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The Risks of Mixing Cannabis & Opioids

Peter Manza, PhD profile image
Reviewed By Peter Manza, PhD • Updated Aug 13, 2023 • 3 cited sources

Risks of mixing cannabis and opioids include reduced motivation, depressed breathing and mental health issues, among others.

Cannabis and opioids latch to different receptors within your brain and body, and they do very different things. Since these drugs are so different, some people think mixing them is safe.

In reality, mixing cannabis and opioids can lead to a host of very serious problems, including a worsening of opioid use disorder (OUD). 

Keep reading to find out why it’s not safe to put these two drugs in your body at the same time. 

Depressing Respiration Rates 

Tissues need oxygen-rich blood to survive, and without it, core functions slow down and stop. When people don’t breathe quickly or deeply enough, they can lose consciousness. High doses of opioids can cause these slowed breathing rates in episodes doctors call overdoses. Combining cannabis with opioids can increase the sedation, making a lethal overdose more likely. 

Worsening of OUD

People with opioid use disorder can’t maintain tight control of how much opioids they use or how often they take drugs. Researchers say people who add cannabis often struggle with OUD severity.

Researchers say taking cannabis alone or with opioids has been associated with an increased risk of OUD.[1] This finding is important, as some people claim cannabis could be an effective OUD treatment. In many cases, the drug has the opposite effect.

If you have OUD, the cannabis products you take won’t help you to get better. Instead, they could make your symptoms worse. 

Causing Mental Health Issues

Cannabis and opioids work on important parts of your brain. Sometimes, the alterations they make change how you feel about yourself and the world around you. Combining them can augment the damage. 

Researchers say that combining opioids and cannabis can result in mental health issues like anxiety and depression.[2] Unfortunately, many people with these conditions lean on opioids and cannabis to ease their symptoms.

If you’re struggling with anxiety and/or depression, you might appreciate the sedating quality of opioids or the anti-anxiety properties of cannabis.

These self-treatment options may seem smart at the time, but they can worsen your underlying mental health even more. You might emerge even more depressed and anxious than you were before. 

Lowering Your Motivation

Cannabis is associated with a-motivational syndrome. People who misuse cannabis chronically often feel too tired to deal with the messy parts of everyday life. If they avoid certain tasks like house cleaning, no one may notice or care, but if you stop managing other aspects of your life, the effects could be more serious. This potential could be critical for people with OUD. 

Researchers say a-motivational syndrome is very real, and it’s linked to chronic misuse of cannabis with high doses of THC.[3] The more cannabis you use and the longer you use it, the less motivated you might be.

Recovering from OUD means taking your medication, heading to therapy and combatting your triggers. Cannabis use could make following those steps more difficult. If you stop managing your OUD, relapse is very likely.

What to Do Next

If you’ve been using cannabis to self-manage OUD, talk to your doctor. Your DIY approach could be causing you harm, and you must find a better way. Medication for Addiction Treatment (MAT) programs might help.

In MAT programs, doctors use prescriptions like Suboxone (buprenorphine/naloxone) to amend chemical imbalances and help you think clearly. They can help you feel like yourself. 

Many people continue using Suboxone to maintain their recovery from OUD for years or even indefinitely. As long as it continues to support their recovery, there is no reason to stop using MAT.

There’s currently no FDA-approved medication to treat cannabis addiction, but your MAT provider can help you access therapies to resist temptation and avoid the drug in the future. With the right help, you can build strategies to avoid drug misuse.

Reviewed By Peter Manza, PhD

Peter Manza, PhD received his BA in Psychology and Biology from the University of Rochester and his PhD in Integrative Neuroscience at Stony Brook University. He is currently working as a research scientist in Washington, DC. His research focuses on the role ... Read More

Sources
  1. Pain. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/marijuana/health-effects/chronic-pain.html. October 2020. Accessed March 2023.
  2. Opioid and Cannabis Co-Use Among Adults with Chronic Pain: Relation to Substance Misuse, Mental Health, and Pain Experience. Journal of Addiction Medicine. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30557213/. July 2019. Accessed March 2023.
  3. Testing the Amotivational Syndrome: Marijuana Use Longitudinally Predicts Lower Self-Efficacy Even After Controlling for Demographics, Personality, and Cigarette Use. Prevention Science. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5732901/. February 2019. Accessed March 2023.

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