What happens when you combine the antidepressant Zoloft with weed? Are there health dangers to consider? The answer to that question affects millions of Americans.
Widely prescribed since it received FDA approval in 1999, Zoloft reduces symptoms of major depressive disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), PTSD, and severe social anxiety disorder. Zoloft is also approved for treating OCD in children six to 17 years of age. Over 15 million adults between the ages of 45 and 64 take antidepressants, according to the Citizens Commission on Human Rights International. Nearly 13 million adults between the ages of 25 and 44 take Zoloft or another type of antidepressant.
Meanwhile, more Americans than ever are smoking pot, whether for medicinal or recreational purposes. Now, researchers are looking into the possible dangers of taking antidepressants like Zoloft while smoking marijuana. For more of an answer, and to understand how and why mixing Zoloft and weed could cause health issues, it first helps to have some knowledge about how both substances affect the brain….
What Happens When You Take Zoloft?
Zoloft is the brand name for sertraline, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) that increases serotonin levels in the brain. People with depression, OCD, PSTD, and anxiety disorders have abnormally low levels of serotonin due to receptors preventing the release of the neurotransmitter into the brain.
Doctors aren’t sure why receptors “reuptake” (retain) serotonin in depressed or anxious individuals but suspect it is due to impaired activity within the serotonin pathways in the brain. The question that is still being debated, however: Does depression cause serotonin levels to drop, or does depression begin after receptors stop releasing serotonin?
Zoloft does not start relieving depression anxiety right away. Most people taking Zoloft report feeling better after three to four weeks of being on the drug. Initial side effects of Zoloft that usually resolve within several weeks include:
- Nausea (but not vomiting)
- Agitation (the sudden increase of serotonin can make some people feel jittery)
- Insomnia or sleepiness
- Feeling tired or slightly drowsy during the day
- Feeling more anxious than usual
Although Zoloft helps millions of people cope with depression and anxiety disorders, it also can cause serious side effects that require emergency treatment. In 2004, the FDA put warnings on all SSRIs about the risk of suicidal ideation in people taking an SSRI. However, research indicates that children and adolescents are most at risk for suicidal thoughts due to “peculiar responses” to antidepressants early in their treatment. However, there is no definitive evidence that Zoloft or other SSRIs lead some individuals to attempt suicide.
What Happens When You Smoke or Consume Marijuana?
The brain’s endocannabinoid system contains thousands of receptors that are activated by THC and other chemicals in marijuana. Since this endocannabinoid system oversees appetite, memory, mood, and pain relief, using marijuana intensifies the endocannabinoid system’s regulation of pain, mood, etc. In addition, THC is a psychoactive chemical that alters your mental, physiological, and emotional state.
Like Zoloft, marijuana does not affect everyone in the same way. The most common side effects of THC include:
- Mild distortion of perceptions
- Increased hunger
- Short-term memory problems
- Tachycardia (rapid heartbeat)
- Paranoia/delusional thinking
Depending on the grade and type of weed smoked, side effects could be minimal or cause such severe reactions that the user seeks emergency medical treatment.
What Happens When You Combine Sertraline and Weed?
Currently, there is a lack of studies investigating possible interactions between antidepressants and Zoloft. Although no clinically reported known drug interactions are available in academic literature, doctors assert the danger of combining Zoloft and weed does exist.
For example, a person’s physical and/or psychological reaction to Zoloft or weed cannot be predicted. If you take Zoloft for panic disorder and smoke pot, the THC content of weed could worsen your anxiety. Some individuals with OCD may harbor paranoid thoughts that may also worsen after using pot.
3 Potential Dangers of Mixing Zoloft with Marijuana
1. Higher Risk of a Bad Reaction to Zoloft
Cannabis has been shown to inhibit liver enzymes needed to metabolize Zoloft. This means that the body doesn’t disperse and eliminate Zoloft like it should, leaving a higher than normal level of Zoloft in the bloodstream. Consequently, any adverse reaction to Zoloft a person may have had in the past could re-emerge as an aggravated reaction.
2. Too Much Serotonin
One of the reasons why marijuana causes euphoria is that it increases the production of serotonin in the brain. Doctors prescribe different milligrams of Zoloft to treat mild, moderate, or severe anxiety or depression. The number of milligrams essentially dictates how much serotonin the brain receives. When people combine sertraline with weed, they are flooding the brain with too much serotonin. Symptoms of excessive serotonin include vomiting, agitation, severe headache, confusion, fast heartbeat, and muscle twitching.
3. Compromised Therapeutic Response
With Zoloft and marijuana counteracting each other’s effects on the brain and body, doctors and their patients won’t know if Zoloft is actually helping them feel better. Additionally, people who use pot while taking Zoloft may come to the conclusion that Zoloft isn’t working and stop taking Zoloft altogether. This could worsen their depression and anxiety and lead them to rely more on weed to relieve symptoms of their mental illness.
Why Doctors are More Concerned Today About the Dangers of Combining Zoloft and Weed
The recent legalization of both recreational and medicinal marijuana has significantly increased the number of people in the U.S. who use weed and take antidepressants. Prior to 2010, only a handful of states had legalized medicinal or recreational pot. Compounding that fact is the recent uptick in doctors writing prescriptions for Zoloft and other antidepressants, due to the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic worsening rates of depression, anxiety, and psychiatric disorders.
People who mix Zoloft with weed may not be at risk for an overdose but they are at risk for exacerbating symptoms of their depression, anxiety, OCD, or panic disorder. Additionally, smoking pot and taking antidepressants can disrupt brain chemistry in ways researchers are only beginning to uncover.
Zoloft has been clinically proven to help people cope with depression and anxiety. But when the inability to stop smoking pot interferes with the ability of Zoloft to treat mental illness, it may be time to seek help for a marijuana problem. Call FHE today if you or someone you know is struggling with a mental illness and is combining antidepressants with weed.