The side effects of long term use of marijuana can become a concern for those who use pot for its valuable medical benefits. The medical benefits of the effects of CBD oil, THC products, and other forms of marijuana are well studied and undisputed. We will look at the long term effects of marijuana smoking, the short term effects of marijuana use, and the effects of marijuana use on the brain to ascertain if there are negative consequences that affect health risks and weigh these against the many benefits for regular users.
Short Term Effects of Marijuana Use
Before we look at the possible long-term effects and side-effects, let’s look at the short term effects of marijuana use. Consumption of marijuana products with significant THC content results in an acute ‘high’ which may be characterized by relaxation and reduced stress. Users may also experience euphoria and alterations in perception. There is also pain relief and a greater ability to enjoy activities like socializing and listening to music. Some people experience a more creative and introspective mind. As a side effect, some users experience increased anxiety, especially with strains that have high THC and low cannabidiol (CBD), which is a therapeutic component of cannabis that helps ameliorate the tendency to negative short-term side effects of cannabis products. Another unpleasant acute side effect reported by some users is depersonalization, a feeling of being unreal or just watching life without participating.
Different strains have different short term effects. Sativa weed effects are different from indica weed effects. Sativa strains are stimulating and are often paired with active engagements such as social gatherings or creative projects. Indica strains are more relaxing, and used for stress relief and winding down. A Sativa strain is more likely to cause symptoms of increased anxiety than an indica strain, which may relieve anxiety.
|Short-Term Effects of Marijuana Use|
|Medical and Recreational Effects||Side Effects (all are rare)|
Long Term Effects of Weed
Effects of Marijuana Use on the brain
Cannabis products affect cannabinoid receptors in the brain. CB1 receptors are most abundant in the brain while CB2 receptors occur primarily in the immune system. Stimulation of the CB1 receptors by cannabinoids cause the psychological effects of cannabis. It results in changes in the levels of neurotransmitters, including dopamine, noradrenaline, endorphins, glutamate, and acetylcholine, affecting mood, pain relief, stimulation, memory, and secretion of saliva and ocular fluids. Cannabinoid receptors in the basal ganglia of the brain affect control of movement, causing relaxation or conversely, lethargy and ataxia. Actions in the hippocampus affect memory and learning, which can lead to a rush of ideas and creativity, or conversely, a loss of normal thought control and perception.
A 2003 study done at the University of California on the long-term side effects of marijuana found that while chronic use may cause effects like forgetfulness or anxiety, it did not appear to cause permanent brain damage. All ill effects ceased within months of discontinuation even in heavy users.
Heavy marijuana use can rarely cause an acute psychosis which usually abates within six hours; however, it can be chronic if the susceptible user continues heavy use. More troubling is that some studies appear to suggest cannabis use in childhood can increase the risk of psychotic disorders like schizophrenia in susceptible individuals. Although the link is not proven, it’s important that children and teens avoid marijuana use outside the context of medical intervention. It is also possible that cannabis use may exacerbate existing psychotic disorders, an association which is more likely.
There is also an association between cannabis use in childhood continuing into adulthood and major depressive disorder. It is unclear whether it increases the risk of developing depression or if those with mood disorders self-medicate with cannabis or both.
Cannabis use may worsen symptoms of mania in those with bipolar disorders.
Effects of Marijuana Use on Memory and Intelligence
Marijuana causes short-term memory deficits. This naturally affects long-term memory and learning because it intervenes in memory formation. However, a 2001 study done at Harvard University on the long term effects of smoking cannabis and other forms of marijuana usage discovered no significant long-term effects on memory. While chronic users had mild chronic memory and learning difficulty, especially in verbal memory, and continued to have difficulty for up to two weeks after abstinence, users appeared normal and no different than non-users within one month. In other words, short-term memory and learning deficits can become chronic if heavy marijuana use continues, but marijuana may cause no permanent damage. The user misses information the first time around, rather than becoming unable to remember it when sober. Other cognitive measures such as reaction time and reasoning ability were not affected.
A 2002 study at John Hopkins School of Medicine detected mild deficits even at 28 days after marijuana use was discontinued. Therefore, it is possible that mild impairments in memory can be permanent. Note, however, that marijuana can remain in the bloodstream up to two months, so even after 28 days, some heavy users will still have blood levels of cannabinoids which may affect memory and learning.
