The Science Behind Polydrug Effects

Learn what makes the combination of alcohol and marijuana effects so dangerous.

Polydrug effects can be more dangerous than alcohol or marijuana use alone.It’s common knowledge that getting behind the wheel after consuming alcohol will undoubtedly impair one’s driving.

Over the years, there has been a tremendous body of research on drunk driving, as well as countless public awareness campaigns targeting and discouraging driving under the influence.

However, far fewer resources have been devoted to studying the dangers of driving while under the influence of both alcohol and marijuana. This is referred to as polydrug use, the use of two drugs at the same time.

As more states legalize marijuana/THC/cannabis use, the research will follow, but in the meantime, it’s crucial to understand the dangers of polydrug effects and their impact on driving.

According to a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that looked at tolerance and cross-tolerance to the effects of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and alcohol in heavy cannabis users, “[alcohol] significantly impaired critical tracking, divided attention, and stop-signal performance… however, combined effects of THC and alcohol on divided attention were bigger than those by alcohol alone.” 

Think of this as similar to texting while driving — each activity individually can present risks on their own, but doing both simultaneously can be especially dangerous. 

On a more molecular level in the body, a study published in the Clinical Chemistry journal found that any type of alcohol increased the absorption of THC in marijuana products by priming liver enzymes. 

It’s widely known that if you drink too much alcohol, you are likely to feel sick rather quickly. What is less widely known are occurrences referred to as “greening out” after using marijuana or “crossfading” after consuming both alcohol and marijuana.

This is similar to the acute sickness that follows drinking too much alcohol, where the user becomes sweaty, dizzy, and disoriented, with a decrease in coordination and the ability to process information. 

Greening out can even include the more severe symptoms of heart palpitations, paranoia, and panic attacks. All this to say, using alcohol and cannabis together increases the likelihood of experiencing adverse effects.

As important as research on polydrug effects is, sometimes the most impactful lesson is one participants can experience hands-on rather than just read about. 

Fatal Vision has developed several tools to help young people safely experience firsthand the perils of impaired driving, including the newly-released the Polydrug [Alcohol and Marijuana] Goggles, which simulate alcohol and marijuana impairment. These goggles, along with the included activities, offer an eye-opening opportunity to truly understand the extent to which polydrug use diminishes cognitive function in a safe, controlled environment. 

To learn more about Fatal Vision’s educational products and how you can use them to enrich how you teach about alcohol and marijuana effects, visit our online store or contact our team today!