A complete overview of the potential side effects you can expect when using marijuana.
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 effects 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 the body’s endocannabinoid system and its specialized cannabinoid receptors in the central and peripheral nervous systems.
For those who use marijuana for recreational purposes, the euphoric effects caused by THC are desirable. However, these pleasurable effects often come with other related side effects.
Sometimes, marijuana strains that contain high amounts of THC can:
- alter your senses: marijuana is known to enhance one’s senses, altering the way things taste, sound, look, etc.
- cause disorientation or dizziness: it is not uncommon for marijuana users to feel lightheaded, which can cause some discomfort in sensitive users.
- slow reaction time and impair body movement: Marijuana has been shown to slow motor control. This can make it difficult for some users to complete certain tasks, such as driving.
- cause short-term memory issues: Marijuana has been known to inhibit the ability to form short-term memories.
- cause drowsiness or sleepiness: Marijuana can also cause drowsiness in some users. While some look for these effects to help them sleep, users should be aware of this side effect is consuming marijuana during the day.
- create dry mouth: One commonly reported side effect is a dry sensation in the mouth. This effect seems to be caused by the involvement of the endocannabinoid system in the inhibition of saliva secretion.
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, handling heavy machinery, or taking on other important responsibility for a period afterward. The full effects of marijuana, including side effects, usually wear off after 3 to 4 hours.
Avoiding Psychoactive Effects of THC
Not everyone seeking the benefits of cannabinoids enjoys the euphoric effects 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. CBD is not psychoactive like THC, yet it interacts with the endocannabinoid system to provide beneficial effects. Unlike THC, CBD derived from hemp is federally legal in the U.S., and products containing CBD hemp oil are available from online retailers, wellness shops, and through health specialists.
Other Possible Short Term Effects of Marijuana
The cannabinoids found in marijuana interact with receptors throughout almost your entire body, potentially eliciting additional side effects. Some additional short-term effects of marijuana use include the following:
Encourages Relaxation and Diminishes Agitation
A common reason why people use marijuana is because of its relaxing effects. Studies have shown that cannabis produces a sense of calming and helps manage stress and anxiety, making it a popular alternative to pharmaceutical treatments.
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 anxiety. 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 anxiety. Using high-CBD, low-THC cannabis strains can prevent and even counter paranoia and anxiety as a side effect of marijuana use.
Increased Heart Rate
Marijuana’s interaction with the endocannabinoid system generates complex effects on the cardiovascular system – including raising resting heart rate, dilating blood vessels, and making the heart pump harder. While this does not pose a significant threat to people who have minimal cardiovascular risk, it should be a red flag for anyone with a history of heart disease.
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 thoughts.
Increases Appetite and Food Consumption
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 calories. 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 minimal withdrawal symptoms – including irritability, cravings, and sleeping problems – once they stop using.
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, like schizophrenia, to become worse. More recent studies, however, indicate that cannabis can be beneficial for treating mental health conditions, including depression, hinting that marijuana’s effects on mental health are complex and demand further research.
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 lungs. Over time, smoking marijuana can cause respiratory problems, including bronchitis, chronic cough, and airway inflammation. 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 cigarettes. Many of the negative effects on the lungs listed here, though minimal in marijuana users, can be averted by choosing a cannabis consumption method other than smoking.
Benefits Outweigh the Risks?
Despite these possible effects, many patients choose medical marijuana over other potential treatments for their conditions, and medical marijuana could positively impact healthcare in the U.S. Recent research found that cannabis use significantly reduces premature deaths from conditions like diabetes, cancer, and traumatic brain injury (TBI). The study also concluded that death’s from these conditions would be much lower if there were legal access to medical marijuana nationwide. More complete research into the long-term effects of marijuana will help us understand and weigh marijuana’s risks and benefits.