Effects of Marijuana Use on Physical Health
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Does Smoking Weed Cause Lung Cancer?
Few studies have linked weed smoking to lung cancer; however, marijuana smoke contains at least 50 recognized carcinogens. Directly inhaling the smoke of any plant material whatsoever may be mutagenic and carcinogenic. On the other hand, marijuana has known cancer-fighting effects, especially taken by routes other than smoking. Essentially, due to the lack of careful studies done in the past because of the illegality of cannabis, we do not know if smoking it causes lung cancer, or if it decreases the risk of lung cancer. Therefore, for those for whom this is a concern, other routes of administration such as edibles like cannabutter might be a better means of ingestion.
Other Physical Effects
Cannabinoids in medical marijuana may help fight cancer and Alzheimer’s. When used as a medication, the long-term effect is an increase in quality life years.
Conversely, marijuana use may cause some problems in the cardiovascular system by increasing cardiac workload, stimulation, and catecholamine levels (nervous system molecules that increase stimulation and produce stress) which can spell heart trouble for those with other risk factors. Though rare, marijuana can produce a temporarily increased risk of heart attack and stroke soon after smoking. The increased risk is similar to the increased risk after sex or similar exertion. Those with heart problems or previous stroke would do well to exercise caution by abstaining, or monitoring their blood pressure and heart rate when using medical marijuana. They may also choose more relaxing indica strains to avoid the harms of excess stimulation.
Smoking marijuana during pregnancy could be associated with miscarriage, or problems with growth and learning in the child, although there is little evidence on this. As the fetus’s nervous system is still developing, it is important that outside cannabinoids don’t interfere with development. Deficits in learning and attention could result. Firm conclusions on this cannot be drawn from the available scientific evidence, but to be on the safe side, intaking medical or recreational cannabinoids are contraindicated in pregnancy.
Does Marijuana Use Cause Dependency?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Edition (DSM-5) lists marijuana dependence as a disorder called Cannabis Use Disorder. While it is doubtful that marijuana is significantly physically addicting, it can be, like any habit, psychologically addicting. In other words, though the body may become irritated by abrupt cessation, one will not experience withdrawal to the extent of alcohol or opioid withdrawal. Withdrawals from marijuana are generally not dangerous and can be handled outpatient or even without medical support.
Marijuana users can become dependent when they use heavy doses over a long time. Some symptoms of dependence include irritability, restlessness, anxiety, depression, and needing higher doses to get the desired effect. Those who are dependent may continue to use despite financial problems and other harmful symptoms. Dependent users may have comorbid disorders including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and personality disorders. Tolerance may develop causing a dampening of the brain’s reward system, making regular activities less stimulating when done sober.
In summary, marijuana use has a range of short-term positive and negative effects, including euphoria and conversely anxiety. While there are short-term and chronic problems including possible lung damage and dependence, long-term problems have generally not been shown to persist a month after cessation, or after all, marijuana has left the system for a matter of weeks.
Long-term effects on the brain appear to be limited to heavy users who begin using in childhood. For children, marijuana use from childhood or teen years into adulthood may precipitate psychotic disorders like schizophrenia. There is also an association with anxiety, depression, and personality disorders, though it is not clear if the association represents causation or merely correlation or a feedback loop containing both.
Dependence is defined by the DSM-5 as usage that continues despite negative consequences such as forgetfulness, anxiety, and disordered finances. Dependence on cannabis appears mild in comparison to dependence on drugs like alcohol or opiates.
There is little evidence for permanent brain damage. There is theoretical evidence for permanent lung damage, not shown in studies, but inferred from the usual damage from inhaling the products of plant combustion. Therefore, users concerned about the bodily long-term effects should consume marijuana through edibles only for medical indications.
- 1 Short Term Effects of Marijuana Use
- 2 Long Term Effects of Weed
- 3 Effects of Marijuana Use on the brain
- 4 Effects of Marijuana Use on Memory and Intelligence
- 5 Effects of Marijuana Use on Physical Health
- 6 Does Smoking Weed Cause Lung Cancer?
- 7 Other Physical Effects
- 8 Does Marijuana Use Cause Dependency?
- 9 Conclusion