Blending one drug with another is a common technique medical professionals use in order to treat very serious medical and physical illnesses. By using different medications that work on different receptors, they hope to provide people with the kind of relief they might not get if they only used one medication at a time.
For example, experts interviewed for an article produced by the Arthritis Foundation suggest that it’s not unusual for people with arthritis to take up to a dozen different medications on a regular basis. This kind of poly-drug therapy, when it’s used properly, might be required in order to help people to overcome their pain.
Since mixing medications is so common, and it’s often medically sanctioned, many people believe that the practice is always safe. In other words, they might come to believe that it’s acceptable to mix any one drug with another drug, for any reason at all. That may be the only way to explain statistics published in the journal Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy. Here, researchers found that 90 percent of hallucinogen abusers and 80 percent of amphetamine abusers admitted to taking in multiple drugs at the same time. To these users, blending may have seemed like an ideal way to keep a high going indefinitely.
Unfortunately, blending multiple drugs can often bring about really nasty consequences. These are just a few of the combinations experts consider particularly dangerous.
Alcohol and Marijuana
This combination can seem especially enticing to people who live in states like California, in which both substances are particularly accessible. That means both substances are somewhat easy to purchase, and it might even be acceptable to use both substances inside public spaces, including bars and restaurants.
The marijuana component provides users with a sense of expansion and possibility, and they might be able to experience colors, sights, sensations, and feelings that they never thought were possible before. The alcohol tends to work like an augmenting agent, so those expansive feelings might seem even more powerful. When the two drugs work together like this, the high can be even more strong than it would be if only one drug was used.
But the drug combo tends to bring about a shift in a person’s sense of risk and hazard, experts say. For example, in a study in the Journal of American College Health, researchers found that only one-fourth of bar patrons who took in only alcohol planned to drive within an hour of drinking. However, half of those who used both alcohol and marijuana planned to do some driving within the hour.
Lowered inhibitions like this could make people do all sorts of things they never intended to do, such as getting in physical altercations or engaging in unprotected sex. But this drug combination also comes with sedation that makes some activities really dangerous. Driving, for example, requires quick thinking and deep concentration. With both alcohol and marijuana on board, those tasks are hard to complete with any kind of accuracy, and that could make an accident likely.
Blending alcohol with marijuana can also make a user feel ill, according to the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre. While users of marijuana alone can sometimes feel a little queasy, dizzy, and weak after taking a hit, people who add in alcohol might feel even more nauseated and overwhelmed. That combination could lead to vomiting, and if people are very impaired, they might suffocate on that vomit.
Alcohol and Medications
Some people might experience side effects from alcohol and marijuana due to a medical prescription. If they’re using marijuana for some kind of therapeutic purpose and they add in alcohol, they could fall ill. But marijuana isn’t the only medication that has been linked to health hazards when mixed with alcohol. Many other medications can cause very serious harm.
Chances are, each home in the United States contains at least one medication for help in overcoming the common cold, including:
- Cough syrups
- Fever reducers
People who feel ill might rely on these medications to help them sleep through the night, so they can awaken refreshed in the morning and handle their daily tasks without worrying about exhaustion or misery. If people add alcohol to some of these cold medications, however, they could become even more ill.
That’s because some cold medications contain up to 10 percent alcohol, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. That means people who mix alcohol with these medications are taking in very big doses of the same active ingredient. At high doses, alcohol can be incredibly sedating, slowing down breathing rates and heartbeat rates. The body might try to compensate by prompting vomiting, but some people simply slip into a deep sleep from which they don’t awaken. Mixing these drugs is considered especially dangerous as a result.
Similarly, some anti-anxiety drugs, like Xanax, tend to be sedating. They can help people to overcome very serious mental illnesses that cause worries and fears, but they can also make people feel a little sleepy and slow. People who mix alcohol with medications are taking some of the biggest chances with their health, according to experts quoted in an article produced by Scientific American. Hundreds of deaths attributed to sedative medications involve alcohol. It just isn’t something anyone should consider safe.
Opioids and Benzodiazepines
Sedative drugs taken for anxiety concerns are sometimes prescribed for people who have physical ailments, including:
- Chronic back pain
- Recurrent knee pain
The sedating quality of the medications allows these people to forget about their pain concerns, so they can sleep a little better at night. But these same people might also be provided with painkilling medications that contain opioids, and if they are, mixing the two medications in close succession could lead to real dangers.
Opioids are sedating, just like alcohol, and these painkillers also tend to boost pleasurable chemicals inside the brain. That boost of pleasure can make people feel as though they can handle almost anything and do almost anything, and that nothing could ever happen to them that might be negative. A boost of alcohol also provides that feeling of happiness and invincibility. Putting the two together might seem like the best way to ensure happiness.
But the sedating qualities of the two medications can reinforce and augment one another. Someone might feel intensely, overwhelmingly sleepy just moments after taking both of these pills. And if users are accustomed to the pills and taking very high doses of said pills, they could take doses that shut down the brain’s vital centers. They could fall into coma-like states and never awaken.
An article in MedPage today suggests that 77.2 percent of deaths attributed to benzodiazepine drugs also had an opioid component. That means the antianxiety/painkiller combination is responsible for more deaths than any other prescription drug combo. Stats like this make it clear that this combination just isn’t safe for anyone to try.
While people who take cocaine never have a prescription for this drug, they might feel as though they need the substance. That’s because cocaine can cause subtle shifts in brain chemistry, and when that happens, people who take this drug experience deep cravings that prompt them to seek the drug out for another hit.Alcohol can seem helpful for people like this, as it can blunt cravings and soften feelings of need. Some users mix and match cocaine and alcohol as a result, as they hope they can use the two drugs in order to keep their emotions on an even keel. If these users take their two doses together, however, they could end up with serious medical issues.Molecules of cocaine and alcohol, when blended in the body, combine and reassemble into a third element: cocaethylene. This substance was discovered in 1979, according to The Guardian, and since then, researchers have determined how much damage it can do. For starters, it tends to harm cells inside the liver, which can make digestion difficult. Also, it tends to harm heart muscles. That could lead to immediate heart attacks, or it could do damage that users feel only months or years later.
Clearly, abusing drugs in combination isn’t a safe practice. That’s why it’s vital for you to get help if you’re dipping into multiple drugs at once. With the right kind of therapy, you could learn more about the skills you’ll need to help you avoid drug abuse altogether, and you’ll have the support you need to build new habits that will stick with you for a lifetime. Just call us at the number listed at the top of the page, and our admissions coordinators can tell you more about how we can help.
David W. Newton is a board certified pharmacist and also has been a board member for boards of examiners for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy since 1983. His areas of expertise are primarily pharmaceuticals as well as cannabinoids. You can read an article about his expertise in CBD on the National Library of Medicine.
Reviewed by: Kim Chin and Marian Newton