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Combining alcohol and marijuana has these effects on the brain

Combining alcohol and marijuana has these effects on the brain

June 19, 2024

Alcohol and cannabis are two of the most consumed psychoactive substances in the world, if you exclude some less intoxicating ones like caffeine and theine. Since the initial effects of these two drugs are associated with physical and psychological relaxation, it is common for many people to take them simultaneously to facilitate synergy.

In this article we will seehow the combination of alcohol and marijuana affects the brain , as well as the potential risks of this practice. For this it is necessary that we stop in the first place to analyze the effects of each of these substances separately.

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How does alcohol affect the brain?

Alcohol exerts depressant effects on the central nervous system ; roughly this means that it inhibits its activity. However, if the dose consumed is low, alcohol causes a reduction in behavioral inhibition (which many people associate with an increase in sociability) and feelings of relaxation and emotional release.


When the dose is high, there are signs such as deficits in working memory and other executive functions, motor coordination problems -including expressive language-, blurred vision and emotional disturbances, for example, decreased control over anger. A strong poisoning can cause an ethyl coma and even death .

Five phases of alcohol intoxication have been described as a function of the blood concentration of this compound: the euphoria phase (characterized by impulsivity), the intoxication phase (which causes incoordination), the confusion phase (in which drowsiness and dysarthria appear) ), stupor and coma and, finally, the bulbar phase or death by cardiorespiratory arrest.


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Effects of cannabis use

In general marijuana produces relaxing effects in the body . However, the reactions derived from the use of this drug can vary depending on different variables, among which the dose used, the characteristics of the person's organism and the variety used are worth mentioning. The indica tends to be more interfering than the sativa.

The main active component of cannabis are cannabinoids, compounds found in some plants that activate specific receptors in the human body: cannabinoid receptors. The most important is tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, which explains the effects of relaxation, perceptual distortion, fatigue and increased appetite .

By binding to cannabinoid receptors, THC alters the body's dopamine and noradrenaline levels; this causes a sense of well-being, favors introspection and increases sensory awareness, but also it negatively affects cognitive performance and can cause acute anxiety , even crisis of anguish.


The combination of alcohol and marijuana

Given that both marijuana and alcohol intoxication decrease cognitive and behavioral performance (including notably the alteration of working memory), it is not surprising that when both substances are taken, these effects are greater than if only one is used.

In particular, investigations such as the Hartman team (2015) suggest that, by combining these two drugs, alcohol potentiates the effects of marijuana since it increases the concentration of THC in blood, and this is the main psychoactive component of cannabis.

On the other hand, according to a study by Lukas' group (2015), consuming marijuana alters gastrointestinal motility; This causes alcohol to be absorbed to a greater extent by the body, causing a decrease in the effects of alcohol.

It is important to keep in mind that people who are in a situation of physical and / or psychological dependence on one of these substances run a high risk of developing a politoxicomania if they start to combine it with the other , since they exert synergistic effects and can act as mutual substitutes.

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Physiological and psychological effects of this mixture

Consuming first alcohol and then marijuana increases the concentration of THC because alcohol facilitates its absorption in the digestive tract. Although there are people who practice this combination recreationally, it can cause unpleasant physical and cognitive reactions, especially if the amount of alcohol is excessive.

In particular, many people refer signs as paleness, sensations of dizziness and weakness, nausea and vomiting . In addition, the mixture of these two substances increases the likelihood of psychological symptoms, mainly anxiety (which sometimes even leads to panic attacks) and paranoid thoughts.

The combined use of alcohol and cannabis is one of the most common causes of traffic accidents around the world. This is because mixing both substances significantly worsens the ability to concentrate and react quickly, two very relevant skills in driving vehicles.

Bibliographic references:

  • Hartman, R. L., Brown, T.L., Milavetz, G., Spurgin, A., Gorelick, D.A., Gaffney, G. & Huestis, M.A. (2015). Controlled cannabis vaporizer administration: blood and plasma cannabinoids with and without alcohol. Clinical Chemistry, 61 (6): 850-69.
  • Lukas, S.E., Benedikt, R., Mendelson, J.H., Kouri, E., Sholar, M. & Amass, L. (1992). Marihuana attenuates the rise in plasma ethanol levels in human subjects. Neuropsychopharmacology, 7 (1): 77-81.
  • Lukas, S. E. & Orozco, S. (2001). Ethanol increases plasma Delta (9) -tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels and subjective effects after marijuana smoking in human volunteers. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 64 (2): 143-9.

The Health Effects of Marijuana - Expert Q&A (June 2024).


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