With both alcohol and marijuana widely used in society, both thought to be “soft” drugs, with health benefits, and only toxic if taken for long periods of time at a “heavy” dose, it is time to reconsider the adverse effects of alcohol and marijuana – that can in combination cause highly toxic and lethal outcomes.
Research at the Humbolt University, in Berlin, together with the University of Technology in Dresden, shows that although cannabis (THC) and it’s synthetic form does not cause neuro degeneration when administered alone – it did cause cell death when administered with lower than toxic amounts of ethanol – the active ingredient of alcohol drinks.
Both alcohol and cannabis cross the placental barrier, and ethanol alcohol when combined with any other sedative, anticonvulsant or anesthetic drug trigger nerve cell death in young rats – giving grounds for concern for the safety of the developing fetus when the pregnant mother to be uses both alcohol and pot.
Although marijuana was not implicated in this research as being on its own a factor in cell death, there are other studies that demonstrate other forms of toxicity to the fetus, such as being a cause of early pregnancy failure.
An issue that is of increasing concern today is impaired driving while under the influence of alcohol and weed. A dose dependent study of using a combination of alcohol and marijuana was conducted by the University of Sydney, for the Australian Office of Road Safety.
Findings included that alcohol and marijuana operate as two distinct drugs in the body. Marijuana does not affect the ability of a person to assess his alcohol intoxication, but alcohol impedes a person from being aware of their level of cannabis intoxication. The effect on skills performance when marijuana and alcohol were taken in combination was basically one of addition, with marijuana tending to increase the intensity of performance impairment (except at low levels of marijuana intake). see article
The most common drug combination, among poly drug users is the alcohol cannabis combination, cannabis might be smoked as an alternative to nicotine that is also frequently used with alcohol drinking.
Negative effects of of smoking cannabis and using alcohol can include nausea, vomiting, a condition known as “greening out” – the person feels dizzy, might break out in a sweat, and need to lie down. Panic attacks, paranoia and psychosis representing different levels of subjective fear and anxiety might occur with the alcohol cannabis combination.
Some research suggests that alcohol can speed up cannabis absorption - alcohol masks insight into cannabis effects. People therefore can be more substantially impaired than they realize if they combine alcohol and marijuana.
Specific cautions are against driving a motor vehicle, operating machinery or engaging in risk taking behavior when intoxicated by an alcohol cannabis combination, as a person will most likely be more impaired than they realize. Whereas alcohol tends to induce quick reactions without due care, marijuana tends to slow reaction time down, with possible lapses in attention – both types of reaction are impaired and responses can lead to increased risk of harm when these drugs are used in a combination.
Norman Swan of Radio National interviewed Godfrey Pearlson of John Hopkins University in the year 2000 and they discussed the results of people using a driving simulation game while testing for alcohol and marijuana.impairment using MRI scans. The results were that although people would pass a “breath test” – extremely low levels of alcohol and or marijuana caused significant impairment.
Pearlson refers to European studies in which it has been shown that the effects of an alcohol/marijuana combination lead to an impairment that is not just the sum of the two drugs effects – but that impairment could be multiplied by up to 6 times. see article
In the second part of the interview Pearlson goes on to talk about schizophrenia, and impairment to the parietal lobe of the brain. Interestingly, the parietal lobe is very much connected with the mesolimbic system that involves the processing of memory and information, that involves the hippocampus region of the brain. In schizophrenia the hippocampus area is often found to be impaired.
In a further study, conducted by the University of California, abuse of marijuana and alcohol has been implicated in harmful effects upon the hippocampus, particuiarly in the teenaged years, and findings were that heavy alcohol drinkers and alcohol marijuana users, in adolescence, caused damage to the brain. Associations as between alcohol use, cannabis use and mental disorders such as schizophrenia, paranoia suggest that apart from the inherent risk of using either cannabis or alcohol – to use both in combination is likely to increase the risk of suffering an associated mental disorder.
There would appear to be incremental risks associated with using both alcohol and marijuana in combination, to infants, young people and for risk taking behaviors such as unsafe sex and impaired driving.
People concerned about the risks can obtain a referral, no waiting to comprehensive alcohol and drug addiction recovery centers – that have a capacity to deal with both alcohol use and cannabis, and bring about full recovery.