The Risks of Mixing Marijuana And Opioids For Chronic Pain

By . Reviewed by Dr. Shatha Atiya | September 15, 2023 | Health & Relief, Conditions

While opioids can effectively soothe pain, they are very addictive. The risk of opioid addiction is particularly high among people who use opioids for long-term pain management. As such, some people struggling with chronic pain consider mixing marijuana and opioids in hopes of alleviating their suffering just enough to cut their opioid use to a minimum.

However, this combination of drugs can be very dangerous and shouldn’t be taken together.

Keep reading to learn about the main risks and dangers associated with mixing marijuana and opioids for chronic pain.

Stop sign referencing you should not mix opioids and weed

Opioids Overview & Side Effects

Opioids are a category of drugs commonly prescribed to treat moderate to severe acute or chronic pain that cannot be alleviated by non-opioid medications. 

While some opioids occur naturally in the opium poppy plant, others are semi-synthetic, meaning that they are created by synthesizing natural opioids in labs. Meanwhile, synthetic opioids are fully human-made and contain no natural opioids.

Some examples of opioids include:

  • Fentanyl (Actiq®, Duragesic®)
  • Morphine (Roxanol®, Kadian®)
  • Tramadol (Ultram®, ConZip®)
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin®, Oxaydo®)
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin®, Norco®)

Besides pain relief, opioids can induce feelings of euphoria and deep relaxation, making these drugs very addictive. They can also cause a variety of side effects, including:

  • Drowsiness
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Breathing problems
  • Itching

Opioids are very potent medications with a high potential for opioid abuse and addiction, which is why you can only obtain them by prescription.

If you or someone you love is struggling with opioid dependence, seek professional opioid addiction treatment. Never quit opioids “cold turkey,” as this can lead to relapse and a potentially lethal overdose.

Cannabis Overview

Cannabis—or marijuana—is a psychoactive drug derived from the cannabis plant that contains two main active compounds: delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

Cannabis can be used either for recreational or medicinal purposes. It may help alleviate pain and other symptoms associated with various diseases, including:

You can consume cannabis orally, topically, or by inhaling it. 

When consumed, marijuana often causes feelings of euphoria and relaxation since THC stimulates dopamine release. It also affects the parts of the brain that are responsible for coordination, memory, and judgment.

Like most substances, cannabis can cause various side effects, especially when consumed in large amounts. These include decreased blood pressure, disorientation, dizziness, fast heart rate, fatigue, hallucinations, headaches, increased appetite, nausea, paranoia, and vomiting.

How Marijuana and Opioids Interact Together

Marijuana and opioids may interact synergistically, meaning that mixing marijuana and opioids can produce more potent effects than taking these drugs separately.

A study on cannabinoid-opioid interaction in chronic pain found that vaporized marijuana intensifies the pain-relieving effects of opioids.

While this in theory means that marijuana could help people with chronic pain potentially reduce their opioid doses, another study found that mixing marijuana and opioids has little to no effect on pain experience compared to taking opioids alone. 

On top of that, the study found that participants taking both drugs were more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression, as well as use other substances, including tobacco, cocaine, and sedatives.

While the interaction between marijuana and opioids may vary based on the doses of both drugs, methods of consumption, and other individual factors, taking them together generally isn’t safe.

On that note, let’s discuss the risks and dangers of mixing marijuana and opioids.

Risks and Dangers of Mixing Marijuana and Opioids

Mixing marijuana and opioids can be very dangerous, as both drugs act as central nervous system (CNS) depressants.

When taken at non-medical doses, the combination of marijuana and opioids can be potentially fatal since both drugs intensify each other’s effects, dangerously suppressing the CNS.

Mixing marijuana and opioids can result in:

  • Acute coronary syndrome
  • Blurry vision
  • Confusion
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Exacerbation of mental health problems
  • Hallucinations
  • Low blood pressure
  • Sedation
  • Severe breathing problems
  • Slowed brain function

In severe cases, mixing marijuana and opioids can lead to coma and even death. It can also increase the risk of opioid abuse, as well as substance abuse in general.

Final Thoughts

While some research shows that mixing marijuana and opioids for chronic pain can intensify the analgesic effects of opioids, the findings aren’t conclusive. 

Although these drugs may enhance each other’s effects in certain cases, it’s also what makes this combination very dangerous. Since both drugs affect the CNS, taken together, they can have fatal consequences.

The bottom line is that if you are taking opioids for chronic pain, you should never mix them with any other substances without first consulting your doctor. This includes marijuana, alcohol, sedatives, antidepressants, and even vitamins and herbal supplements.

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