Tramadol and Weed: Is the Combination Dangerous?
There are thousands of potentially addictive substances found across the United States that hurt the lives of millions of people every year. Some of these drugs are legal in specific situations, like alcohol or tobacco, some are prescription drugs, like opioid painkillers, which can be misused or abused, and many are illegal.
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Tramadol and Marijuana are Widely Seen as Safe: Is This Accurate?
Although there has been a surge in legalizing medical and recreational marijuana in various states in the U.S., the federal government has not legalized this substance for any use. Marijuana, or cannabis, is the most widely abused illicit substance in this country, and many people who abuse it also abuse other drugs, including alcohol or prescription medications.
At the same time, thousands of people receive prescriptions for opioid painkillers, like oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and tramadol, to treat moderate or severe pain after an injury or surgery or for chronic pain. With the supervision of a doctor, prescription opioid painkillers can be safe, and many people successfully stop taking these medications when they no longer need them.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that, since the early 2000s, an epidemic of narcotics addiction has swept the U.S. This problem led to the overdose deaths of 630,000 people in a period of about 17 years, with an average of 115 people in the country dying every day due to an overdose on a drug like fentanyl, heroin, or a prescription opioid.
Mixing a prescription drug with a recreational drug is one of the most common forms of drug misuse and abuse, especially when it occurs by accident.
For example, abusing alcohol while taking a prescription sedative is very common, and it often leads to overdose. People who take a prescription opioid painkiller may also abuse marijuana — for recreational reasons or to allegedly treat pain, which medical marijuana advocates argue for — but mixing these substances can be harmful. Marijuana is not linked to overdoses by itself, but it can be particularly harmful when mixed with other central nervous system (CNS) depressants.
Central Nervous System Depressants: Prescription vs. Nonmedical
Several drugs are considered central nervous system (CNS) depressants because they create a sense of calm and relaxation. Alcohol is the most infamous of these drugs, but opioid narcotics (both prescription and illicit) are also widely abused CNS depressant drugs. Marijuana or cannabis is also a CNS depressant because it can have relaxing effects, but it is also considered a psychedelic drug. Weed is in the same category as LSD or magic mushrooms, though with much fewer intense hallucinogenic effects.
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What Is Marijuana?
Also called weed, reefer, or pot, marijuana is a plant-based drug that is most often smoked but sometimes vaped or eaten in specific foods like baked goods or candy. The flowers, leaves, stems, and seeds of the Cannabis indica or Cannabis sativa plants are dried and sold, although many states that have legalized recreational marijuana products also produce cannabis oils and related extracts. In 2015, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 11 million young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 abused this drug at least once in the past year.
People who abuse marijuana seek the drug’s short-term effects:
- Altered sensory experiences, such as changes in color perception or touch
- Altered sense of time, usually experiencing time more slowly
- Mood changes, such as feeling pleasantly relaxed
- Mood changes, such as feeling pleasantly relaxed
- Trouble thinking or solving problems
- Difficulty remembering things
- Feeling hungry or sleepy
Very high doses of cannabis can lead to hallucinations, paranoia, delusions, and even temporary psychosis. Long-term abuse can lead to changes in the structure of the brain, especially when the drug is abused at a young age, which will then lead to permanent memory and cognitive damage. People who are at risk for mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders, and schizophrenia are more likely to develop these conditions if they abuse marijuana. Smoking weed can lead to lung problems and may be associated with breathing problems, emphysema, and even lung cancer.
Specific symptoms can signify cannabis addiction:
- Laughing for no reason
- Red or bloodshot eyes
- Forgetting something that just happened
Although it is rare for marijuana to lead to overdose on its own, many people find it difficult to stop taking the drug because the associated withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable.
- Low mood
- Anxiety, restlessness, and aggression
- Insomnia or other sleep disturbances
By itself, cannabis can be a harmful drug. Mixing this substance with other CNS depressants, including prescription opioids like tramadol, can be dangerous, lead to lasting harm, and even contribute to an overdose.
What Is Tramadol?
Tramadol is the generic medication name for a prescription opioid painkiller, sold mainly as the brand names ConZip, Rybix ODT, Ultram, and Ultram ER. This medication is prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain that is not expected to last more than six months. Someone who has suffered from a back injury or who had a major surgery may receive a tramadol prescription to moderate their pain as they recover. Although it is a narcotic analgesic, it is not intended for consistent use to treat chronic pain. Tramadol was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2002.
