Using marijuana may increase risky effects of consuming alcohol

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Most people know consuming alcohol carries some risk for our bodies, especially if one drinks excessively. Although it’s being legalized around the United States, a study by Penn State University finds marijuana can make the problems tied to alcohol even worse. Researchers say simultaneous alcohol and marijuana use increases a user’s tendency to overdrink and act impulsively while under the influence.

The findings show that the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana in some areas is causing its usage to spike throughout the country. Researchers caution that people aren’t necessarily drinking less alcohol now that pot is legal. Many may be unaware of the additional risks of simultaneous use.

Harmful drinking behavior enhanced by marijuana?

Penn State researchers compare participants who only drink alcohol to individuals who use alcohol and marijuana simultaneously. They conclude that subjects using both are more likely to drink more heavily and more often. Simultaneous users are also more likely to encounter alcohol-related problems, such as making impulsive decisions they later regret.

“The results suggest that individuals who simultaneously use alcohol and marijuana are at a disproportionately higher risk for heavy, frequent, and problematic substance use,” says PSU’s Ashley Linden-Carmichael in a university release.

Study authors add their findings suggest intervention and prevention programs should take people using additional substances into account, in addition to alcohol abuse.

“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,” Linden-Carmichael explains. “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.”

Is your personality to blame?

The study involves 1,017 participants from 49 states between the ages of 18 and 25. Participants record how often they use alcohol, marijuana, and the two substances simultaneously. The participants also completed questionnaires measuring their experiences with alcohol-related problems, how they perceive the drinking habits of their friends, and whether or not they have a sensation-seeking personality. The results show that simultaneous users are more likely to have sensation-seeking behaviors and think that their friends drink more.

“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,” the assistant research professor at PSU’s Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center says. “Additionally, 70 percent of those who engaged in simultaneous use reported using at least weekly.”

Linden-Carmichael’s team reports that those who mix alcohol and marijuana more frequently than others drink more often and use alcohol for longer periods of time. These frequent mixers also tend to use marijuana more often as well.

The study was published in the journal Substance Use and Misuse.

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