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Experts Explain What Happens In Your Body If You Smoke Weed Daily, Weekly, Or Monthly

It’s not as cut & dry as you learned in D.A.R.E.

Sometimes picking up a joint can seem like the best way to wind down (particularly if you live in a place where it’s legal) — but you might be wondering what cannabis does to your body over time. It’s a complex plant, and its impact on your health is still being studied, with decades of legal restrictions slowly lifting.

Pot has been found to have more health benefits over the last few years, like alleviating chronic pain and helping insomnia. But depending on how often you smoke, there could be risks, too.

“Work from my lab and others does suggest that frequency of use correlates positively with cannabis-related problems,” Mitchell Earleywine Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Albany, tells Bustle. “But the effect isn’t particularly big.” Your experience will be pretty different if you’re an occasional weed-brownie-haver as opposed to a several-times-a-day vaper.

Whether you identify as an occasional or daily user, a bong ripper, or gummy-snacker, here’s what’s happening in your body when you use weed.

Occasional Use

Scientists are still trying to figure out how many of weed’s effects are temporary, what’s long-term, and how much dosage is required. (And then there’s the fact that men react differently to women when it comes to cannabinoids, which is often not used as a factor in studies.) “Occasional use by adults is generally safe, particularly for those who use the vaporizer,” Earleywine says.

One way a smoking session every few months may hurt your body is in immune response. There is evidence cannabinoids interferes in our resistance to infection. One study in Journal of Cannabis Research in 2020 found that heavy cannabis use — defined as seven or more hits in the past 30 days — tended to increase white blood cells, which indicates that the immune system is under strain, but it’s not clear if occasional use will have the same effects.

A single hit will significantly impair your balance, your reaction time, and your ability to form new memories, but these effects will wear off as your high does. “The impairment from cannabis relates to impaired ability to deal with unexpected events, like avoiding a car that comes out of nowhere,” Matthew W. Johnson, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, tells Bustle. And 2015 study in Schizophrenia Bulletin has found that just one hit can cause paranoia in some people, which you probably knew.

Monthly Use

Determining whether risks increase with use when it comes to cannabis is a bit tricky. “Monthly use has no meaningful impact,” Jonathan Caukins Ph.D., professor of operations research and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College and an expert on cannabis legalization, tells Bustle.

Having a monthly smoke may to be linked to temporary harm to cognitive skills like memory, assimilation of new information, and attention, but it’s likely to be pass pretty quickly. According to a review of studies published in Journal of Addiction Medicine in 2012, a monthly user will “spring back” from this damage over four weeks of abstinence.

One study, published in 2014 by the Society Of Prevention Research, looked at boys throughout their lives, from 7th grade to age 35. Monthly weed use was common, and it didn’t seem to make a difference to the 35-year-olds’ health issues, medications, injuries, or hospitalizations. Men who didn’t smoke weed had the same outcomes.

Weekly Use

When you smoke weekly, health risks go up. A 2020 study of 3,400 people published in JACC Cardiovascular Imaging found that weekly users showed problems with the left ventricles of their hearts and shifts in their heart structure. Regular use has also been linked to an increased risk of heart attacks, particularly in the first few hours after a session.

A 2011 review of weekly users, published in Indian Journal of Psychiatry, found that going cold turkey for a month can restore cognitive powers, from reaction time to memory and dexterity. Other studies, though, only showed partial recovery. The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse & Addiction did a roundup of studies in 2019 that found weekly smoking was much less likely to produce permanent cognitive problems than daily smoking.

For all the fearmongering, even daily use of weed isn’t going to be that harmful, all things considered. A 2015 study published in Annals of the American Thoracic Society stated fairly definitively that, even after 20 years of daily use, weed smokers were still able to expel the same amount of air from their lungs as non-smokers.

The scientific opinion on daily smoking and lung cancer isn’t clear either. Cancer Research UK found that some studies believe there is a link, while others don’t believe the indications are strong enough. They point out that the huge variation in the strength of weed, the fact that people sometimes smoke it with tobacco, and the different ways individuals process it all make a link hard to pin down. “Although cannabis does increase symptoms of bronchitis like coughing and wheezing, it does not appear to elevate risk for lung cancer,” Earleywine says.

There’s an argument that daily, heavy spliff use may actually alter the structure of your brain. “Daily use has many dangers, including most obviously altering brain pathways,” Caukins says. A 2014 study published in PNAS found that daily users seemed to have a smaller orbitofrontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps with emotional and decision-oriented processing, but also had denser links between different parts of the brain. A 2017 study published in Pediatric Neurology also found that chronic weed use was linked to damage in the brain’s white matter.

