Marijuana, weed, pot, dope, grass. They’re different names for the same drug that comes from the cannabis plant. You can smoke it, vape it, drink it, or eat it. Most folks use marijuana for pleasure and recreation. But a growing number of doctors prescribe it for specific medical conditions and symptoms.
Marijuana has mind-altering compounds that affect both your brain and body. It can be addictive, and it may be harmful to some people’s health. Here’s what can happen when you use marijuana:
About 1 in 10 marijuana users will become addicted. For people who begin using before the age of 18, that number rises to 1 in 6.
Some of the signs that someone might be addicted include:
- Unsuccessful efforts to quit using marijuana.
- Giving up important activities with friends and family in favor of using marijuana.
- Using marijuana even when it is known that it causes problems fulfilling everyday jobs at home, school or work.
People who are addicted to marijuana may also be at a higher risk of other negative consequences of using the drug, such as problems with attention, memory, and learning. Some people who are addicted need to smoke more and more marijuana to get the same high. It is also important to be aware that the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in marijuana (i.e., marijuana potency or strength) has increased over the past few decades. The higher the THC content, the stronger the effects on the brain. In addition, some methods of using marijuana (e.g., dabbing, edibles) may deliver very high levels of THC to the user.Researchers do not yet know the full extent of the consequences when the body and brain (especially the developing brain) are exposed to high concentrations of THC or how recent increases in potency affect the risk of someone becoming addicted.
Marijuana use directly affects the brain — specifically the parts of the brain responsible for memory, learning, attention, decision making, coordination, emotions, and reaction time.
Heavy users of marijuana can have short-term problems with attention, memory, and learning, which can affect relationships and mood.
Marijuana also affects brain development. When marijuana users begin using as teenagers, the drug may reduce attention, memory, and learning functions and affect how the brain builds connections between the areas necessary for these functions.
Marijuana’s effects on these abilities may last a long time or even be permanent. This means that someone who uses marijuana may not do as well in school and may have trouble remembering things.The impact depends on many factors and is different for each person. It also depends on the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in marijuana, how often it is used, the age of first use, and whether other substances are used at the same time.
Developing brains, like those in babies, children, and teenagers are especially susceptible to the hurtful effects of marijuana. Although scientists are still learning about these effects of marijuana on the developing brain, studies show that marijuana use by mothers during pregnancy may be linked to problems with attention, memory, problem-solving skills, and behavior problems in their children.
Cannabis can damage blood vessels
Secondhand smoke may not seem all that bad. But it can have a major impact on your blood vessels, according to research from the American Heart Association. After rats inhaled secondhand smoke for one minute, their arteries carried blood less efficiently for at least 90 minutes. When they were exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke, however, their blood vessels recovered after 30 minutes. “While the effect is temporary for both cigarette and marijuana smoke, these temporary problems can turn into long-term problems if exposures occur often enough and may increase the chances of developing hardened and clogged arteries,” said study author Matthew Springer, Ph.D.
Cannabis may increase testicular cancer risk
Smoking weed may increase your odds of getting testicular cancer, researchers at the University of Southern California found. In the study, men who had testicular germ cell tumors were more likely to report previously using marijuana than those who didn’t have the tumors. While the findings were interesting, more research needs to be done to determine if there was a causal relationship between cancer and marijuana use, a doctor for the American Cancer Society said that .
Cannabis impacts short-term memory
Stoners get a bad reputation for being forgetful, but it turns out the stigma might not be entirely myth. In one study, Northwestern University scientists found that former pot smokers had developed brain abnormalities in regions associated with short-term memory, and performed slightly worse on memory-related tasks. Even more unsettling: The brains of pot smokers were found to be abnormally shaped and looked similar to brains damaged by schizophrenia. (That’s not to say that smoking weed causes schizophrenia, of course, and obviously a lot of research still needs to be done on the topic.)
Cannabis hinders creativity
Artists, musicians, and other creative types sometimes credit marijuana as their source of inspiration. However, a study from the Netherlands seems to prove otherwise. Volunteers who were given marijuana with high THC content were not able to come up with as many solutions to a problem as those given a placebo.
Cannabis could destroy brain cells
All those jokes about stoners killing their brain cells? They might have some merit, according to a 20-year study on smoking pot, which suggests that lighting up could decrease cognitive function, in addition to an increased risk of psychotic symptoms and disorders.
Cannabis could help heal broken bones
It’s not all bad news for pot smokers. Weed may help bones heal stronger and faster, according to a study from Tel Aviv University. Cannabinoid cannabidiol, which is found in cannabis leaves and stems, helped mice recover from broken bones more effectively. Researchers believe the substance helps minerals get into the bone tissue, making bones stronger, sturdier, and less likely to break in the future.
Cannabis isn’t great for your job prospects
If you want to be successful, then you better lay off the weed, according to scientists at UC Davis and Duke. “People who smoked cannabis four or more days of the week over many years ended up in a lower social class than their parents, with lower-paying, less skilled, and less prestigious jobs than those who were not regular cannabis smokers,” study author Magdalena Cerdá said in a press release. Cerdá and her colleagues had more bad news to share—cannabis users also had more financial troubles, tended to be more antisocial behavior at work, and experienced more relationship problems.
Cannabis can triple your risk of death from hypertension
People who smoke weed are typically given the stereotype of being relaxed and chill. But that calm facade may not reflect what’s going on when it comes to blood pressure, says one study from Georgia State University. According to the research, marijuana use was found to triple a person’s risk of death from hypertension (high blood pressure) compared to those who didn’t smoke weed.
Cannabis could make you more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s
If you want to keep your mind sharp, you might want to lay off the pot. In one 2016 study, researchers found that marijuana users had significantly lower blood flow to the brain than healthy non-smokers. That low blood flow to different parts of the brain, the hippocampus in particular, could put pot smokers at higher risk for cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s, according to the study.
Cannabis can cause coughing fits and anxiety
To better inform young people of the adverse side effects that can occur after smoking weed, researchers surveyed 1,500 college students on the type and frequency of bad reactions they’d experienced. The study, published in the Journal of Cannabis Research, found more than 50 percent of participants noted having coughing fits, anxiety and/or paranoia. They were categorized as ‘moderately’ and ‘quite distressing.’ The three least-common reactions were fainting, visual hallucinations, and cold sweats.