Is Weed Really Harmless?
It’s a question people have been asking since time immemorial – how does marijuana affect the body? Well, today Lighthouse Recovery Institute has set out to explain the physical effects of marijuana once and for all!
When it comes to exploring the effects of marijuana, be they physical or mental, people generally fall into one of two camps. There are those who believe pot to be harmless, a natural herb that even possesses medicinal qualities. Then there are those who believe the mental and physical effects of marijuana are no different than, say, heroin or cocaine.
The truth lies somewhere between the two. How does marijuana affect the body? Well, it’s neither harmless nor is it a sacred panacea of the gods. Like most things in this world, the truth is made up of both positives and negatives.
It’s important to remember that the physical effects of marijuana, like any chemical, are far-reaching and range from mild to severe. While this guide covers many aspects of how marijuana affects the body, it doesn’t cover them all. That being said, sit back, pour yourself a cup of coffee, and learn the physical effects of marijuana!
Physical Effects of Marijuana on the Lungs
We’ll start by examining the physical effects of marijuana on the lungs. Smoking pot is by far the most popular way to ingest the drug, although in recent years many smokers have switched to vaping. This is due, in no small part, to how harmful marijuana smoke is on the lungs.
Regular smoking of any substance will lead to an increase in coughing, wheezing, esophageal irritation, and production of phlegm. Smoking will also increase the chance of developing bronchitis, various other respiratory illnesses, and cancer.
Marijuana smoke differs from cigarette smoke in one key area. It contains much more benzopyrene, which is one of the most carcinogenic chemicals found in smoke. A single joint contains about 40% more benzopyrene than a comparable sized cigarette.
Due to marijuana smoke’s large concentration of benzopyrene, it’s commonly thought that smoking pot is more harmful than smoking cigarettes. Unfortunately this hasn’t been confirmed one way or the other.
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, “there is no conclusive evidence that marijuana smoke causes lung cancer. More research is needed” (Healthline).
However, according to a UCLA study, “1 to 3 marijuana joints appears to produce approximately the same lung damage and potential cancer risk as smoking 5 times as many cigarettes” (PBS).
Regardless of which is true, when examining how marijuana affects the body, it’s clear that pot hits the lungs like a ton of bricks.
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Physical Effects of Marijuana on the Heart
After the lungs, the physical effects of marijuana can best be seen in the heart and circulatory system.
After smoking pot, THC moves throughout the body. As it hits the heart, it increases an individual’s heartbeat by between twenty to fifty beats per minute. This fast heartbeat can last as long as three hours and drastically increases the risk of heart attack.
Another physical effect of marijuana on the circulatory system, and perhaps the most famous, is how it dilates the pupils and causes bloodshot eyes. This is due to how THC causes blood vessels to expand.
On a more positive note, there’s anecdotal evidence that this expansion of blood vessels may decrease the flow of blood to tumors. This is one of the many reasons that medical marijuana is often touted as a wonder drug.
Physical Effects of Marijuana on the Digestive System
Inhaling burning smoke isn’t good in any sense of the word. This is true of marijuana smoke, cigarette smoke, or any other type. Smoke can irritate the mouth, gums, and throat.
The rest of marijuana’s effects on the digestive system are positive. Marijuana helps ease vomiting, nausea, and other gastric distress. It also increases the appetite (commonly referred to as “having the munchies”).
Physical Effects of Marijuana on the Brain
Although the physical effects of marijuana on the brain are more of a mental effect than physical, it’s still important to talk about them when considering how marijuana affects the body. It may be easier to list the ways that THC doesn’t impact cognition!
When smoked, one of the areas of the brain that THC acts on is the hippocampus. This is the area that processes information and memories. THC alters how sensory information is perceived and stored. If used as an adolescent or young adult, THC can actually alter the brain to the point of cognitive impairment in adulthood. THC is also thought to expedite brain cell loss.
Another way that marijuana affects the brain is through impacting the cerebellum and basal ganglia. These are parts of the brain that control balance, coordination, and reaction time. Despite the widespread idea that it’s okay to smoke and drive, THC significantly impacts the ability of users to drive.
That’s a good question! What does all of the above mean in practical terms? What, if any, are the repercussions of smoking marijuana? Well, there’s good news and bad news.
The bad news is that the physical effects of marijuana are numerous and, more often than not, negative. While pot offers some medical benefits, these areas are far out-shadowed by its harmful impact on the lungs, circulatory system, and brain.
The good news is that compared to many other substances marijuana is actually fairly safe. Smoking pot doesn’t increase anger or lower inhibitions like alcohol. It doesn’t lead to respiratory failure like opioids or benzo’s. It doesn’t directly introduce the risk of contracting HIV, HCV, or other blood borne illnesses like injecting heroin or cocaine does.
To put it another way, smoking pot isn’t the worst thing an individual could do but it certainly won’t your improve health in any way. It’s better to just say no.