When teenagers go to a party — the parents-aren’t-home kind of party — two of the more likely substances they can encounter are alcohol and marijuana.
Teen drinking and toking are nothing new, of course. And despite the mixed signals sent in the United States by the increasing legalization of marijuana, it still has its dangers, just as alcohol does. So naturally, combining the two — sometimes known as getting “cross faded” — can be dangerous as well.
Both alcohol and marijuana negatively affect the brain, especially in children and teenagers, because their brains aren’t fully developed. Gabe Bergado wrote about the two substances in a story for Popular Science. In it, he quotes professor Gary Wenk of Ohio State University, who said that comparing alcohol and marijuana (specifically its tetrahydrocannabinol ingredient) is like comparing “apples and vegetables. They’re very different drugs.”
Bergado writes: “An extremely simplified explanation would be to say that THC largely has cognitive effects, like paranoia and a distorted sense of time, while alcohol mainly affects motor skills, making it hard to walk in a straight line and causing slurred speech.”
Bergado also includes the results of a study led by Scott Lukas at Harvard Medical School in 2001: “… After individuals smoked marijuana and drank a large dose of alcohol, the equivalent to a couple of shots, the THC levels in their blood plasma nearly doubled compared with people who smoked pot and consumed a placebo drink. The buzzed people in the study also detected the effects of marijuana sooner than those who only got stoned. … This suggests that getting boozed up causes more THC to reach the brain, via the bloodstream, within the first few minutes of ingestion.”
Increased alcohol use
One of the significant dangers of combining the two is the total intake of alcohol, according to Dana Dovey in a story for Medical Daily: “Using both substances can make the individual drink beyond their tolerance and therefore be more likely to experience alcohol poisoning.”
A story by Rachel Rettner for Live Science detailed a 2016 study of more than 2,400 people in Washington (the state legalized marijuana use in 2012). The majority of people in the study reported using just alcohol, but 18 percent said they used alcohol and marijuana simultaneously, and 13 percent said they used them separately.
Some highlights from the study, as reported by Rettner:
- “Those who used both drugs simultaneously reported drinking more frequently, and consuming higher amounts of alcohol than those who said they used both substances separately, as well as those who used only alcohol, the researchers said.”
- “… The people who simultaneously used alcohol and marijuana were at a greater risk of experiencing problems from their alcohol use, compared with those who used only alcohol. Simultaneous users were three times more likely to drive drunk, 6.5 times more likely to experience alcohol-related financial problems and four times more likely to experience alcohol-related health problems, compared with those who used only alcohol, according to the study.”
There are inherent risks in health and safety when using alcohol or marijuana. In 2015, Science Daily reported on a study by the American Association for Clinical Chemistry that examined the effects of simultaneous use on driving ability. It involved 19 adults who either drank alcohol or a placebo, just before inhaling various doses of vaporized cannabis or a placebo. The median maximum blood concentrations were “significantly higher” for those who had alcohol and cannabis versus those that had cannabis but not alcohol.
Study author Marilyn A. Huestis of the National Institute on Drug Abuse said of the results: “The significantly higher blood THC and 11-OH-THC [median maximum concentration] values with alcohol possibly explain increased performance impairment observed from cannabis-alcohol combinations. Our results will help facilitate forensic interpretation and inform the debate on drugged driving legislation.”
The Science Daily story also included the results of a study of 1,882 motor vehicle deaths: “The U.S. Department of Transportation found an increased accident risk of 0.7 for cannabis use, 7.4 for alcohol use, and 8.4 for cannabis and alcohol use combined.”
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