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Combining Cannabis and Alcohol More Dangerous Than People Realize, Says Study

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Aug 14, 2019   
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Revellers who consume alcohol and marijuana simultaneously are more likely to experience alcohol-related problems, according to new research. 

Published in the journal Substance Use and Misuse, the new survey asked 1,017 young adults from 49 US states how often they used alcohol and cannabis, and how they perceived the drinking habits of themselves and their friends. 

Consumers who regularly took cannabis and alcohol together were more likely to drink more often and for longer periods of time; 70 percent claimed to use cannabis and alcohol together at least weekly. These simultaneous consumers were associated with alcohol use disorder. 

Cannabis and alcohol, an intoxicating relationship 

“The results suggest that individuals who simultaneously use alcohol and marijuana are at a disproportionately higher risk for heavy, frequent, and problematic substance use,” said Ashley Linden-Carmichael, an assistant research professor at the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center at Penn State University, in a press statement.

Linden-Carmichael and the study’s other authors have recommended that alcohol intervention programs consider cannabis and any other substance the patient is using before progressing with treatment.

“Right now, a lot of campus programs focus on whether students are drinking, and while sometimes they are asked about other substances, it's not necessarily whether they're using these substances simultaneously,” she continued. “I think we do need to be asking about whether they're drinking in combination with other drugs and educating students about how that exacerbates their risk.”

Simultaneous users also reported higher levels of sensation seeking and greater perceptions of their close friends’ drinking behavior in comparison to alcohol-only users. 

“Even after controlling for the number of drinks a person typically consumed, people who used alcohol and marijuana at the same time were at a greater risk for problems like blacking out, getting in an argument, or other concerns,” Linden-Carmichael said. 

Heavy drinking is associated with many health risks, including heart disease, liver disease, and brain damage. 

Over the limitations 

But while comprehensive, the results were drawn from a selective group. All participants were aged between 18 and 25 years and most were male (67.8 percent), Caucasian (71.5 percent), and had attended at least some college (74.8 percent). This skewed sample set could prevent the study’s conclusions from applying to any other group of people.

And despite measuring the rate of cannabis use, the study neglected to differentiate data from states with legal, recreational access and those without. 

Recent research has also shown that localized cannabis legalization could be linked to a decreased interest in alcohol. In a marketing study published in July, researchers found that online searches for alcohol fell by 11 percent once recreational cannabis was legalized in individual US states.

“It appears the alcohol industry has valid reason to be concerned about legal marijuana and may need creative strategies to avoid market decline if it passes,” Pengyuan Wang, an assistant professor at the University of Georgia and lead author of the study, said in a press statement.

Leo Bear-McGuinness

Science Writer & Editor

Leo joined Analytical Cannabis in 2019. From research to regulations and analysis to agriculture, his writing covers all the need-to-know news for the cannabis industry. He holds a Bachelor's in Biology from Newcastle University and a Master's in Science Communication from the University of Edinburgh.


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