By Emily Ledger
Alcohol and cannabis are, globally, the two most commonly used recreational drugs. Despite alcohol being legal in many countries around the world since time immemorable, there are many significant harms associated with alcohol use. On the other hand, cannabis has been widely criminalised around the world for around a century.
Modern research has indicated that cannabis, though harmful to some aspects of health, causes less harm to health and society than alcohol. However, both drugs continue to enjoy immense popularity in most areas of the world. In many cases, cannabis and alcohol may be used simultaneously for recreational purposes.
Many health resources indicate that this type of consumption may be more harmful than the lone consumption of either of the drugs. Having said this, the prohibition of cannabis at the peak of scientific development has meant that clinical research into the effects of combination is lacking.
What Evidence is there?
Cannabis legalisation is beginning to catch on, with an increasing number of jurisdictions turning to legal regulation. As this develops, there is expected to be increased research into the effects of cannabis and alcohol when taken together. But, what does the science say so far?
Alcohol and cannabis have many similar effects on the body, though they affect different internal mechanisms. Both drugs cause sedation, impair judgment and perceptions, and slow reflexes and motor coordination. Some studies have claimed that when taken together, these effects can be enhanced, increasing risk to consumption.
It is widely accepted that combining alcohol with any other drug results in the additional drug remaining in the system for longer. This is thought to be because of the order in which the liver metabolises substances. Apparently, our livers give priority to alcohol, meaning that other substances remain in our substances for longer before being metabolised.
Increased Potential of Overdose
Combining drugs is believed to increase the likelihood that the user will overdose on one of the substances. Cannabis overdose is, in most cases, considered to be fairly mild, perhaps causing nausea, sickness, and irregular heart palpitations. However, it can also result in an increased potential for alcohol poisoning or suffering an overdose of alcohol.
Increased Impairment of Judgment
Both cannabis and alcohol cause impairment of judgment and perception. When taken together, this effect can be enhanced. Users may become more likely to act dangerously impulsively and with less rationality and poor judgment.
Disruption to Elimination
Cannabis is used medicinally as an anti-emetic. This means that it can help to prevent vomiting – it is currently used in some jurisdictions to prevent vomiting in chemotherapy and HIV patients. In some cases, this effect of the drug could make it more difficult for the body to rid itself of excess alcohol.
Other possible effects of combining the two drugs include increased dehydration, potential long term effects (currently under-researched), and psychological effects.