabolised properly.
- Potential overdose
The risk of overdose is present with most substances, illicit or legal, so using more than one only increases the chances of this happening. A common misconception around cannabis is that it isn’t dangerous. However, while a fatal overdose is unlikely, this doesn’t mean it’s completely harmless. Excessive amounts of THC in the system can result in:
- Escalated heart rate
- Pale skin
- Paranoid thoughts or hallucinations
- Confusion or panic attacks
An alcohol overdose can be fatal and occurs as a result of alcohol poisoning, the risks of which are far higher when taken with other substances such as cannabis.
- Impaired judgment
Both alcohol and cannabis can negatively impact some of your body’s vital functions, such as motor skills, reaction time and cognitive abilities. Both substances are synergistic, which means that mixing them increases the potential of blackouts, memory issues, and long-term cognitive problems. Cannabis and alcohol can also affect your ability to think clearly and make rational decisions, leading you to engage in risky behaviours, the consequences of which can be dangerous.
- Severe dehydration
Due to its diuretic abilities, alcohol causes frequent urination and therefore loss of water from the body. Combining alcohol with cannabis could potentially exacerbate this effect. Dehydration can lead to heat exhaustion, low blood volume, seizures and even death.
- Intensified side effects
It’s well known that using alcohol in conjunction with any drug intensifies the side effects of that drug. There are numerous side effects associated with cannabis, including anxiety and hallucinations. When used with alcohol, there is a far greater potential of these occurring.
- Long-term effects
The long-term abuse of any substance can ultimately lead to an increased risk of developing irreversible health conditions, such as cardiovascular issues, liver disease, kidney disease, gastrointestinal issues, cancer, and decreased functioning of the immune system.
- Complicated physical dependence
If you’re using alcohol and cannabis together, you tend to use more of each. This can increase your risk of developing a dependence on alcohol, cannabis, or both and produce complicated issues if you go through withdrawal.
- Psychological effects
Frequent use of either alcohol or cannabis is strongly linked to the development of mental illness. With this in mind, it’s not unreasonable to assume that chronic abuse of both drugs would also increase the potential of being diagnosed with some other form of mental illness, such as depression or anxiety.
With alcohol comes an increased sense of confidence and wellbeing. This alone isn’t usually enough to cause any major harm; however, these effects can increase your chances of reckless behaviour such as drink driving and unprotected sex.
What shall I do if I overdose on alcohol and cannabis?
If you have been combining alcohol and cannabis and are concerned about some of the side effects that you are experiencing, it’s crucial that you seek medical advice immediately. Many people assume that an overdose means falling unconscious. However, there are other symptoms such as headaches, nausea and vomiting that could indicate a potential overdose. You should never ignore these signs because they don’t seem serious enough. If you find yourself in a position where you’re awaiting help it’s important you stay calm and keep hydrated.
Getting help for alcohol and cannabis addiction
If you’ve been mixing alcohol and cannabis, and are concerned about the effect this is having on your health and wellbeing, get in touch with CATCH Recovery to find out how we can help you begin your journey to sobriety.
You can call our admissions team for your free addiction assessment, and they will be able to advise you on the next steps.
Our clinic is based in South West London, which is accessible from anywhere in the UK. However, if you need additional support but don’t live in the South East of England, you may benefit from some of the outpatient services we offer. If you require residential rehab and are unable to travel to London, we also provide referrals to rehabs in other areas in the UK and Ireland.