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Chronic and heavy marijuana smoking is associated with adverse health effects. But despite its negative impact on health, it still remains as one of the most widely used illicit substances.
In fact, a recent survey showed that about 35 million American adults are using marijuana on a monthly basis. This number is up compared to a 2016 survey of 33 million regular marijuana users. With its legalization, there are fears these numbers will only increase.
But what does marijuana do to your body? What are its short and long-term effects?
Is it possible to predict the effects of marijuana smoking?
It’s fairly difficult to predict the effects of marijuana smoking since a lot of factors affect them.
For one, you have the different marijuana strains. You have Sativa, Indica, and their different variations. Sativa and Indica have different effects. Sativa has energizing and invigorating effects, while Indica has relaxing and sedating effects. Now, just imagine the effects of the various hybrids and other strain variations!
The THC level also has an effect. The higher the THC level, the faster and stronger its psychoactive effects will be. Most marijuana users prefer strains that have high THC level for their strong effects.
As for the health risks associated with marijuana use, duration of use and genes play a role. Chronic and heavy marijuana users have a higher risk of developing health problems compared to social smokers. Chronic marijuana users who have a family history of cancer also have increased lung cancer risks.
What are the short-term effects of smoking marijuana?
THC is the major psychoactive cannabinoid found in marijuana. As soon as you take a puff, it will immediately pass from your lungs to your brain via the bloodstream. THC will then over-stimulate several brain regions responsible for marijuana’s psychoactive effects.
Some of these short-term effects include:
- Paranoia, hallucinations, panic attacks, and increased anxiety.
The brain region responsible for these effects is the limbic system. It processes memories and emotions. THC over-stimulates the limbic system and causes the psychoactive effects of marijuana.
- Memory problems.
Marijuana causes short-term memory problems when it over-stimulates the cerebral cortex and hippocampus. These brain regions are responsible for processing and storing memories. You will have a harder time remembering things and creating new memories as well.
- Impaired judgment and reasoning.
Your ability to process information, think clearly, and make a good decision is impaired when you smoke marijuana. This is because of marijuana’s effects on your cerebral cortex, the brain region responsible for judgment and reasoning. With these impaired, you risk-taking tendency is increased and your inhibitions are lowered. You are more impulsive, and you have a harder time identifying risky situations.
- Lowered reaction time.
The basal ganglia and cerebellum are responsible for motor movement as well as balance and coordination. Smoking marijuana affects these brain regions. It makes you clumsy and uncoordinated. It also lowers your reaction time, increasing your risk of accidents.
What are the long-term effects of smoking marijuana?
Marijuana stimulates the brain’s reward and pleasure regions. Once activated, a flood of dopamine is released. Because dopamine is a “feel-good” chemical, it increases the pleasurable high associated with marijuana use. The more you smoke marijuana, the more these regions are activated, and the more you seek the high it produces. Marijuana use is habit-forming and is considered the most commonly used illicit drug.
Heavy and chronic marijuana use has long-term effects. Some of these include:
- Increased lung cancer risks.
Like tobacco smoke, marijuana smoke also contains toxic and carcinogenic compounds. One study showed that heavy marijuana smoking doubles your risk of developing lung cancer.
- Increased stroke and heart problem risks.
Chronic marijuana use has an adverse effect on the heart’s functions. It causes long-lasting hypotension, low heart rate, and decreased heart contractions. These changes increase stroke and heart attack risks.
- Lower IQ.
The brain continues to develop until about the age of 25. People who smoke marijuana before the brain is fully developed are putting their brain’s health and development at risk. The toxins in marijuana smoke have a negative effect on the developing brain and contribute to cognitive difficulties.
One study showed that marijuana users who started at an early age have a lower IQ of up to eight points compared to nonsmokers. This decline in IQ has an impact on their life. It contributes to poor school and work performance, lower self-esteem, antisocial behaviors, and relationship problems. It also contributes to memory and attention problems. Other far-reaching consequences of marijuana’s effect on IQ include difficulty finding a job, financial problems, and welfare dependency.
- Increased risk of marijuana addiction.
Marijuana is a habit-forming drug. The younger you start using marijuana, the higher the risk of developing an addiction. One study revealed that 9% of those who tried marijuana become addicted to it. Of those who started at a young age, one in six of them develops marijuana addiction.
- Low birth weight.
Pregnant women who are also chronic marijuana users are putting their babies’ health at risk. Prenatal marijuana exposure causes low birth weight and brain developmental problems. It will affect the baby’s cognitive development and result in poor verbal, memory, and concentration skills. Prenatal marijuana exposure also contributes to hyperactivity and impulsivity in the child.
- Increased health risks associated with secondhand marijuana smoke.
Nonsmokers who live with heavy and chronic marijuana users are at risk of developing health problems associated with secondhand marijuana smoke. Short-term consequences of passive exposure include milder psychoactive effects and eye irritation. THC is also absorbed by the cells and detected in the non smoker’s urine and blood. Although more studies are needed, long-term effects of passive exposure may cause lung and heart problems in the nonsmoker.
Smoking marijuana does have short and long-term health effects. If you’re going to use marijuana for recreational purposes, then vaporizers and edibles are a good option. Vaping is safer than smoking since it doesn’t produce smoke and generates fewer carcinogenic compounds.
If you want to try marijuana for your medical condition, there are other safer methods of administration. These include oral and sublingual cannabis, topical cannabis, and cannabis suppositories.