Prescription medication

If you’re taking antidepressants, taking illegal drugs might pose a greater risk than you think. Here’s why it matters…

Mixing any combination of drugs and alcohol can be dangerous. The impact on your body and mind become even more unpredictable, and harder to manage. Many drug-related deaths happen as a result of this.

Often people don’t feel comfortable asking their GP if it’s ok to mix illegal drugs with their prescription, and their GP may not know to ask about it.  If you are on medication, especially painkillers or anti-depressants, this can be particularly dangerous. Always check with your doctor – their number one priority is to keep you safe and you won’t get in trouble.

If you’re already taking antidepressants, taking some of the more popular illegal substances can often lead to unexpected side-effects and additional risks.

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MDMA and antidepressants

These two should not be mixed under any circumstances. MDMA affects serotonin levels in the brain. Antidepressants, or even herbal supplements (such as St John’s wort), also affect serotonin levels. That means there’s an increased risk that taking them together could cause too much serotonin to collect in the brain (serotonin syndrome) which is potentially fatal.

Because MDMA can interfere with how effective an antidepressant is, it has the risk of making depression even worse. MDMA initially floods the brain with serotonin, and then there’s a crash period when the brain produces very little serotonin. At this time, antidepressants are not as effective. This can cause even lower lows — a dangerous prospect for those suffering from depression.

Cocaine and antidepressants

Similar to MDMA, taking cocaine while on antidepressants also puts you at risk of too much serotonin flooding the body, increasing the risk of serotonin syndrome. The symptoms of this usually include confusion, anxiety, fever, diarrhoea, headaches, seizures and unconsciousness.

Cocaine also undermines the effects of antidepressants and while there may be a short-term euphoria from that initial rush of serotonin, the comedown can be especially brutal with some describing feelings of intense anxiety, and extreme lows.

Cannabis and antidepressants

Little research has been done into the interaction between cannabis and antidepressants. It has been suggested that the impact of mixing cannabis and antidepressants can depend on the different types of drugs involved – for example, cannabis with a higher THC level might result in a different effect, with some people reporting increased anxiety. Other effects have included an abnormally fast heartbeat, and high blood pressure. Any cannabis comedown may potentially also be extended by antidepressants, leaving some people feeling unresponsive or emotionally flat.

While no drug use is the safest drug use, there are some steps you can take to help reduce the risks.

  • Avoid redosing. This increases the chance of negative effects, like overdose.
  • Avoid mixing drugs, especially other central nervous system depressants like other benzos, opioids, and alcohol.
  • Have a plan – as with all drug use, it’s better to have people around that you trust and who know what you’ve taken.
  • Know what to do in an emergency.

Remember, always call an ambulance by dialling 111 if someone:

  • is unconscious;
  • stops breathing;
  • has a seizure;
  • is extremely agitated for longer than 15 minutes;
  • has chest pain or breathing difficulties for longer than 5 minutes.

Always tell emergency responders what someone has taken – you won’t get in trouble, and it could save their life.

If you’re concerned about your own drinking or drug taking, you can reach out to the Alcohol Drug Helpline on 0800 787 797, or text 8681. You'll be able to speak with a trained counsellor who can provide you with helpful information, insight and support. They’re available 24/7, all calls are free and confidential. You can also chat with the team online through the website.