Marijuana is among the most popular drugs in the United States, with around 17.5 million users age 12 and older. And, as an increasing number of states legalize use nationwide—the Pew Research Center has reported that seventeen states and Washington, DC, have legalized recreational use of marijuana for those 21 and older as of April 2021—this number is only likely to increase.
When used responsibly, on its own and in low doses, marijuana may be relatively safe in a way similar to alcohol. However, when substances are combined while partying, responsible use can cross the line into dangerous territory; and this includes mixing weed with opioid pain medication.
Hydrocodone, an opioid that’s close to heroin in form and function and sold under the trade name “Vicodin,” is a commonly prescribed pain medication. Due to its intoxicating side effects and addictive qualities, drugs like hydrocodone can be quite appealing for those looking to get high. And, unfortunately, the ramifications of mixing drugs like Vicodin and pot can be devastating.
The Effects of Hydrocodone
As an opioid, hydrocodone is popular choice for those seeking the exhilarating high of a drug like heroin. However, unlike heroin, hydrocodone is not an illicit drug—it’s a fully legal prescription medication used in hospitals and medical practices nationwide. But this doesn’t mean it’s safe for general use; a pain reliever prescribed solely in cases of extreme pain, hydrocodone is carefully controlled due to its danger in high doses and highly addictive qualities.
As an opioid, hydrocodone and other related drugs, like oxycodone, hydromorphone, morphine and fentanyl, act on mu-opioid receptors in the brain. Under normal circumstances, neurotransmitters produced in the brain bind to these receptors to regulate feelings of pain and satisfaction as guided by outside factors. When an opioid like hydrocodone binds instead, the brain stimulates further production of neurotransmitters like dopamine in the reward center of the brain. This creates the euphoria commonly associated with heroin and its synthetic counterparts. When used responsibly, this mechanism in the brain can block pain during and after medical procedures; when used irresponsibly, it can induce a pleasurable high.
The pleasure that accompanies pain relief makes this kind of drug very dangerous to use recreationally. As the body builds up a tolerance, higher and higher doses are required to feed a need. This can lead to reckless patterns of use that interfere with normal daily life and can prove fatal. In high quantities, opioids can suppress both heart rate and respiration to an extent that causes death.
Opioid abuse is considered an epidemic in the U.S. due to the high overdose rates that accompany both heroin and controlled prescription medications. An estimated 136 people die each day from opioid overdoses.
Marijuana as a Drug
Marijuana is a plant-based drug derived from hemp. It can be used recreationally, as is legal in many states and numerous other countries, and medicinally, as is legal in all but six states. Some cultures and organizations also use it for spiritual purposes. Tetrahydrocannabinol is the intoxicating agent in marijuana, more commonly known as THC. Strains of marijuana without high levels of THC are often the preference for managing pain.
Marijuana can be ingested or smoked. Once THC is absorbed into the bloodstream, users will feel a relaxed, euphoric sensation. This is due to the drug’s interaction with cannabinoid receptors in the brain. On a biological level, cannabis use can lower blood pressure, increase heart rate, and increase appetite.
Unlike opioids, with which overdosing is very easy, overdosing on marijuana is virtually impossible. However, in high doses, smoking pot or consuming edibles can cause some unpleasant side effects, including extreme paranoia, decisionmaking challenges, and, albeit rare, a form of psychosis that can trigger hallucinations and delusions.
The Dangers of Mixing Marijuana and Hydrocodone
In recreational atmospheres in which drugs are common, mixing marijuana with other substances can seem like a compelling option. Mixing drugs for a more intense high is very popular among young people who party; one study even found that seven in 10 teens who use prescription opioids to get high mix them with other substances.
While the combination of marijuana and hydrocodone may seem safe on the surface—after all, both Vicodin and pot have valid medical uses, and some pain medicine doctors may actually prescribe these two substances in conjunction to address chronic pain—it can actually be anything but. Without a doctor’s oversight, mixing hydrocodone and weed is a dangerous choice.
As both marijuana and hydrocodone can have depressive effects in the body, combining them at high levels can be quite dangerous. This means that regular opioid users who may know their limits when using Vicodin alone may inadvertently push past the point of safety by adding marijuana to the mix, or vice versa.
An unfamiliar high, like a high that comes from opioids for those who generally only use marijuana, can distort the effects of a known drug, leading to the increased likelihood of inadvertently taking too large a dose. This behavior heightens the risk of overdose, which can cause diminished brain function, extreme fatigue, dangerously low blood pressure, coma or death.
Addressing Drug Use
Many young adults use substances like marijuana temporarily and manage to either maintain a normal, healthy lifestyle or cease use before entering the real world. However, for others, what seems like harmless experimentation evolves into so much more. Abusing substances, even in a way that seems social or recreational, can be the start of a downward spiral.
If mixing drugs like hydrocodone and weed sounds appealing, a larger issue may be at play. While both substances are largely safe if used as legally permitted or prescribed by a doctor, a strong urge to take things to the next level can be a sign of a deeper problem. This is particularly true for those who may have been harmed by the effects of this dangerous cocktail and still continue to chase the next high.
When one drug won’t do and more substances are required to achieve a high, a substance use disorder may be at hand. This can be hard to reckon with and even harder to treat. For more information about treatments for a marijuana and/or hydrocodone problem, contact FHE Health today.