Marijuana comes from the shredded and dried parts of the cannabis plant, including its flowers, seeds, leaves, and stems. Also known as weed, pot, hash, and dozens of other names, marijuana is one of the most commonly used drugs in the United States. Marijuana effects in the body can be psychological and physical, ranging from discomfort to pain relief and long-term health consequences.
However, because marijuana also has a medical component, there’s ongoing controversy around the effects of marijuana on the body. The National Institute of Health (NIH) continues to support research into THC and CBD’s possible medicinal uses, as more states agree to make marijuana legal for recreational and medicinal purposes.
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How Marijuana Affects the Brain
Marijuana use directly affects the brain — particularly parts of the brain responsible for memory, attention, learning, coordination, emotion, decision making, and reaction time. Heavy marijuana users can have short-term memory and attention problems.
But, marijuana can also have a significant impact on brain development. When marijuana users begin as teenagers, the drug can affect how the brain builds connections between areas necessary for attention, memory, and learning functions. Marijuana effects on these functions can be permanent.
Marijuana Effects on Mental Health
Beyond the physical effects on the brain, marijuana use can also result in mental health consequences. THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana, can alter the way people process information. Marijuana also causes an increased dopamine release in the brain, giving you the infamous “high” feeling.
However, excessive use or daily use of marijuana can lead to disorientation, anxiety, and paranoia. Marijuana abusers are more likely to develop temporary psychosis and long-lasting mental disorders, including schizophrenia. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), marijuana use can lead to depression and anxiety.
Although marijuana increases dopamine release and may ease depression or anxiety symptoms, it could have the opposite effects in chronic users. When marijuana addicts experience withdrawal symptoms, they can often present heightened feelings of depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts, particularly among teenagers.
How Marijuana Affects the Central Nervous System
The effects of marijuana extend throughout the central nervous system (CNS), with some positive effects like easing pain, inflammation and controlling seizures. However, THC alters the way we process information. It also changes brain areas that play a significant role in movement and balance. Marijuana can have a long-term effect on your balance, coordination, and reflect response that could be permanent.
Some studies involving animals showed that THC could damage the immune system, making individuals more prone to illnesses. However, further research is needed to understand how marijuana affects our immune system entirely.
Effects on Heart Health
Moving on, most people don’t realize marijuana can harm heart health. Marijuana users have an increased risk of heart attack and heart disease. However, so far, most studies of heart health and marijuana are on people who smoke it. When someone smokes marijuana, they’re entering THC and other cannabinoids into the body, including some of the same substances found in tobacco smoke, which are harmful to the cardiovascular system.
So, we still need more studies to separate the effects of the compounds in marijuana and the irritants and other chemicals in the smoke. We need more evidence to understand better how marijuana affects the heart.
Effects on Lung Health
In most cases, marijuana is smoked using hand-rolled cigarettes (joints), or in pipes or water pipes (bongs). Smoked marijuana can damage lung tissues and cause scarring and damage to small blood vessels. Marijuana smoke contains the same irritants, toxins, and carcinogens as tobacco smoke. This is why smoking marijuana can also lead to bronchitis. Not to mention, smoking marijuana also increases people’s risk of developing lung cancer.
The known health risks of secondhand smoke raise the question about secondhand exposure to marijuana smoke poses similar risks. Unfortunately, there’s little data on the health consequences of breathing secondhand marijuana smoke.
So far, recent studies have found connections between secondhand marijuana exposure and detectable levels of THC. Children exposed to marijuana smoke are at risk of developmental problems, including babies whose mothers used marijuana while pregnant. Other studies also found that marijuana exposure can impact the developing teenage brain, resulting in attention and memory problems.
Other Health Effects of Marijuana on the Body
As you can see, marijuana has a direct effect on multiple systems of the body. Of course, this isn’t to say that marijuana doesn’t have any beneficial effects. It’s well-known that marijuana can provide chronic pain relief and glaucoma relief and reduce nausea and vomiting for people being treated with chemotherapy.
Even still, there are some other controversial effects. For example, about 1 in 10 marijuana users will become addicted. Among people who start using marijuana before they’re 18, those numbers rise to 1 in every 6. People who fall addicted to marijuana may also be at higher risk of negative consequences.
As of today, research is not enough to talk about a link between marijuana and cancer. While we know that smoked marijuana could increase someone’s risk of cardiovascular and lung cancer, there isn’t a direct link between the two. Researchers are also looking at a potential link between chronic marijuana use and testicular cancer. Although, evidence found to date is still limited.
When to Seek Help
You don’t have to wait to experience any of these adverse health effects to seek help. If you or someone you know is struggling with marijuana addiction, you must speak with a professional. At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, our addiction specialists are always ready to help you find the best treatment plan that addresses your unique needs. Contact us today to start addressing your marijuana abuse.