Mixing Marijuana and Alcohol Increases Concentrations of THC

substance abuse treatment centers in raleigh NCThe concentration of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, increases when the drug is combined with alcohol, according to a new study in the medical journal Clinical Chemistry.

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychoactive chemical in marijuana that produces the high associated with the drug. It attaches to cannabinoid receptors clustered around areas of the brain that control thinking, memory, concentration, and perception. When it is ingested, it activates the receptors. When they are stimulated, the cells release dopamine, which creates a sense of euphoria. The effects can be felt about 10 minutes after it is ingested, and will last about two hours.

The study was conducted on 19 participants. Each one was given either alcohol or a placebo. After a 10-minute waiting period, each one was instructed to inhale a substance with a vaporizer. One had marijuana with a high dose of THC, one had a lower dosage, and one was a placebo. Blood samples were taken to determine the levels of THC in their systems. The participants who had consumed alcohol had significantly higher levels in their blood than the people who had only ingested marijuana.

The results explain the increased level of impairment caused by mixing marijuana and alcohol, but researchers were unable to figure out why the THC levels increase when combined with alcohol.

Researchers are hoping to use this information to change driving legislation. The U.S. Department of Transportation conducted a study on 1,882 driving deaths and found that there was an increase in risk when both marijuana and alcohol were factors. The risk was 0.7 percent for marijuana alone, 7.4 for alcohol, but 8.4 for both of the substances together.

Laws on driving under the influence vary from state to state. Some have zero tolerance policies, while others range from allowing 1 to 5 g/L of THC in the blood. With 23 states and the District of Columbia having legalized medical marijuana, and four states allowing its use recreationally, there is concern that new driving legislation should factor in the study’s results.

Teenagers are more at risk when it comes to combining marijuana and alcohol because they’re more likely to engage in dangerous driving when they get behind the wheel.  A study done on high school students found that teens who were under the influence of marijuana and alcohol were 90 percent more likely to get a ticket and 50 percent more likely to be in a car crash. While teens who use drugs and drink are probably risk takers in general, the physical effects of using both substances together can impair them to a degree that they may not realize until it is too late.

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