Mixing Alcohol and Marijuana

Alcohol is the most commonly used drug in the world, with over 90% of Global Drug Survey respondents saying they have used alcohol in the past year. It is no surprise with the fact that it is legal, accessible, addictive, and an accepted part of society. Alcohol is also the most common drug associated with emergency room visits. Although many drinkers do not use other drugs, it is common for someone drinking alcohol to also smoke tobacco or marijuana. Following alcohol’s 90% global use, tobacco is second at 58% and cannabis comes in third at 48%.

There is a known association with drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes: those who drink are much more likely to smoke and those who smoke are much more likely to drink. But is it the same for marijuana smokers? The answer is yes. If someone uses alcohol, they are more likely to use marijuana in the same day and if someone uses marijuana, they are more likely to use alcohol in the same day. Alcohol is legal and marijuana is legal in many states across America. Does that mean it is safe to consume both substances at the same time? While you may not be breaking the law, you could be putting yourself at risk.

History of Marijuana

Use of the cannabis plant originated in Asia around 500 B.C., where it was used as herbal medicine and for spiritual purposes. One professor from the University of Kansas says Vikings and medieval Germans also used it to relieve pain in childbirth or from toothaches. Cannabis was first grown in America to be used as hemp. Hemp was used to make clothing, paper products, sails, and ropes. It wasn’t until the 1800s that doctors started using it as a pain reliever again. In America and Europe, cannabis extracts were mainly used as a way to treat stomach aches, and it was discovered that the chemical Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) was what provided the psychoactive elements of the plant.

Marijuana was not used recreationally in the US until the 1900s when Mexican immigrants introduced smoking the plant. As the prohibition era arrived, Marijuana was slowly outlawed throughout America, and the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 criminalized marijuana across the country. In 1970, the War on Drugs was signed into law, listing marijuana as a schedule I drug. This put marijuana in the same category as ecstasy and heroin and made it illegal to use medicinally. In the 1970s, marijuana started being used by college students, and the outlook on the plant started to change.

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The Compassionate Use Act of 1996 made California the first state to legalize medicinal marijuana for people with severe illnesses. Over the years, more states began legalizing cannabis for medical purposes. In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana. As of January 2020, recreational marijuana use is legal in Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia. In November 2020, New Jersey will be voting on recreational use and other states are expected to follow suit in the future.

The Effects of Marijuana

Smoking or ingesting marijuana causes THC and other chemicals to pass through the bloodstream and to the brain. When smoked, the user will feel the effects almost immediately, but when ingested, it can take an hour for effects to appear. The most common effects are euphoria and relaxation, but users may also have an increased appetite, an altered perception of time, paranoia, anxiety, or panic. The negative effects typically appear when a person has consumed more THC than intended.

The areas of the brain that are affected by THC are the areas that influence memory, concentration, coordination, movement, pleasure, and sensory and time perception. Because of the impact on the hippocampus and orbitofrontal cortex, consuming marijuana can interfere with memory and cause impaired thinking. A person high on marijuana will have difficulty learning and performing complicated tasks. These effects might be heightened if alcohol is consumed as well.

Dangers of Mixing Alcohol and Marijuana

When someone consumes marijuana after drinking alcohol, the absorption of THC will be increased. This could result in feeling stronger effects from the marijuana and unpleasant symptoms such as dizziness, sweating, and nausea and vomiting. There have been studies that demonstrate that people who drink alcohol and then smoke marijuana may have a higher dose of THC, compared to people who had no alcohol. People who both drink and smoke tend to use more of both substances than those who only use one substance. This could lead to a dependence on alcohol or marijuana.

Alcohol can heighten the feeling of marijuana, but sometimes marijuana can mask how impaired someone feels from alcohol. The minimized effects of alcohol might lead someone to believe they are capable of driving, when in reality their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is above the legal limit. In a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, researchers studied performance in a driving simulator for people who consumed alcohol alone, marijuana alone, and alcohol and marijuana together. The group that consumed alcohol and marijuana together were more impaired than the other groups.

Mixing substances together can be dangerous, regardless of what the substance is. Not only can mixing alcohol and marijuana lead to unpleasant side effects, it might lead to abuse of these substances and developing an addiction. For help with an alcohol use disorder or multiple addictions, contact a treatment specialist for information on treatment options.

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