The Danger of Mixing Drugs

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Drugs that work adversely when taken alone are due to either an allergic reaction or overdose. However, when taken in combination, they can interact in unexpected ways. Adverse effects from drugs can either result in a temporary illness, like becoming paranoid or passing out, or death. All adverse results are due to an overstimulation or understimulation of the nervous system, which might cause heart failure, respiratory failure, or multiple-organ failure.

Anna Nicole Smith’s son reportedly died due to a mixture of antidepressant Lexapro and antidepressant Zoloft with methadone. However, while the story of famous people dying due to a mixture of drugs often hits the newsstands, this type of sudden death happens more often than publicized. Drugs used may be alcohol, medications, supplements, or recreational drugs.

Two Reasons Why People Mix Drugs

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People may mix drugs for one of two reasons:

One, they don’t realize that drugs may conflict with each other within their body. 

Football player Terrell Owens trip to the hospital, he says, was a result of unwittingly mixing health supplements with pain killers. He said that a combination of hydrocodone and an all-natural supplement made him feel groggy and pass out. While he did recover, he was first suspected of trying to commit suicide.

Another famous example is that of the founder of Herbal life, a multilevel marketing company (MLM), who died at the age of 44 years. According to MLMWatch, “In May 2002, Herbalife founder, chairman, and chief executive officer Mark Reynold Hughes, was found dead at his $27 million oceanfront mansion in Malibu, California.… Hughes died after a 4-day drinking binge, apparently from an overdose of alcohol and the antidepressant drug doxepin.

Two, they deliberately mix drugs to get an enhanced high.

They either want to increase the intensity of the drug-induced high or they want to prolong how long they can stay high.

Synergistic or Anti-Synergistic Effects

When people deliberately combine drugs, they do it to get a heightened high. This experimentation can result in either synergy or anti-synergy.

When the drugs amplify each other, it can create a synergy, where the effect is greater than the sum of the parts—like, 2+2=5.

When the drugs partially cancel each other out, it can create an anti-synergy effect, where the effect is less than the sum of the parts—like, 2+2=3.

What Happens in the Body?

Nerve cell communication is based on an exchange of molecules called neurotransmitters. Drugs mimic what neurotransmitters do—by either activating or inhibiting how electrical signals fire. Agonists mimic neurotransmitters that activate nerve cell transmission while antagonists inhibit nerve cell transmission by blocking them. 

According to Futures of Palm Beach, “Drugs and neurotransmitters compete for the same receptors, but activate the receptors at different strengths. Neurotransmitters maintain a baseline level of activity on nerve cells, which drugs can interfere with. So a drug might be an agonist and bond to a receptor but activate it much more weakly than the receptor’s normal neurotransmitter, thus having a net inactivating (antagonistic) effect. The exact nature of the interaction between drugs, neurotransmitters, and neurotransmitter receptors vary based on the drugs.

Three Deadly Combinations

There are basically 3 ways that combining drugs can over-activate or over-inhibit the nervous system.

1. By mixing depressants. Depressants are drugs that slow down the nervous system, reducing heart rate or the rate of breathing. Death may come from overdosing on depressants or combining depressants like, say, alcohol and tranquilizers.

2. By mixing stimulants. Stimulants are drugs that speed up the nervous system, increasing heart and respiration rates. Death may come from overdosing on stimulants or combining stimulants like, say, speed and cocaine. Sometimes people may take more stimulants because the stimulants are slow to work or their body or they may have got accustomed to a small dosage or a single stimulant and it fails to produce a high. Mixing heroin with cocaine creates an enhanced high that drug-users refer to as “speedball.” This usually puts too much stress on the nervous system, especially when it is injected rather than ingested.

3. By mixing stimulants and depressants. One frequent combination is mixing alcohol with stimulants. While stimulants speed up the nervous system, alcohol can slow it down, and this combination of both activation and inhibition may put too much pressure on the heart, resulting in heart failure. One deadly combination is mixing alcohol and cocaine. Since the alcohol inhibits the effects of cocaine, a person may take more cocaine and overdose on it. Additionally, the chemical combination of both creates a chemical called cocaethylene that is toxic and may affect the heart. Another popular combination is trying to come down from an ecstasy trip by using cannabis. This does not calm a person down, but actually increases a sense of paranoia.

Conclusion

Drugs that work adversely when taken alone are due to either an allergic reaction or overdose. However, when taken in combination, they can interact in unexpected ways. Adverse effects from drugs can either result in a temporary illness, like becoming paranoid or passing out, or death. All adverse results are due to an overstimulation or understimulation of the nervous system, which might cause heart failure, respiratory failure, or multiple-organ failure.


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