Cocaine vs. Marijuana: Know the Drugs and the Differences

There’s a good deal of false information out there about marijuana and cocaine use and the respective ways in which they affect the brain and human health in general. Puff by puff and blow by blow, here’s a closer look at some of the key differences between two of today’s most prevalent drugs.

The Drugs and How They are Used

Cocaine:

  • cocaine useAddictive stimulant made from leaves of South American coca plant.
  • Powdered form either inhaled (snorted) through the nose and absorbed through nasal tissue, or dissolved in water and injected into bloodstream.
  • Crack is a form of cocaine processed to create a rock crystal (also called “freebase cocaine”) that can be smoked. Crystal heated to produce vapors absorbed into bloodstream through the lungs’ “crack” refers to the crackling sound made as it is heated.
  • Intensity and duration of cocaine’s effects depend on how it is administered. Smoking or injecting delivers quickly to bloodstream and brain, producing faster, stronger but shorter-lasting effect than snorting.
  • To sustain effects of cocaine use, the drug is often used in a binge pattern, taken repeatedly within a relatively short period of time, at increasingly higher doses.

Marijuana:

  • Dry, shredded green and brown mixture of leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds from the Cannabis sativa plant.
  • Concentrated, resinous form called hashish; has oil is a sticky black liquid.
  • Main mind-altering chemical in marijuana is tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.
  • Smoked in hand-rolled cigarettes (joints) or in pipes or water pipes (bongs); can also be mixed in food or brewed as a tea.

How Do Cocaine and Marijuana Affect the Brain?

Cocaine:

  • Strong central nervous system stimulant; increases levels of neurotransmitter dopamine in brain circuits regulating pleasure and movement.
  • Dopamine normally released by neurons in these circuits in response to potential rewards and then recycled back into the cell that released it.
  • Cocaine prevents dopamine from being recycled, causing excessive amounts to build up in the junction between neurons. This amplifies dopamine signal and ultimately disrupts normal brain communication.
  • Repeated cocaine use can cause long-term changes in brain’s reward system, as well as other brain systems, which may lead to addiction.
  • With repeated cocaine use, tolerance often develops, with abusers failing to achieve the same effects level as with first exposure. Can lead to dose increases in attempt to intensify and prolong drug’s effect.
  • When smoked, THC quickly passes from lungs to bloodstream, which carries chemical to brain and other organs. THC absorbed more slowly when ingested in food or drink.
  • THC targets specific molecules on brain cells called cannabinoid receptors. These receptors normally activated by chemicals similar to THC that are naturally occurring in the body.
  • The highest density of cannabinoid receptors is found in parts of the brain that influence pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, sensory and time perception, as well as coordinated movement.
  • Marijuana overactivates the endocannabinoid system, causing effects such as distorted perceptions, impaired coordination, difficulty with thinking and problem solving, and disrupted learning and memory.

Marijuana:

  • When smoked, THC quickly passes from lungs to bloodstream, which carries chemical to brain and other organs. THC absorbed more slowly when ingested in food or drink.
  • THC targets specific molecules on brain cells called cannabinoid receptors. These receptors normally activated by chemicals similar to THC that are naturally occurring in the body.
  • The highest density of cannabinoid receptors is found in parts of the brain that influence pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, sensory and time perception, as well as coordinated movement.
  • Marijuana overactivates the endocannabinoid system, causing effects such as distorted perceptions, impaired coordination, difficulty with thinking and problem solving, and disrupted learning and memory.

 

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