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Smoking Marijuana | The Short-Term & Long-Term Effects

Published on April 15, 2021
Smoking Marijuana | The Short-Term & Long-Term Effects

The psychotropic drug marijuana is becoming increasingly accepted by the American public, and legal cannabis plants, medical marijuana, and recreational marijuana are increasingly available nationwide. 

It is important to understand the various side effects that smoking marijuana can have on the body and mind. This includes a variety of short- and long-term health effects identified by United States public health professionals.

The Short-Term Effects Of Smoking Marijuana

When marijuana is smoked using a bong, joint, or vape, the active ingredients tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), and other related compounds quickly pass from the air into the lungs and then into the bloodstream. 

From there, the drugs travel to the brain and the rest of the body.

THC stimulates cannabinoid receptors in the brain that react to natural endocannabinoids produced by the body. This activates select areas of the brain, causing a high.

Other potential short-term effects of cannabis use include:

  •  mood changes
  •  elevated heart rate
  •  altered senses
  •  altered sense of time
  •  impaired coordination or movement
  •  impaired thinking and problem-solving
  •  memory issues
  •  suppression of the immune system
  •  psychosis (risk is highest with regular use of high potency marijuana)
  •  hallucinations (when taken in high doses)
  •  delusions (when taken in high doses)

The Long-Term Effects of Marijuana

Marijuana’s long term health effects have been studied by organizations including the CDC, NIH, and FDA, and are known to include:

Developmental Risks

Cannabis is known to interfere with proper brain development, and marijuana exposure should be avoided by those who are underage.

If you begin using marijuana as a child or teenager, the drug may permanently change or impair your thinking, memory, and learning functions. This can potentially lower your intelligence and verbal ability, and contribute to long-term development of marijuana use disorder.

The drug may also contribute to mental health problems like depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.

Marijuana use does not appear to have the same impact on those who start smoking as adults, but research is ongoing.

Lung Damage

Marijuana smoke contains toxic chemicals and carcinogens including ammonia and hydrogen cyanide. Just like tobacco smoke, marijuana smoke irritates the respiratory system and long-term exposure contributes to chronic bronchitis and the development of lung dysfunction.

Frequent marijuana smokers will produce more phlegm and cough more often than nonsmokers, and are at a higher risk of developing lung irritation or illness, including lung cancer.

Secondhand marijuana smoke should also be avoided by children.

Heart Damage

Regular marijuana use puts stress on the heart, which elevates the long-term risk of heart attacks, heart rhythm disorders, and stroke, even in young marijuana users with no other risk factors for heart disease and dysfunction.

Pregnancy & Child Development Complications

Marijuana should not be used in any amount by pregnant women to treat nausea, as it is associated with miscarriage, lower birth weight, preterm births, and an increased risk of both brain and behavioral problems in newborns.

THC should also not be used by breastfeeding mothers, as it can be transferred through the breast milk and may affect the child’s continuing brain development.

Nausea & Vomiting

Routine long-term marijuana use can result in Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome, in which you experience cycles of nausea, vomiting, and dehydration. These cycles can become severe enough to require medical attention.

Mental Health Effects

Long-term use of marijuana contributes to mental illness in some people, including:

  •  hallucinations
  •  paranoia
  •  exacerbated symptoms of schizophrenia

Increased Susceptibility To Other Substances

Marijuana has often been called a gateway drug, and it’s true that alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana use often comes before the use of hard drugs like methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, and others.

However, the majority of those who do smoke marijuana, even as young adults, don’t ultimately go on to use harder drugs.

Interestingly though, THC use may change how the brain responds to these other drugs, training it to more quickly embrace addictive or compulsive behaviors following new drug use.

Marijuana Dependence

Heavy marijuana use can cause the body to adapt by reducing production of and sensitivity to its own endocannabinoids, resulting in marijuana dependence. 

Dependence leads to withdrawal symptoms that appear once you stop taking the drug, symptoms that range from irritability to poor sleep, mood changes, decreased appetite, cravings, and more.

Those who begin using marijuana before the age of 18 are much more likely to develop marijuana use disorder. This means they may compulsively use the drug or take it despite problematic consequences, which is also known as marijuana addiction.

Treatment For Marijuana Use Disorder

Marijuana use disorder becomes an addiction when you can’t stop using the drug even when it interferes with the rest of your daily life.

Professional treatment and rehabilitation programs for marijuana addiction are available, and often include:

  • Inpatient treatment, with 24/7 care and support inside a treatment center.
  • Outpatient treatment, allowing you to continue working and living at home during treatment.
  • Behavioral therapy, to help you change your thought process and feelings towards marijuana use for lasting change.
  • Group therapy, putting you in a mutually supportive setting with others working through the rehabilitation process.

To learn more, please contact Ark Behavioral Health today.

Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
This page does not provide medical advice.

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Is marijuana addictive?
National Institute on Drug Abuse - Marijuana DrugFacts
National Institute on Drug Abuse - What are marijuana's effects?

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