Comparisons and Contrast between Alcohol and Marijuana
The Effects on the Brain
Michael Smith, Jr.
Morehouse College, Department of Psychology
This paper was prepared for Psychology 102G, section 01, taught by Professor Chris Markham.
Cannabis is a plant that can be grown all over the world. Many people use the common term marijuana instead of Cannabis. Moreover, in today’s society, marijuana can be defined as a political movement, legal issue, agriculture crop, medical drug, or as a recreational intoxication. In more simple terms, marijuana is a bunch of leaves. Many would think that a bunch of leaves could not be harmful. However, marijuana contains a chemical called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol commonly known as THC. (Goldberg, n.d.) This ingredient is the main psychoactive (i.e. mind altering) product. Alcohol, however, is not a bunch of leaves. Alcohol has been used for centuries in social, medical, cultural and religious settings. In America, most individuals believe that adults consume alcohol responsibly compared to adolescents. Alcohol is classified as a depressant. It is classified as a depressant because it causes sedation and drowsiness. Alcohol that is in alcoholic beverages is called ethanol. (Parsons, 1996) Ethanol is molecule that has a 2-carbon backbone with 5-attached hydrogen. (Parsons, 1996) Along with the carbons and hydrogen there is also a hydroxyl group at one end. Unlike alcohol, marijuana is not frequently used among teens. Statistics indicate that 6.5% of 8th graders, 17% of 10th graders, and 22.9% of 12 graders had used marijuana in a one-month period. (US Government Statistics, 2013) However, according to US government statistics on adult marijuana users, 51.3% of 18-25 year old use marijuana. 49.8% of people in the age of 26-34 use marijuana. However, according to US statistics, 78% of people of teens had drank alcohol before and two out of three adults drink alcohol. (Chudler, 1996) This paper will compare and contrast alcohol and marijuana and the ways it affects the brain. It will focus on the short and long terms effects on the brain showing the areas of which the brain is affected, conditions it causes, and abilities and disabilities caused by the drug. When drinking alcohol, it alters levels of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are messengers that transmit the signals/ messages throughout the body that control thought process, behavior, and emotions. Although there are many types of neurotransmitters, two classes of which are called excitatory and inhibitory. Excitatory neurotransmitters have effects that increase the likelihood of a neuron firing at action potential; however, inhibitory neurotransmitters decrease the likelihood of a neuron firing at action potential. One major inhibitory neurotransmitter is Gamma-aminobutyric acid, GABA. Alcohol inhibits neurotransmitter GABA that is responsible for movement and speech. (Jacobson, 1986) When alcohol inhibits this neurotransmitter, it results in sluggish movement and slurred speech. However, alcohol inhibits the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate. (Parson, 1996) It increases the chemical dopamine, which results in the feeling of pleasure when taking drinks. (Parson, 1996) Many parts of the brain are affected when consuming alcohol. As an individual’s blood alcohol content, BAC, increases, more parts of the brain are affected. (Parson, 1996) BAC alludes to the amount of alcohol contained in a person’s blood. Normally, BAC is measured as a weight per unit that is converted to a percentage such as 10% or .08%. For example, 10% represents that one-tenth of a percent of a person’s blood is alcohol. (Highway Safety Research Center, n.d.) For example, at a lower level BAC, only the cerebral cortex is affected. When this area is affected, the alcohol depresses the behavior and slows down the process of processing...
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