With the legalization of recreational Marijuana having passed in Massachusetts by 53.6% of the vote it is important to make note of the actual physiological effects of Marijuana.
Many people argue that pot and alcohol are similar and therefore it does not make sense for one to be legal while the other is not. However this is not the case. Lets take a brief look at the effects of each.
Produced from the hemp plant Cannabis sativa, it contains cannabinoid compounds termed Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is a psychoactive molecule in the brain. A single marijuana cigarette contains 0.5 to 1.0 gram of cannabis and 1 gm of cannabis contains 40mg of THC. However burning the cigarette vaporizes the drug so only about 20% is absorbed. Even so, 8 mg of THC can have a significant effect.
Now, an interesting fact about Marijuana is its pharmacology – the way it moves in the body. It is a fat soluble drug! This means that it starts in the blood and then begins to move into fat cells for storage as the levels of THC in the blood increase (molecules without a charge generally move from high to low concentrations). Then, because it has moved into cells it stays there for a long time!! This is why THC can be detected in hair follicles after 2 weeks – they are fat follicles.
Did you know that we make our own form of THC? In our brain we have receptors on neurons (brain cells) for cannabinoids. These cannabinoids receptors are made to receive signals from self made molecules. THC is similar in structure to these molecules and therefore also binds to these receptors, which is why it is such a powerful drug. THC overstimulates these receptors. Cannabinoids stimulate firing of Dopamine (DA) neurons in Ventral Tegmental Area to release more DA in forebrain reward areas such as the Nucleus Accumbens. This causes a pleasurable rewarding effect after taking weed.
Its effects are usually a pleasant euphoric state associated with calmness, relaxation, and behavioral disinhibition, and sometimes a profoundly altered personality change. It can also be associated with frank hallucinations, strong feelings of anxiety, panic, paranoia or delirium. But watch out! Pot also totally screws with your peripheral vision and perception – which is the main cause in pot induced car crashes. It also causes ilogical & disordered thinking, fragmented speech, difficulty in maintaining focus, motor performance problems, catalepsy (lack of voluntary movement), hypothermia, analgesia, motivational problems, and learning problems. Basically, it will mess up your ability to get good grades while also making you not care about throwing away your future.
Alcohol comes in many forms, but the form that is drunken is called Ethanol (ETOH). It is produced by fermentation and is a by product of yeast metabolism of sugar. The pharmacokinetics of ETOH determines bioavailability (amount available to brain) and it is absorbed in GI tract and diffuses to body (it is drunken and then diffuse into the blood after going through the liver). Once in your body, alcohol is converted into a toxin (Acetaldehyde), by an enzyme termed ADH, and then that toxin is converted into a non-harmful product (Acetic Acid) that exits the body in the feces and urine. A hangover is a result of the build up of that toxin that has not yet been converted to the non-harmful product – this is because your body can only convert the toxin as a specific speed.
A number of things can slow aborbtion: 1) Gastric Movement – food can slow adsorption and delays movement of ETOH in the blood. 2) Gender – alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) in gastric fluid is higher in men and decreases adsorption. ADH is an enzyme that converts the alcohol into a toxin in your body. 3) Medications – influence ADH activity (spring decrease ADH activity). 4) Body Size (water content).
Because the alcohol first passes through the liver it has detrimental effects, which is why it often causes liver failure, liver cancer, or liver disease. Additionally, where weed stimulates the DA firing in certain areas of the brain, Alcohol’s main psychological effect is related to decreasing/stopping NMDA receptors, inhbiting Glutamate, and increasing GABA receptor activity . NMDA receptors are involved in learning, which is why you may forget what happened after a night of partying. Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter, so drinking means you have less excitatory activity in your brain. And GABA is a inhibitory neurotransmitter, drinking increases this activity.
DANGER! When all these things come back “online” after drinking it can have detrimental effect! Basically the “coming back online” of the NMDA receptors and Glutamate, because they are no longer being inhibited by alcohol, as well as the decreases of GABA because it is no longer being bolstered by alcohol can cause problems. In other words, your brain is over firing, which fries it. And if you drink to much this can cause death. Additionally, drinking effects lower brain stem functions such as motor movement and breathing!
HOWEVER! I voted YES on Massachusetts’ Question 4. Why? Because despite the physiological, psychological, and behavioral affects of weed, I do not believe they are dangerous enough for the government to infringe on the peoples rights to make their own choices regarding it. In fact, Alcohol is considerably more dangerous than pot in the way if affects the body.
JUST REMEMBER! THEY ARE NOT THE SAME AND DO NOT ACT ON THE BODY THE SAME WAY! IF YOU CHOOSE TO SMOKE, YOU SHOULD KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING TO YOUR OWN BODY.