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article imageMarijuana plus alcohol increases THC levels in the blood

By Tim Sandle     May 28, 2015 in Science
The interaction between marijuana and alcohol remains poorly understood. A new study shows that the two can make for a dangerous combination, since alcohol increases the levels of THC in the blood.
THC is an abbreviation for tetrahydrocannabinol. This is the active ingredient of marijuana and the one that is responsible for its psychoactive effects (the ‘high’ sensation.) Scientists have been aware that the levels of THCs, and so the psychoactive effects, are influenced by alcohol in the blood. However, it is only recently that the mechanisms at play and the actual effects have been revealed.
One concern with marijuana use is whether it impairs the ability of someone to control machinery or drive a car. This concern is enhanced if marijuana is smoked alongside the drinking of alcoholic beverages. New research suggests that the likelihood of having a car accident is higher when marijuana and alcohol are taken together compared with equivalent amounts of either drug taken alone.
Figures from the U.S. Department of Transportation indicated that there is an increased accident risk of 0.7 for cannabis use and 7.4 for alcohol use. However, when someone has consumed both, this risk rating rises to 8.4.
Researchers working at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Baltimore, Maryland recently ran a study to see what could be causing this enhanced risk. For this, they enlisted 19 volunteers. The study participants were split into various groups and different combinations were tested: some drank liquids with no alcohol and others drank low-dose alcohol. 10 minutes later, one group inhaled 500 mg low-dose marijuana (2.9 percent THC) and the other group inhaled high-dose (6.7 percent THC) vaporized marijuana.
The study found that with no alcohol but with taking low or high doses of THC, the typical blood concentrations were 32.7 THC (low dose) and 42.2 µg/L THC (high dose). With alcohol, the typical blood concentrations for low and high THC doses were 35.3 and 67.5 µg/L THC. The data shows that, with alcohol, the THC levels (and thus the psychoactive effects) are considerably higher.
The issue is of topical importance in the U.S. where 23 states have now legalized in some form or other, the use of marijuana for medical purposes. To add to this, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska have allowed the recreational use of the drug.
The new findings have been published in the journal Clinical Chemistry. The article is titled “Controlled Cannabis Vaporizer Administration: Blood and Plasma Cannabinoids with and without Alcohol.”
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