Term Paper: Effects of Alcohol and Marijuana on Human Memory

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¶ … Alcohol and Marijuana on Human Memory

A review of literature regarding the effect of marijuana and alcohol on the human memory

This paper presents an examination of the effects that alcohol and marijuana have on human memory. It has long since been taught to young adults that these two substances have the ability to negatively impact the memory. This paper will analyze and discuss the results of research studies on the topic and report the findings to the reader. There were 11 sources used to complete this paper.

Across the nation, schools use programs such as Just Say No to dissuade young people from drinking or smoking marijuana. One of the tactics that are used to try and discourage such substance abuse from beginning is to tell the youngsters that using these substances will impair their memory. Along the way many youngsters begin to question the validity of such statements and wonder if it is not just something being told to them in the effort to keep them away from drugs. One only has to look at past research studies however, to realize that it is not hype, it is fact. Alcohol and marijuana use have a negative impact on human memory.

For one to understand the significance of the impact alcohol and marijuana use has on the human memory one must first understand the widespread use of the substances that is being experienced in the states today.

"Alcohol consumption among eighth, tenth, and twelfth graders has decreased substantially since the 1970s. Consumption rates are still high among these age groups, with 12.4% of 8th and 28.6% of 12th graders reporting drinking five or more drinks in a row in the past 2 weeks. Alcohol consumption rates have remained stable over the past decade (Aukerman, 2005)."

That stability is a concern to experts in the field as it remains constant which means there are problems with brain cells across the board. When marijuana use is added to the equation the numbers climb even higher.

Alcohol has been around for many years while marijuana use only became a problem in the 1960's and 1970's (Aukerman, 2005).

"About 47% of American high school students had consumed alcohol within the 30 days preceding this survey-based study. Additionally, 30.7% had ridden with a driver who had been drinking. The Youth Risk Factor Behavior Surveillance System is a national school-based survey sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The survey study is conducted by the CDC and state and local agencies. These results represent data collected from February to December of 2001(Aukerman, 2005). "

Approximately 10% of patients seen for routine primary care were at risk of suffering negative consequences from alcohol consumption in this population-based health survey (n = 3439). In this multicenter study of 23 primary care practices, abstainers from alcohol tended to be older minorities of poorer health and lower socioeconomic status. Single males and users of other substances (eg, tobacco, marijuana, and cocaine) had an increased risk of suffering negative consequences from drinking alcohol (Aukerman, 2005). Binge drinkers were more likely to be tobacco and marijuana users, perceive their health as poor, and report the most negative consequences from alcohol consumption.

"According to this population-based study of American adults, 79% of older adults reported current drinking. Of those currently drinking participants, 25% drank daily. When alcohol consumption was quantified, 16% of older men and 15% of older women were classified as heavy drinkers (Aukerman, 2005). The definition of heavy drinking was gender specific (>2 drinks daily for men; >1 drink daily for women). The following factors were associated with increased alcohol consumption: male gender, younger age, and greater income. This study was based on data from NHANES I. These data were obtained from 3448 adults, 65 years of age or older, living in the United States (Aukerman, 2005). "

Alcohol and marijuana use has been positively linked to many health problems including memory deficits. The use of those substances interferes with several brain processes which in turn impair the memory, both short-term and long-term depending on several factors.

While drinking or smoking is dangerous to the brain at any age, it has an especially significant impact on the young as their brains are not fully developed yet (Herrman, 2005).

"Many people are under the impression that the brain is largely developed during the school age years, simply maturing during the adolescent years. Resources profess that the most rapid proliferation of brain cells is in utero and that the structure of the human brain is laid down by age 3, with maturation attained between 10 and 12 years old (Herrman, 2005).

Several studies have refuted these findings, indicating that the brain is actively growing throughout the teen years and is, in fact, changing until young adulthood . Several researchers contend that, based on physiological research alone, brain development extends well into the twenties, causing some to consider the adolescent period to range from 11-25 years of age (Herrman, 2005). New information indicates that early adolescence is a period of significant brain growth and development characterized by three distinct processes: proliferation, pruning, and myelinization (Herrman, 2005).

Research conducted by experts investigated the association between the pruning phase and the effects of alcohol. This research postulated that overuse of alcohol during the sensitive pruning period, as opposed to exposure during nonpruning periods, may increase an individual's susceptibility to the damaging effects of alcohol. These may be manifested as impairments in memory and learning. This study also found that there was an increased tendency to dependency and propensity to partake in binge drinking when alcohol use was initiated during the early adolescent years, ostensibly during this pruning process (Herrman, 2005). One study proposed "those [teens] with repeated alcohol exposure during adolescence are more sensitive to alcohol-induced impairments later in life (Herrman, 2005)"

This goes hand in hand with the impairment on memory that the substance abuse can cause.


Marijuana is the Nation's most commonly used illicit drug. More than 83 million Americans (37%) age 12 and older have tried marijuana at least once, according to the 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA) (http://www.starliterecovery.com/marijuana.asp).

Marijuana use is widespread among adolescents and young adults. The percentage of middle-school students who reported using marijuana increased throughout the early 1990s. In the past few years, according to the 2001 Monitoring the Future Study, an annual survey of drug use among the Nation's middle- and high-school students, illicit drug use by 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders has leveled off. Still, in 2001, 20% of 8th-graders reported that they had tried marijuana, and 9% were current users (defined as having used the drug in the 30 days preceding the survey). Among 10th-graders, 40% had tried marijuana sometime in their lives, and almost 20% were current users. As would be expected, rates of use among 12th-graders were higher still: Nearly half had tried marijuana at some time, and 22% were current users.

Marijuana is also a substance that should be understood before one can grasp the impact on memory. Marijuana interferes with memory, both long-term and short-term according to recent studies (http://www.starliterecovery.com/marijuana.asp). "

Scientists have learned a great deal about how THC acts in the brain to produce its many effects. When someone smokes marijuana, THC rapidly passes from the lungs into the bloodstream, which carries the chemical to organs throughout the body, including the brain. In the brain, THC connects to specific sites called cannabinoid receptors on nerve cells and thereby influences the activity of those cells. Some brain areas have many cannabinoid receptors; others have few or none. Many cannabinoid receptors are found in the parts of the brain that influence pleasure, memory, thought, concentration, sensory and time perception, and coordinated movement http://www.starliterecovery.com/marijuana.asp.

Marijuana's effects begin immediately after the drug enters the brain and last from 1 to 3 hours. If marijuana is consumed in food or drink, the short-term effects begin more slowly, usually in 1/2 to 1 hour, and last longer, for as long as 4 hours. Smoking marijuana deposits several times more THC into the blood than does eating or drinking the drug http://www.starliterecovery.com/marijuana.asp.

Within a few minutes after inhaling marijuana smoke, an individual's heart begins beating more rapidly, the bronchial passages relax and become enlarged, and blood vessels in the eyes expand, making the eyes look red. The heart rate, normally 70 to 80 beats per minute, may increase by 20 to 50 beats per minute or, in some cases, even double. This effect can be greater if other drugs are taken with marijuana http://www.starliterecovery.com/marijuana.asp.

As THC enters the brain, it causes a user to feel euphoric - or "high" - by acting in the brain's reward system, areas of the brain that respond to stimuli such as food and drink as well as most drugs of abuse. THC activates the reward system in the same way that nearly all drugs of abuse do, by stimulating brain cells to release the chemical dopamine http://www.starliterecovery.com/marijuana.asp.

A marijuana user may experience… [END OF PREVIEW]

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