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Side Effects of Marijuana

December 10, 2016

Whether a person uses marijuana for its therapeutic or euphoric properties, at times it can produce a variety of physical and psychological side effects. Not everybody experiences the same effects and reactions can vary depending on the type of cannabis and the way it’s consumed. Still, it’s best to understand some possible side effects that you may experience.

The primary effect caused by marijuana that most people are familiar with is the psychoactive response or “euphoric high” that users often feel. This mind-altering response is caused by tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, a cannabinoid that makes its way to the bloodstream and eventually interacts with cell receptors in the brain.

For those who use marijuana for recreational purposes, the euphoric high caused by THC is desirable. However, that high is often accommodated with other related effects. Sometimes, marijuana strains that contain high amounts of THC can:

  • alter your senses and cause disorientation or dizziness
  • slow of reaction time and impair body movement
  • cause problem solving difficulties and memory issues
  • cause drowsiness or sleepiness
  • increase heart rate
  • create dry mouth, also referred to as “cottonmouth”2,5

How long it takes for many of these effects to develop depends on how the marijuana is consumed. When marijuana is smoked or vaped, your body will absorb the THC much more quickly than when it’s taken orally and has to first be digested in the stomach.

Because of these potential short term effects, a person should plan ahead when consuming cannabis that contains THC to avoid driving a vehicle for a period afterward. The effects usually wear off after 3 to 4 hours5.

Avoiding Euphoric-Related Side Effects of THC

Not everyone enjoys the high caused by THC. Those looking for the natural health benefits of cannabis without having to experience its psychoactive effects can opt for cannabis strains that are higher in cannabidiol (CBD) rather than THC.

CBD is another prevalent cannabinoid found in marijuana and hemp. Unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive.

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Other Possible Short Term Effects of Marijuana

The cannabinoids found in marijuana interact with receptors throughout almost your entire body, potentially eliciting other side effects besides those related to a euphoric high.

Some additional short-term effects of marijuana use include:

Encourages Relaxation and Diminishes Agitation
A common reason why people use marijuana is because of its relaxing effects4. Studies have shown that cannabis produces a sense of calming and helps manage stress and anxiety10.

Induces Paranoia and Anxiety
While THC in smaller doses has shown to relieve anxiety and have calming effects, for some marijuana users, large doses of THC may induce mild to intense paranoia and anxiety9. Studies indicate that genetics, personality, the presence of an anxiety disorder, and how often a person consumes marijuana can increase the risk of experiencing paranoia and anxiety3,12. Using high-CBD, low-THC cannabis strains can prevent and even counter paranoia and anxiety.

Boosts Creativity
Studies indicate that by increasing neural activity and increasing cerebral blood flow to the front lobe of the brain, marijuana increases cognitive creative processes, as well as the ability to connect abstract thoughts8,13.

Increases Appetite and Improves Food Intake
The common joke is that marijuana gives people the “munchies.” It’s true that studies have shown THC to increase appetite, and these effects have proven to be beneficial for those needing help getting nutrients and calories1,6. Marijuana is commonly recommended for patients suffering from anorexia or cachexia.

Potential Long Term Effects of Marijuana

Evidence indicates that when used over time, marijuana may also cause some long-term side effects. It’s unclear whether these effects are permanent. Additionally, long-time users may experience withdrawal symptoms – including irritability, cravings, and sleeping problems – once they stop using5.

The possible long-term effects of marijuana include:

Worsens Psychosis and other Mental Health Problems
While it’s not clear whether marijuana can induce mental health problems, some studies do suggest that it may cause the conditions to become worse7,11,16. More recent studies, however, indicate that cannabis can be beneficial for treating mental health conditions, including depression.

Affects Lung Health
While research has yet to implicate marijuana smoking to lung cancer, studies have shown that smoking cannabis does lead to detrimental effects to the lungs2. Over time, smoking marijuana can cause respiratory problems, including bronchitis, chronic cough, and airway inflammation14. The risk of damage to the lungs caused by smoking marijuana has shown to be far lower than the pulmonary problems caused by smoking tobacco cigarettes15.

References:
  1. Andries, A., Frystyk, J., Flyvbjerg, A., and Stoving, R.K. (2014, January). Dronabinol in severe, enduring anorexia nervosa: a randomized controlled trial. The International Journal of Eating Disorders, (47)1, 18-23.
  2. DrugFacts – Marijuana. (2016, March). National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana.
  3. Freeman, D., Dunn, G., Murray, R.M., Evans, N., Lister, R., Antley, a., Slater, M., Godlewska, B., Cornish, R., Williams, J., Di Simplicio, M., Igoumenou, A., Brenneisen, R., Tunbridge, E.M., Harrison, P.J., Harmer, C.J., Cosen, P., and Morrison, P.D. (2014, July 15). How Cannabis Causes Paranoia: Using the Intravenous Administration of ∆9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to Identify Key Cognitive Mechanisms Leading to Paranoia. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 41(2), 391-399.
  4. Hathaway, A.D. (2009, July 11). Cannabis effects and dependency concerns in long-term frequent users: a missing piece of the public health puzzle. Addiction Research & Theory, 11(6), 441-458.
  5. How Does Marijuana Affect You? (n.d.). WedMD. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/marijuana-use-and-its-effects.
  6. How Marijuana Can Help Treat Anorexia. (October 3, 2013). The Medical Marijuana Review. Retrieved from http://medireview.com/2013/10/how-marijuana-can-help-treat-anorexia/.
  7. Johns, A. (2011, February. Psychiatric effects of cannabis. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 178(2), 116-122.
  8. Morgan, C.J.A., Rothwell, E., Atkinson, H., Mason, O., Curran, H.V. (2010, April 30). Hyper-priming in cannabis users: A naturalistic study of the effects of cannabis on semantic memory function. Psychiatry Research, 176(2-3), 213-218.
  9. Russell, P. (2014, July 17). Study Sheds Light on Marijuana and Paranoia. WedMD. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/brain/news/20140717/marijuana-paranoia#1.
  10. Sarris, J., McIntyre, E., and Camfield, D.A. (2013, April). Plant-based medicines for anxiety disorders, part 2: a review of clinical studies with supporting preclinical evidence. CNS Drugs, 27(4), 301-19.
  11. Suryadevara, U., Bruijnzeel, D.M., Nuthi, M., Jagnarine, D.A., Tandon, R., and Bruijnzeel, A.W. (2016, October 31). Pros and cons of medical cannabis use by people with chronic brain disorders. Current Neuropharmacology, [Epubahead of print]. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27804883.
  12. Szuster, R.R., Pontius, E.B., and Campos, P.E. (1988, November). Marijuana sensitivity and panic anxiety. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 49(11), 427-9.
  13. Talise, J. (2011, Spring). Marijuana As Muse How Cannabis and Novelty-Seeking Affect Your Health. Issues Berkeley Medical Journal of UC Berkeley. Retrieved from https://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~issues/articles/18.2_Talise_J_Marijuana_1.html.
  14. Tashkin, D.P. (2005, June). Smoked marijuana as a cause of lung injury. Monaldi Archives for Chest Disease, 63(2), 93-100.
  15. Tashkin, D.P. (2013, June). Effects of marijuana smoking on the lung. Annals of American Thoracic Society, 10(3), 239-47.
  16. Walsh, Z., Gonzalez, R., Crosby, K., S Thiessmen, M., Carroll, C., and Bonn-Miller, M.O. (2016, October 12). Medical cannabis and mental health: A guided systematic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 51, 15-29.