Alcohol and Marijuana - Their Ill Effects on Health

Alcohol and Marijuana: Their ill Effects on Health

Marijuana, also known as weed or pot, refers to the dried leaves, stems, flowers, and seeds obtained from the Cannabis plant. These parts are chockfull of Tetrahydrocannabinol, which many know as THC. This chemical gives the mind-altering, ‘high’ sensation that is often felt with marijuana use.

Marijuana is quite popular amongst many Americans. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), it is the second most commonly used psychotropic drug in the United States. The first, of course, is still alcohol.

Because of its mind-bending effects, weed is often used with alcohol and other psychotropics. The latter are substances that affect a person’s mind, behavior, and emotion.

How alcohol abuse and marijuana can be bad for your health

Facts about Marijuana

According to NIDA, almost 12 million young adults have used cannabis in 2018. This figure is steadily increasing, given the legality of pot use in most states. To date, 12 states permit recreational and medical use of marijuana. A handful of areas have also allowed weed for legit medicinal use.

Marijuana is consumed in several ways. Some make joints or hand-rolled cigarettes, while some use bongs or water pipes. Some use blunts, which are cigars filled with weed. Those who don’t like inhaling smoke can opt for vaporizers. Edibles, such as pot brownies, candy, or tea, are available for consumption as well.

Marijuana’s Effects on the Brain

Weed can affect the brain in a variety of ways.

Short-term Effects

The ‘high’ that comes with pot use depends on how the plant was consumed. Smoking gives the fastest effect since the THC enters the lungs and the bloodstream quickly. The effect is quite slower with eating or drinking marijuana. It usually occurs 30 minutes to 1 hour after consumption.

Once the THC enters the brain, it binds to several receptors, thereby altering the following:

  • Mood
  • Perception of time
  • Memory
  • Thinking and problem-solving
  • Senses
  • Body movement

Since marijuana can affect the above-mentioned functions, high doses can lead to hallucinations, delusions, even psychosis.

Long-term Effects

Some people use marijuana early on in their lives. According to NIDA’s Monitoring the Future survey, daily weed use amongst 8th and 10 graders has increased exponentially. As such, these young users are more prone to suffer from long-term use. Since THC can affect brain development, chronic use can lead to impaired memory, learning, and thinking.

In fact, a study has shown that teens who smoked heavily lost an average of 8 IQ points. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to regain this even if they stopped using marijuana.

Other Effects of Marijuana Use

More than just affecting the brain, weed can affect the rest of the body as well.

Breathing problems

Weed smokers have the same problems as that of tobacco users. That’s because marijuana irritates the lungs, thereby leading to problems such as phlegmy cough and other lung disorders.

Increased heart rate

Marijuana can accelerate heart rate for up to 3 hours after use. This puts the user, especially those of old age, at risk of a heart attack.

Nausea and vomiting

Long-term use can lead to Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome, where the user experiences severe nausea and vomiting. Such can lead to dehydration that may prompt hospitalization.

Mental conditions

As mentioned, prolonged pot use can lead to paranoia and hallucinations. It can also worsen these symptoms that already occur in people with schizophrenia.

Social problems

Marijuana use can affect a person’s social health as well. According to NIDA, weed users experience report lower life satisfaction and more relationship problems. They are less likely to succeed in school and work as well. Add to that, pot users report more job problems, such as absences, injuries, and accidents.

Infant development problems

Mothers who use marijuana are more likely to give birth to infants with lower-than-average birth weight. THC is passed through breastmilk. As such, weed can affect the infant’s brain development as well.

Who is More Likely to Use Both Alcohol and Marijuana?

According to Subbaraman and Kerr, marijuana is the most commonly used drug among alcohol drinkers. Their research suggests that younger males, especially those who go out more often, are more likely to use these two substances at the same time. Other factors that determine simultaneous use include:

  • Caucasian descent
  • Lower educational attainment
  • No partner
  • Heavier drinking patterns

Studies also show that emotions such as anger, stress, tiredness, and ‘loss of control’ can trigger concurrent use as well.

Effects of Joint Alcohol and Marijuana Use

Weed may indeed delay alcohol absorption, thereby reducing the latter’s effects on the body. However, drinking after pot use may help increase THC levels in the system. With that being said, more pronounced problems are seen with simultaneous use:

  • Worse school troubles (i.e. bad grades, more detention trips)
  • More depressive episodes
  • Higher rates of unsafe driving
  • Self-harm
  • More risky behaviors
  • Alcohol dependence

Subsequently, alcohol and marijuana can both make the heart beat faster. As such, dual users are more prone to a heart attack.

As with most substance abuse problems, symptoms become more severe with daily, excessive consumption/use of alcohol and marijuana. Additionally, use at an early age can worsen the above-mentioned problems as well.

Treatment Options

The research of Pape et al. has stated that cannabis is a complement and not a substitute for alcohol. With that being said, the authors believe that activities or policies that help reduce drinking may help reduce marijuana use as well.

According to NIDA, these therapies may help those who use alcohol and weed simultaneously:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

This treatment helps the person identify his problematic actions so he/she can correct them. CBT can improve self-control, thereby reducing drug-seeking activities.

Contingency Management

This involves behavior monitoring. Whenever the targeted behavior (alcohol and marijuana use) occurs, the reward/s will be withheld.

Motivational Enhancement Therapy

This treatment can help bring about internally-motivated change. It provides resources that can help the person change for the better.

In a Nutshell

Most Americans use alcohol and marijuana simultaneously. Unfortunately, abuse of both substances often leads to worse outcomes – physically, mentally, and socially. To make matters worse, cannabis use may even lead to severe alcohol dependency. As such, researchers believe that therapies that aim to reduce alcohol consumption may help curb cannabis use as well.

Latest posts by Raychel Ria Agramon, BSN, RN, MPM (see all)

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