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How does marijuana affect the body? Because cannabis has been lumped in with other dangerous drugs for so many years it’s easy to assume many of the effects are negative. This isn’t true at all! Cannabis use has improved the lives of thousands of people suffering from many types of physical and mental illnesses.
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Until recently, most studies looking at the effects of weed on the body have relied on less accurate methods of obtaining data (such as participant self-reporting). However, this is rapidly changing as the health benefits of weed are becoming more recognized and weed is becoming legal in more states and countries around the world.
While the evidence suggests that weed has no harmful effects on the body for casual users, there are downsides. It all depends on your physical and mental health, how much you use and how you consume it.
How does weed work?
Before we continue, lets have a quick primer on how weed works. Understanding this is the basis for all the affects of weed on the body and the brain discussed below.
- The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a mass of cannabinoid receptors attached to the neurons in your brain and central nervous system (CNS).
- These cannabinoid receptors are concentrated in the hippocampus and cerebellum.
- Your body creates a natural cannabinoid called anandamide, that binds to the cannabinoid receptors and fires the neurons that regulate your memory, learning, coordination, pain and emotions.
- THC is also a cannabinoid. When you smoke weed, you flood your brain and CNS with cannabinoids that bind to the cannabinoid receptors and massively amplify the effects of your natural anandamide.
Some people have a deficient endocannabinoid system and can suffer from a number of symptoms such as:
- Increased sensitivity to pain
- Mood disorders
The THC in weed can supplement this deficiency and help relieve their symptoms. This is why the potential for the health benefits of cannabis are so exciting!
How does marijuana affect the brain?
Positive effects of weed on the brain
- Enhances your senses, including smell, taste and sometimes even colors.
- Improves your sex drive.
- Encourages deep sleep, which promotes healing and general health.
- Can relieve anxiety and help with depression and other mood disorders.
- Can help patients suffering from PTSD.
- Evidence suggests it can promote brain cell growth.
Negative effects of weed on the brain
- Feelings of anxiety, panic and paranoia.
- Hallucinations, although this seems to be quite rare.
- Decreased motor skills and coordination.
- Decreased levels of concentration and interest.
- Difficulty focusing and concentrating on tasks.
You might notice that weed can both help and cause anxiety! The human brain is a very individual and complicated organ. For some people, their chemical makeup means they’re susceptible to anxiety from high levels of THC. For others THC acts to relieve anxiety. Another cannabinoid (CBD), binds to the same receptors as THC and can reduce the anxiety caused by THC. Different strains of weed have different effects so if you suffer from anxiety when smoking strong weed, try a high CBD strain!
Effects of smoking weed on memory
Several studies have looked at whether cannabis use has an effect on long term and short term memory.
- One study has shown that smoking weed does effect your short term memory, but unlike booze you won’t suffer from complete memory loss if you get wasted. Within 6 hours, your short term memory will return to normal.
- For long term memory, the answer is less clear but there is evidence that suggests cannabis can actually help you retain memories and help fight diseases such as alzheimer’s.
This video is a great explanation of how weed affects your brain.
How does marijuana affect the body?
Effects of weed on the respiratory system
The effects of weed on your respiratory system are only relevant for people who smoke their weed. It’s easy to assume that smoking weed is as bad for you as smoking tobacco, but this isn’t the case! Smoking weed does not carry the same risk of lung cancer as smoking tobacco, and smoking in moderation may even have a positive effect on your lungs! One study showed that a user had to smoke a joint a day for 20 years before any decline in lung function was observed.
Negative effects of smoking weed on the respiratory system
Even though the risk of lung cancer is much lower when you smoke weed vs tobacco, there are still plenty of other respiratory conditions weed smokers might suffer from. When you smoke, you’re drawing a lot of smoke into your lungs and you don’t get that for free.
- Extra mucus production.
- Sore throat.
If you suffer from any of these symptoms, consider switching to a vaporizer for some or all of the time.
Effects of weed on the circulation
Weed has several effects on the circulation that can be positive or negative depending on the individual. For example, if you suffer from high blood pressure, lowering your blood pressure is a positive thing. However, many people also suffer from low blood pressure which make lowering it further less than ideal.
- Lowers blood pressure.
- Raises heart rate.
- Lowers body temperature.
Effects of weed on the nervous system
The effect of weed on the central nervous system has many important positive benefits.
- Chronic pain relief.
- Reduction in muscle spasms from neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS).
- Improved sleep for patients with pain and illness.
- There is also some evidence for weed acting as an anti-inflammatory and an anti-oxidant.
Effects of weed on digestion
- Increases appetite, which we’ve all seen when the munchies strike!
- Can reduce nausea and vomiting and has been used successfully used for patients dealing with chemotherapy.
Effects of weed on the immune system
There is some evidence that cannabis can compromise the immune system and make your body more susceptible to certain diseases.
This awesome Ted talk by David Schmader lays out the case that marijuana is not a dangerous drug and all the health benefits we’ve discussed can really change peoples lives.
Is marijuana addictive?
Pretty much anything humans enjoy can be addictive to some people. Only about 9% of users form an addiction to weed, which makes it far safer than most drugs, including alcohol and tobacco. There is also evidence that addiction to weed might have a genetic component.
Just because you smoke a lot of weed doesn’t mean you’re addicted to it. Addiction is measured by how hard you find it to stop rather than how much you do it.
Symptoms of marijuana addiction
The symptoms of weed addiction are pretty much the same as for any other drug.
- Continued use when it affects other areas of your life
- Withdrawal symptoms (physical and mental)
- Anti-social behaviour
- Weight loss
We hope this article helps you understand how weed affects the body. If you can, get your weed from a reputable source, or even better – grow it yourself! That way you’ll know you’re getting a quality product that’s as natural and good for you as it can be.
Read our grow guides if you’d like more information on how to grow weed outdoors, or grow weed indoors.
Icon credits for inforgraphic:
- Vivian Ziereisen
- Arosh Khan
- Peter van Driel
- Gregor Cresnar
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