In the U.S., about 20 percent of people who go to the doctor complaining about pain will walk away with a prescription for an opioid narcotic. While tramadol is not the most popular prescription painkiller in this country, it is still widely prescribed. In 2011, for example, tramadol was linked to 20,000 emergency room visits around the nation. That same year, just in the state of Florida, 379 people died from tramadol overdoses.
As an opioid drug, tramadol is also a CNS depressant, and side effects typically include relaxed euphoria that can become addictive. Other side effects may occur.
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
- Paradoxical nervousness or anxiety
- Shaking or tremors
- Muscle tightness
- Mood swings
- Dry mouth
- Heartburn or indigestion
Unlike with marijuana, abuse of any opioid drug can lead to an overdose. The most common signs of an opioid overdose include:
- Pinpoint pupils
- Passing out
- Breathing changes, especially slower or shallow breathing
If the person has enough of an opioid drug in their body, they will stop breathing. Any oxygen deprivation can be harmful to the brain and other organs in the body, but when someone stops breathing, they will die within minutes. It is crucial that a person suffering from an opioid overdose gets emergency medical attention, so if you witness someone overdosing, call 911 immediately.
There are other signs of prescription drug abuse, especially abuse of an opioid like tramadol:
- Drowsiness or excessive fatigue
- Trouble concentrating or remembering things
- Appearing intoxicated, such as stumbling or slurring speech
- Lying about how much of the drug was taken
- “Losing” prescriptions so they need more before they should
- Stealing a prescription from friends or family
- Doctor shopping to get multiple prescriptions
- Changes in hygiene habits and other routines
- Trouble making decisions
- Denying they have a problem and becoming aggressive or lying when asked about it
Opioid drugs like tramadol can cause a very addictive intoxication, which quickly leads to compulsive behaviors, physical tolerance to and dependence on the drug, and even switching to another, more potent drug like heroin.
Although tramadol is only a Schedule IV substance, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), it has still led to addiction for many Americans.
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The Dangers of Mixing Tramadol and Weed
Because marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, there have been few medical studies conducted in the United States involving this drug and how it interacts with other substances. In a very small study in 2011, cannabis and opioid drugs were not found to interact very much. Marijuana was not found to have additive CNS effects when mixed with an opioid medication.
While mixing marijuana and opioids may or may not increase the risk of an overdose, the combination increases the risk of substance abuse, addiction, and long-term harm to the body.
Negative Side Effects
Cannabis abuse has been associated with mental health changes, including a risk of triggering psychotic disorders or mood disorders. According to a 2017 study, about 18.7 percent of the 38.6 million Americans with mental health disorders use prescription opioids, and about 16 percent of adults with mental health disorders receive half of the opioid prescriptions in the country. Polysubstance abuse is also often associated with mental illnesses, so people who abuse marijuana may also abuse prescription drugs, including opioids like tramadol, which are prescribed to them.
Both opioid and marijuana abuse have been associated with changes in how neurotransmitters, especially dopamine and serotonin, are released into the brain. T
hese neurotransmitters may trigger the brain’s reward system, which can lead to addictive behaviors; however, over time, repeatedly abusing these drugs will also permanently change how the brain manages these neurotransmitters, which changes brain structures and that, in turn, can change mental and behavioral health.
Opioids and marijuana are also both harmful to the body. Smoking or vaping marijuana can damage the lungs, heart, and immune system. People with a history of heart disease, especially arrhythmias, are more likely to suffer heart problems. Cannabis abuse has been associated, in some studies, with liver and kidney disease.
Similarly, opioid abuse can damage the gastrointestinal system, heart, lungs, endocrine system, and immune system. Reduced calcium in the body can lead to changes in bone density and increase the risk of fractures. Harm to the musculoskeletal system can also lead to kidney damage.
Treatment for Polysubstance Abuse
Although some small studies suggest that marijuana does not increase the risk of opioid overdose, mixing any CNS depressants can lead to an increase in specific effects like:
- Breathing changes
- Mood swings
While these symptoms may not lead to overdose, an increase in the experience of euphoria may lead someone to abuse both drugs together more often. Mixing prescription and recreational drugs is also a common form of polysubstance abuse in the U.S., but it indicates that the person may struggle with serious mental or physical health problems later.
Professional treatment can help individuals to overcome these problematic drug abuse patterns and reduce the risk of physical damage, tramadol overdose, and harm to the quality of life. If you or a loved one has been abusing marijuana, tramadol, or any other substance, ask for help before it’s too late.
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