, Volume 214, Issue 2, pp 391-401,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 30 Oct 2010

Tolerance and cross-tolerance to neurocognitive effects of THC and alcohol in heavy cannabis users

Abstract

Introduction

Previous research has shown that heavy cannabis users develop tolerance to the impairing effects of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) on neurocognitive functions. Animal studies suggest that chronic cannabis consumption may also produce cross-tolerance for the impairing effects of alcohol, but supportive data in humans is scarce.

Purpose

The present study was designed to assess tolerance and cross-tolerance to the neurocognitive effects of THC and alcohol in heavy cannabis users.

Methods

Twenty-one heavy cannabis users participated in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, three-way study. Subjects underwent three alcohol-dosing conditions that were designed to achieve a steady blood alcohol concentration of about 0, 0.5, and 0.7 mg/ml during a 5-h time window. In addition, subjects smoked a THC cigarette (400 μg/kg) at 3 h post-onset of alcohol dosing during every alcohol condition. Performance tests were conducted repeatedly between 0 and 7 h after onset of drinking and included measures of perceptual motor control (critical tracking task), dual task processing (divided-attention task), motor inhibition (stop-signal task), and cognition (Tower of London).

Results

Alcohol significantly impaired critical tracking, divided attention, and stop-signal performance. THC generally did not affect task performance. However, combined effects of THC and alcohol on divided attention were bigger than those by alcohol alone.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the present study generally confirms that heavy cannabis users develop tolerance to the impairing effects of THC on neurocognitive task performance. Yet, heavy cannabis users did not develop cross-tolerance to the impairing effects of alcohol, and the presence of the latter even selectively potentiated THC effects on measures of divided attention.