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Brain Power: Grades 4-5


Alcohol, marijuana, and inhalants are drugs that have a major impact on the brain and the nervous system. Alcohol and marijuana abuse can result in memory loss, impaired motor coordination, impaired thinking and problem solving, and changes in emotional behavior. Inhalant abuse can cause damage to nerves throughout the body and structural changes in the brain.

Below are descriptions of alcohol, marijuana, and inhalants.

Drug Name & Other Terms How It Is Used Effects of the Drug Negative Effects on the Body How It Works

Ethyl alcohol or ethanol; found in beer, wine, and liquor
Consumed by drinking Causes relaxation and euphoria Causes decreased coordination and attention, impaired concentration and reaction time, drowsiness, memory problems, and mood changes. Long-term use can result in diseases like alcoholism or Wernicke- Korsakoff Syndrome, which adversely affects memory. Also can severely damage the liver. Affects GABA, which normally decreases the activity of other neurons. Increases the level of dopamine in the brain, reinforcing the connection between drug-taking and reward, and leading the person to want to repeat the behavior. Also affects brain structures that influence breathing and heart rate, which can make overdoses fatal. Depresses the central nervous system and can kill brain cells when used in excess.

Pot, weed, grass, and reefer
Usually smoked like a cigarette (called a “joint”), but can be baked into brownies or cookies or brewed like tea Causes euphoria Can adversely affect the limbic system, impairing perception, learning and memory, as well as altering emotions. Can severely damage the lungs. Also acts on receptors in the brain causing increased blood pressure, heart rate, and sleepiness. THC, the active chemical in marijuana, attaches to neuron receptors that are normally used by the neurotransmitter anandamide. Areas of the brain with high concentrations of these receptors are affected, including the limbic system, basal ganglia, and cerebellum.

Turpentine, acetone, fluorinated hydrocarbons; some slang names include highball, hippie crack, and huff
Fumes are sniffed or inhaled Causes euphoria Can decrease coordination, and cause hearing loss, nerve damage, hepatitis, liver failure, muscle weakness, and aplastic anemia, which is a result of decreased red blood cell production. Can adversely affect thinking, memory, and learning. Fumes can replace oxygen in the lungs, leading to suffocation (called “sudden sniffing death”), or interfere with normal heart rhythm, leading to cardiac arrest. Inhalants suppress nerve action, kill neurons, and change the structure of the brain. They can damage myelin, the insulation that covers neurons. They affect many areas of the brain, including the frontal cortex, cerebellum, hippocampus, and brain stem.

This page was last updated September 2012

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NIDA. (2012, September 1). Brain Power: Grades 4-5. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/brain-power/brain-power-grades-4-5

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