Alcohol and Marijuana on Human Term Paper

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The user's mouth feels dry, and he or she may suddenly become very hungry and thirsty. His or her hands may tremble and grow cold. The euphoria passes after awhile, and then the user may feel sleepy or depressed. Occasionally, marijuana use produces anxiety, fear, distrust, or panic

Marijuana use impairs a person's ability to form memories, recall events (see Marijuana, Memory, and the Hippocampus), and shift attention from one thing to another. THC also disrupts coordination and balance by binding to receptors in the cerebellum and basal ganglia, parts of the brain that regulate balance, posture, coordination of movement, and reaction time.11 Through its effects on the brain and body, marijuana intoxication can cause accidents. Studies show that approximately 6 to 11% of fatal accident victims test positive for THC. In many of these cases, alcohol is detected as well

"An interesting study was done with airline pilots," Teitelbaum noted. In 1985, scientists gave pilots a small amount of marijuana and then tested their reaction time and abilities as they operated a computer program designed to simulate flying and landing a plane (Amodio, 2005). "When the pilots were stoned, they knew they were messing up the test and they all did terribly," said Teitelbaum. Twenty-four hours later, when the pilots believed they were fine, they took the test again -- and still did poorly (Amodio, 2005).

"Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug, with over 25 million individuals in 2003 estimated to have used marijuana in the past year (Paula, 2004). (1) Although prevalence rates for the general population have been relatively stable over the past decade, the proportion of current users who meet criteria established by the American Psychiatric Association for dependence or abuse of marijuana has increased at a statistically significant rate, from 30.2% to 35.6% (Paula, 2004). In addition, prevalence rates among youth rose considerably during the mid-1990s before stabilizing, while perceptions of harms declined (Paula, 2004). At the same time the United States has experienced a rise in youth use rates and dependence, there has also been a significant rise in arrests (Paula, 2004). There is increasing pressure on many state legislatures to soften their policies toward marijuana as a way of reducing the criminal justice burden, and despite virtually no information available on the economic cost of marijuana use or abuse, there is growing support to do so (Paula, 2004). "


With an understanding of the use of alcohol and marijuana it is easier to examine how the impact on memory affects the population. The impact on human memory caused by alcohol and marijuana use has been demonstrated in several recent studies.

Marijuana generally is believed to influence educational attainment through its impact on cognitive functioning. Evidence from the medical literature clearly demonstrates that persistent and/or heavy marijuana use diminishes an individual's cognitive functions, influencing attention, concentration, and short-term memory during periods of intoxication.

Marijuana has been shown to interfere with short-term memory. It interferes with the ability to remember short-term items which in turn interferes with learning.

Research has been conducted to determine the effect marijuana has on the human memory. That research concluded that the ability to learn is significantly compromised because of the effect that the drug has on short-term memory. It prevents the person from remembering information or sustaining the information that is learned (Batchelder, 2004).

Another study concluded that the ability to integrate information into the long-term memory areas of the brain is seriously compromised through the use of marijuana.

The drug has also been proven to interfere with short-term memory in such a manner that 20 minutes later there were memory problems.

In that study, participants were chosen based on a cross section of gender, race and socio economic background. The study used the participants to test the impact that marijuana had on their memories.

The study tested the participants by showing them a list of words and asking them to remember them and study them. In the study the list was long enough to require some work in the memory area but not so long as to be difficult to do (Batchelder, 2004).

The study participants were asked to memorize the list and then they were asked to move on to other tasks.

In 20 minutes the participants were asked to recall and repeat the words that had been on the list while they were under the influence of marijuana and the majority of them had a much more poor recall success and rate than the study group that did not look at the words while under the influence of marijuana (Batchelder, 2004).

In that study the participants, averaged the age of 19 years old and reported periodic use of the drug in the past or no use. If the participants reported a previous heavy use of the drug they were disqualified from the study for the purpose of keeping the study results pure.

The study concluded that THC has a negative impact on the ability to recall the list of words. This result and information can be extrapolated to conclude that the THC has an impact on short-term memory which in turn will interfere with long-term memory and the ability to learn.


The information below helps to explain where and how THC impacts the brain including memory regions and the ability to learn.

Learning and memory

Cerebral cortex, especially cingulate, frontal, and parietal regions

Higher cognitive functions

Nucleus accumbens


Basal ganglia

Substantia nigra pars reticulata

Entopeduncular nucleus

Globus pallidus


Movement control

Brain regions in which cannabinoid receptors are moderately concentrated


Body housekeeping functions (body temperature regulation, salt and water balance, reproductive function)


Emotional response, fear

Spinal cord

Peripheral sensation, including pain

Brain stem

Sleep and arousal, temperature regulation, motor control

Central gray


Nucleus of the solitary tract

Visceral sensation, nausea and vomiting

Research seems to indicate that the THC interferes with short-term memory by altering the way the brain processes information by the hippocampus which is the center for memory in the human brain. The interference particulars are not yet clear to medical science but it has been shown that the processing of information is impaired and that impairment blocks the ability to remember the information on a short-term basis.

"Laboratory rats treated with THC displayed the same reduced ability to perform tasks requiring short-term memory as other rats showed after nerve cells in their hippocampus were destroyed. In addition, the THC-treated rats had the greatest difficulty with the tasks precisely during the time when the drug was interfering most with the normal functioning of cells in the hippocampus (

As people age, they normally lose neurons in the hippocampus, which decreases their ability to remember events. Chronic THC exposure may hasten the age-related loss of hippocampal neurons. In one series of studies, rats exposed to THC every day for 8 months (approximately 30% of their lifespan), when examined at 11 to 12 months of age, showed nerve cell loss equivalent to that of unexposed animals twice their age ("


The indications for further study when it comes to marijuana and alcohol and its impact on memory becomes clear in the current literature. There is a surprisingly limited amount of already published research when it comes to the topic, though the literature out there has conflicting results. The conflicting results lend strength to a future study about the impact and effect that alcohol and marijuana use have on human memory.


Aukerman, Melissa. Alcohol on trial: the evidence.(Featured CME Topic: Alcohol)

Southern Medical Journal; 1/1/2005; Epidemiological Considerations of Alcohol Consumption

Herrman, Judith. . The teen brain as a work in progress: implications for pediatric nurses.(Updates & Kidbits). Pediatric Nursing; 3/1/2005;

Amodios, Joseph. Why pot's not cool: how marijuana messes with your brain and body.(DRUGS & ALCOHOL). Current Health 2, a Weekly Reader publication; 3/1/2005;

Crowley, Thomas. Family transmission of marijuana use, abuse, and dependence.

Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry; 7/1/2003; .

J. Williams, "The Effects of Price and Policy on Marijuana Use: What Can be Learned from the Australian Experience?" Health Economics, 13 (2) (2004), pp. 123-37.

R.L. Pacula, J. Ringel, and K.E. Ross, "The Impact of Marijuana Use on Human Capital Formation" NBER Working Paper No. 9963, September 2003.

Chatterji, "Illicit Drug Use and Educational Attainment, "NBER Working Paper No. 10045, October 2003.

RL. Pacula and B. Kalmer, "Marijuana and Crime: Is there a Connection Beyond Prohibition?" NBER Working Paper No. 10046, October 2003.

W. Hall and T.F. Babor, "Cannabis Use and Public Health: Assessing the Burden," Addiction, 95…[continue]

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