The Health Effects Of Marijuana Usage

Pathways -- The Health Effects Of Marijuana Usage -- 08-23-16The Negative Health Effects Of Marijuana Usage Are Numerous

Although there is a large segment of the population that promotes legalization of marijuana and marijuana usage for recreational as well as medicinal purposes, research indicates that marijuana usage can result in many different health problems.  Being the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States, means that there is a large body of data available to gather information from.

Smoking Versus Ingestion of Marijuana

When marijuana is smoked it affects users almost immediately and depending on the strength of the marijuana its effects can last from 1 to 3 hours.  When eaten in food the effects take longer to begin, but they can also last longer.

 The short-term effects of marijuana usage include:

  • Loss of coordination
  • Distorted perception (sights, sounds, time, touch)
  • Increased heart rate, reduced blood pressure
  • Problems with memory and learning
  • Trouble with thinking and problem-solving

Sometimes marijuana usage can also produce anxiety, fear, distrust, or panic.

Active Chemicals In Marijuana

THC Marijuana ChemistryThe active ingredient in marijuana, delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, affects cannabinoid receptors on nerve cells and influences the activity of those cells. Some brain areas have many cannabinoid receptors, but other areas of the brain have few or none at all. Many cannabinoid receptors are found in the parts of the brain that influence pleasure, memory, thought, concentration, sensory and time perception, and coordinated movement.

Mental Symptoms of Marijuana

With the strength of the marijuana available today, higher doses of THC are delivered to the brain and marijuana usage can cause the following symptoms:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Impaired memory
  • Disorientation

Not long after after smoking marijuana, the heart will begin to beat more rapidly and the blood pressure will drop. Smoking marijuana can cause the heart rate to increase by 20 to 50 beats per minute, and this can increase even more when other drugs, such as alcohol, are used simultaneously.

Marijuana Usage and Low Blood Pressure

Marijuana Heart ProblemsAs a result of the lower blood pressure and higher heart rate, research has shown that marijuana usage can increase the risk for a heart attack as much as four times within the first hour after smoking marijuana, compared to the general risk of heart attack when not smoking.

Smoking marijuana, even infrequently, can cause burning and stinging of the mouth and throat, and cause heavy coughing. Scientists have found that regular marijuana smokers can experience the same respiratory problems as tobacco smokers do, including:

  • Daily cough and phlegm production
  • More frequent acute chest illnesses
  • Increased risk of lung infections
  • Obstructed airways

Most marijuana smokers consume a lot less cannabis than cigarette smokers consume tobacco, however the harmful effects of smoking marijuana should not be ignored. Marijuana contains more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than tobacco smoke and because marijuana smokers typically inhale deeper and hold the smoke in their lungs longer than tobacco smokers, their lungs are exposed to those carcinogenic properties longer, when smoking.

Although one study found that marijuana smokers were three times more likely to develop cancer of the head or neck than non-smokers, that study could not be confirmed by further analysis.

Marijuana Smoke and Cancer Rates

Marijuana Lung CancerBecause marijuana smoke contains three times the amount of tar found in tobacco smoke and 50 percent more carcinogens, it would seem logical to deduce that there is an increased risk of lung cancer for marijuana smokers. However, researchers have not been able to definitively prove such a link because their studies have not been able to adjust for tobacco smoking and other factors that might also increase the risk.

Studies linking marijuana smoking to lung cancer have also been limited by selection bias and small sample size. For example, the participants in those studies may have been too young to have developed lung cancer yet. Even though researchers have yet to "prove" a link between smoking pot and lung cancer, regular smokers may want to consider the risk.

Is Marijuana Addictive?

While originally not thought to be addictive, recent studies have indicated that this is not necessarily the case.  Changes to the plant brought about by intentional breeding by the growers has made the amount of THC in the marijuana currently available much higher than in the past.  As a result the euphoric effects of marijuana are much greater today than they were in the past.  So anyone seeking an escape from reality can easily turn to marijuana as their drug of choice, just as much as heroin or other addictive narcotics.

While the jury is still out on the addictive nature of marijuana usage, studies are leaning more and more in the direction of it being addictive rather than just habit forming.