Can You Use Marijuana If You Take Lithium?
Article written by
Dipak HemrajHead of Research and Education
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
You should not use marijuana if you take lithium.
Cannabis can interact with lithium, reducing its effectiveness and causing severe side effects. It is important to be aware of the side effects that may occur when mixing these two substances, as they need to be treated immediately. Those using prescription lithium should reduce their intake (under medical supervision) if they are considering medical cannabis.
What Is Lithium?
Lithium is an oral medication used as a mood stabilizer to treat bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and manic disorders. It can also help reduce aggressive, self-harming, and suicidal behaviors. It is available in either a tablet form or as a liquid.
To be prescribed lithium, you must be more than 12 years old and not have thyroid or kidney issues, as lithium can affect kidney and thyroid function. A doctor will usually take a blood sample to check this before prescribing lithium. You may also require an ECG to check your heart health before starting lithium treatment.
Lithium medications have side effects that include:
- Dry mouth
- Excessive thirst
- Gradual weight gain
- Metallic taste in the mouth
- Mild tremors
- Nausea and vomiting
Don’t stop taking lithium suddenly or change your dose without discussing it with your doctor first, as doing so may be dangerous.
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Uses and How It Works
The exact mechanism in which lithium works is not known, but we do know that it acts on the central nervous system by altering the release of chemicals in the brain.
Positive effects of lithium include:
- Inhibiting specific enzymes that stop cell growth.
- Increasing brain cell density in patients with bipolar disorder.
- Increasing concentration of certain neuronal markers of brain cell health.
- Protecting neurons (information messengers) against cell death.
Risks of Mixing Cannabis and Lithium
While using cannabis may help to relieve the side effects of lithium, the following risks negate any potential benefit of mixing these two substances. It’s simply not worth it.
Research has shown that mixing lithium and cannabis can result in lithium toxicity, which occurs when an overdose of lithium is consumed. CBD can interact with lithium to cause this toxicity. In severe cases, lithium toxicity can be fatal.
The kidneys excrete 95% of lithium, with the remaining 5% excreted through sweat and feces. As lithium is not metabolized, if too much is taken and the kidneys cannot excrete it fast enough, lithium will accumulate in the blood, increasing the risk of lithium toxicity.
Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome
Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome is a condition in which severe vomiting occurs after cannabis use. Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome risk increases when using cannabis alongside medications such as lithium.
Reduced Lithium Effectiveness
It’s believed that cannabis might inhibit the metabolism of lithium carbonate, reducing the effectiveness of the lithium medication.
Nasty Side Effects
If you mix lithium and cannabis, you may likely experience some of these potentially life-threatening side effects:
- Cardiac arrest
- Respiratory depression
- Shortness of breath
If you mix cannabis and lithium and experience these side effects, you must head straight to the emergency room or contact emergency services. These may be symptoms of lithium toxicity or another issue caused by an interaction between lithium and cannabis. If left untreated, this can be fatal.
What to Do If You Need to Use Both Lithium and Marijuana
If you wish to mix lithium and cannabis, discussing this with your doctor before you begin is essential. Your doctor can advise you on other possible treatment methods and talk you through all possible side effects and interactions.
If you are mixing cannabis and lithium, you need to be aware of the symptoms of lithium toxicity, as severe cases can be fatal. The symptoms of mild to moderate lithium toxicity include:
- Muscle weakness
- Stomach pains
- Uncontrollable movements
Symptoms of severe lithium toxicity are:
- Heightened reflexes
- Kidney failure
- Low blood pressure
- Rapid heartbeat
- Slurred speech
- Uncontrollable eye movements
If you experience any of these symptoms after taking lithium and cannabis, you should contact your doctor or emergency services immediately.
The Bottom Line
Lithium is a medication used to treat mood disorders such as bipolar disorder, manic disorders, and depressive disorders.
It is never advisable to mix lithium and cannabis. These two substances interact and can cause severe side effects and lithium toxicity, which may lead to death. Should you wish to use cannabis and lithium, you should discuss this with your doctor first.
If you mix lithium and cannabis, you need to be fully aware of the symptoms that may occur so you can seek potentially life-saving care immediately.
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