The Dangers of Mixing Alcohol and Cannabis

The Dangers of Mixing Alcohol and Cannabis

Alcohol and cannabis are both widely used in the UK. In England, 82% of adults were found to have consumed alcohol over the past 12 months, with nearly half (49%) drinking at least once a week. More worryingly, 24% of adults in England and Scotland regularly drink over the Chief Medical Officer’s low-risk guidelines, and 27% of drinkers in Great Britain binge drink on their heaviest drinking days.

Cannabis is by far the most widely used illegal drug, with 7.6% (around 2.5 million people) using cannabis in the last year. Not everyone who drinks and uses cannabis mixes the two at the same time, but it is certainly not uncommon.

Drinking to excess and using cannabis both have their risks and potential harms. The dangers of alcohol and cannabis can be even more pronounced when they are used at the same time. It is important to understand these risks so that informed decisions can be made regarding substance use.

How Alcohol and Cannabis Affect the Body Separately

Alcohol and cannabis are both psychoactive substances. This means they affect how the brain works – causing changes in mood, awareness, thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Alcohol and cannabis effects have some similarities, but they are also very different drugs that work on the brain and body in different ways.

Alcohol Effects on the Body and Brain

Alcohol activates the pleasure or reward centres in the brain by triggering the release of neurotransmitters, including dopamine and serotonin. This means that drinking can produce a sense of well-being, relaxation, lowered inhibition and mild euphoria – feelings that many people crave when drinking alcohol. Heavier drinking can result in mood swings, aggression, anxiety and depressive thoughts.

This substance also acts as a depressant on the central nervous system and a mild anaesthetic. It can cause drowsiness, a lack of coordination, unsteadiness, slurred speech, nausea, sickness and blurred or double vision. Physiological changes can include flushing, sweating, tachycardia (increased heart rate) and increases in blood pressure. Alcohol also acts as a diuretic, making you pee more. This can dehydrate your body and contribute to hangovers.

Alcohol poisoning can happen when you drink more alcohol than your body can continue to process. It can lead to unconsciousness (passing out), severe impairment of mental and physical processes, seizures, heart failure, difficulty breathing and (in severe cases) even death due to suppression of vital life functions.5

Long-term alcohol misuse can damage pretty much every part of the body and is associated with a number of severe health conditions, including liver disease, heart disease and several types of cancer. It is also associated with mental health issues, including depression and anxiety.6

Cannabis Effects on the Body and Brain

Cannabis works by affecting cannabinoid receptors that are present in the brain and many organs. The two main active ingredients are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the psychoactive compound that results in the cannabis ‘high’.

The effects of being stoned can be subjective and vary widely from person to person. Some may experience a general altered state of consciousness with altered perceptions of time and senses, euphoria and relaxation. Cannabis can also make you sleepy or lethargic, and some people experience anxiety and paranoia.

It can also produce physical effects, including increased heart rate, dry mouth, reddening of the eyes, a reduction in intra-ocular pressure (the pressure in the eyes), muscle relaxation and nausea.

What Happens When Alcohol and Cannabis Are Mixed?

Mixing alcohol and cannabis can expose you to all the individual effects of both substances – both desirable and non-desirable – as well as increasing the effects that overlap, such as cognitive impairment and lack of coordination. People who use both may also be more likely to experience raised blood pressure, nausea and sickness, to fall asleep or pass out.

Research on the way alcohol and cannabis interact is still limited, but one study found that the simultaneous use of alcohol and cannabis produces significantly higher concentrations of THC in the blood. This could increase the effects of cannabis to unpleasant and potentially dangerous levels, especially when combined with the lack of judgment from alcohol intoxication.

Short-Term Risks of Mixing Alcohol and Cannabis

The risks of combining alcohol and cannabis include an increased chance of accidents, poor decisions and generally risky behaviour from impaired judgement. The lack of self-control and poor judgement can also lead to taking more of each substance and getting more and more drunk or stoned. Combined with an increased level of THC in the blood, this can lead to potential overdose and other ill effects.

Long-Term Health Consequences of Mixing Alcohol and Cannabis

The long-term simultaneous use of alcohol and cannabis will expose you to all the individual potential harms of each drug and may increase the risk if you tend to use more. This could include liver damage and all the illnesses and conditions associated with alcohol misuse. As most people smoke cannabis, this can also damage your lungs and cause respiratory issues.

Both alcohol and cannabis are associated with a wide range of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety and even psychosis. Using both together may increase the risk and severity of any such problems. You might also develop a dependency or addiction to one or both of the substances.

As well as health consequences, regular use of alcohol and cannabis can have an impact on other aspects of your life, potentially damaging work life, studies, family and other relationships. This can also have a knock-on effect on mental health.

Get Help Today

Alcohol is legal and generally socially acceptable. Cannabis is commonly used and often seen as relatively harmless, but both substances can actually be very destructive – and the risks can increase if you use both together.

If you’re struggling with alcohol, cannabis or both combined, it is always best to seek professional help as soon as possible. If you need confidential advice or are looking to start your recovery journey, get in touch today to find out how we can help.