Smoking pot is no laughing matter. In fact, it’s downright dangerous. Marijuana is a potent mind-altering drug that can cause serious harm, but recent legalization of marijuana in certain states has given people the impression that it is safe to use.
There are at least six scientifically based reasons to be cautious about the long-term use of marijuana, which we share below.
“As a physician, my doctoring knowledge tells me that making marijuana legally available is a bad idea, except perhaps for certain medical conditions,” says Dr. David Samadi, a board-certified urologic oncologist.
Too often, marijuana is regarded as a harmless substance – a feel-good drug that takes you on a trip away from this world and all its troubles. Something people have been doing for ages – nothing worse than cigarettes and alcohol which are legal.
But the fact is, marijuana is anything but a harmless puff.
What is marijuana?
Marijuana is now legal in a number of states in the U.S. and 29 states have authorized marijuana for medicinal purposes.
But what exactly is it?
According to Dr. Samadi:
“Similar to hemp, marijuana refers to the dried leaves, flowers, stems and seeds from the cannabis plant. The plant’s primary mind-altering chemical comes from delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. It can be smoked; vaped (inhaling the vapor); eaten when mixed in foods such as brownies, cookies or candy; or brewed as tea.”
The approval of marijuana for recreational use have resulted in many doctors worrying that the substance will be seen as yet another way to relax and feel good without any thought given to the risks involved.
What is especially concerning is the fact that the marijuana of today is not the same as it was back in the 1960s or 1970s, says Samadi. Over the past few decades, the concentration of the mind-altering substance THC in the cannabis plant has been increasing, making it more potent than ever.
Smoking THC-rich resins extracted from the plant ensures delivery of very large amounts of THC to the body. This has sent many users to the emergency room, warns Samadi.
A Rise in Marijuana’s THC Levels pose additional risks
The National Institute on Drug Abuse warns that the amount of THC in marijuana has been increasing steadily over the past few decades. This holds a number of additional risks.
For a person who’s new to marijuana use, this may mean exposure to higher THC levels with a greater chance of a harmful reaction.
Higher THC levels may explain the rise in emergency room visits involving marijuana use, says the institute.
The popularity of taking marijuana in through eating it increases the chance of harmful reactions. This happens because edible marijuana takes longer to digest and to produce the desired high, so people may consume more to feel the effects faster, leading to dangerous results of addiction if people are regularly exposing themselves to high doses.
Marijuana is not what it used to be. It has become more potent and therefore more dangerous and more addictive.
Legalizing the use of it doesn’t make it safe. In fact, one wonders about the wisdom of going down this road. We already have an alcohol and opioid abuse problem, do we really need to add possible pot abuse on a large scale to our list of problems?
The short-term effects may be a great high that suspends your connection to a world that you have grown tired of, or afraid of, but the long-term effects are not worth it.
Here are 6 long-term effects you should know about.
1. Smoking pot harms the lungs the same as any other kind of smoking
The American Lung Association cautions the public against smoking marijuana because of the risks it poses to lung health.
“Smoke is harmful to lung health. Whether from burning wood, tobacco or marijuana, toxins and carcinogens are released from the combustion of materials. Smoke from marijuana combustion has been shown to contain many of the same toxins, irritants and carcinogens as tobacco smoke.”
Smoking marijuana leads to symptoms such as chronic cough, phlegm production, wheeze and acute bronchitis.
2. Smoking marijuana increases the risk of serious cardiovascular disorders
Studies have also shown marijuana causes increased heart rate, fluctuations in blood pressure, and a decreased ability for the blood to carry oxygen. The heart is both working harder and getting less oxygen, a situation that increases heart attack risk, according to this report.
3. Marijuana-use harms unborn babies
According to Healthline, cannabis use during pregnancy impairs a baby’s brain development – these children have a higher risk of stunted growth and of developing ADHD, anxiety, and depression later in life.
Modern marijuana with higher levels of THC crosses the placenta very easily, so when a pregnant mother uses the drug, so does her child.
4. Long-term, heavy cannabis use could have a variety of negative effects on learning and behavior
A study at Columbia University found that heavy users of marijuana show lower levels of dopamine in the striatum — a region of the brain that is involved in working memory, impulsive behavior, and attention.
Previous studies have shown that addiction to other drugs like cocaine and heroin have similar effects on dopamine release. The lower levels of dopamine could have a variety of negative effects on learning and behavior according to the research.
5. Smoking marijuana changes the structure of the brain
Researchers at the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas found that using marijuana daily for at least four years or longer can create certain anatomical changes in the brain, according to a report by Live Science.
Researchers found that the people who had been smoking daily for at least four years had a smaller volume of gray matter in their orbitofrontal cortex, a phenomenon usually associated with addiction.
Lead author of the study, Francesca Filbey, said that there’s “not only is a change in structure, but there also tends to be a change reflected in the connectivity.”
6. Long-term use can result in severe nausea and vomiting
Those who are long-term, regular users of marijuana may develop cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, where they experience cycles of severe nausea, vomiting and dehydration. The syndrome is characterized by recurrent episodes of heavy nausea, vomiting and comparative well-being between the episodes.