“One effect is subtle memory deficits,” Johnson says. “These seems to disappear with about a month of abstinence.” Daily use can also result in dependence, he says, which means you start feeling irritable, sleepless and lose your appetite whenever you stop.

The Bottom Line

“The data on cannabis and altered brain structure only seem to appear in those who used the plant heavily while still very young,” Earleywine cautions. And these findings have been hard to replicate. “Plenty of daily users have literally no problems related to the plant, and some occasional users consume in unsafe ways,” he says. “Those who begin use early in life tend to show more problems with the plant than those who start when they are older.”

So frequency may not be the be-all and end-all for determining how weed is affecting your health; what time of day you smoke, how you do it, and how young you were when you began smoking are all factors, too.

Readers should note that laws governing cannabis, hemp and CBD are evolving, as is information about the efficacy and safety of those substances. As such, the information contained in this post should not be construed as legal or medical advice. Always consult your physician prior to trying any substance or supplement.

Jonathan Caukins Ph.D.

Mitchell Earleywine Ph.D.

Matthew W. Johnson, Ph.D.

Alshaarawy, O. (2019) Total and differential white blood cell count in cannabis users: results from the cross-sectional National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2005–2016. J Cannabis Res1, 6. https://doi.org/10.1186/s42238-019-0007-8

Crean, R. D., Crane, N. A., & Mason, B. J. (2011). An evidence based review of acute and long-term effects of cannabis use on executive cognitive functions. Journal of addiction medicine, 5(1), 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1097/ADM.0b013e31820c23fa

Hall W. (2015). What has research over the past two decades revealed about the adverse health effects of recreational cannabis use?. Addiction (Abingdon, England), 110(1), 19–35. https://doi.org/10.1111/add.12703

Filbey, F. M., Aslan, S., Calhoun, V. D., Spence, J. S., Damaraju, E., Caprihan, A., & Segall, J. (2014). Long-term effects of marijuana use on the brain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111(47), 16913–16918. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1415297111

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., Cowen, P., & Morrison, P. D. (2015). 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. https://doi.org/10.1093/schbul/sbu098

Kempker, J. A., Honig, E. G., & Martin, G. S. (2015). The effects of marijuana exposure on expiratory airflow. A study of adults who participated in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Study. Annals of the American Thoracic Society, 12(2), 135–141. https://doi.org/10.1513/AnnalsATS.201407-333OC

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This article was originally published on April 20, 2016

Cannabis’ impact on your health is still being studied, with decades of legal restrictions slowly lifting.

Cannabis IQ: Almost half of Canadian pot users say they use daily. Here’s why regular use is risky

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Most Canadians don’t use pot. But those who do seem to use it a lot.

According to an exclusive survey for Global News by Ipsos, 21 per cent of Canadians say they currently use cannabis.

And while that number won’t change drastically post-legalization — only one in 10 of those who don’t currently use pot said they were likely to start after Oct. 17 — the overwhelming majority who consume marijuana use it regularly.

Forty-three per cent of users say they consume it daily, with another 29 per cent saying they partake once a week or more.

People who use marijuana that frequently may be increasing their risks of various health problems, according to Jason Busse, associate director of the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research at McMaster University.

It’s hard to list all the negative effects, as marijuana research has been so hard to do while it was illegal, so there simply aren’t enough strong studies to know everything about it, said Busse. Still, he doesn’t think consuming marijuana daily is good for you.

“It’s going to depend on the potency of the product, the experience of the individual, their metabolism, but it seems difficult to conclude that daily use is a very good idea.”

For one thing, smoking marijuana is associated with respiratory issues, he said, including a higher risk of chronic bronchitis. “We know that if you don’t smoke it, you’re not going to suffer the same risks of the respiratory effects.”

Unfortunately, according to the survey, 86 per cent of people choose to smoke their marijuana at least sometimes. Using edibles, oils, or even a water bong may mitigate some of those respiratory risks, Busse said.

Marijuana is also associated with some cognitive difficulties, particularly in young people. “There’s at least some studies that have suggested chronic marijuana use can be linked to lower educational attainment when smoking or consuming cannabis starts in adolescence.”

While it’s hard to say if that is exactly a causal relationship, there does seem to be a link between the two. Young people who are predisposed to psychosis might also have an earlier onset of symptoms if they’re frequent marijuana users.

There’s also some evidence, said Busse, that frequent marijuana use can change the structure of the brain.

“What we don’t know is, how long do those changes last? Are they linked to true changes in behaviour, and do they reverse after a person stops using the drug?”

The Canadian Psychiatric Association was concerned enough about the potential effects of chronic marijuana use on young people’s brains to issue a position statement in 2017 recommending that the legal age be set at 21 and that restrictions be placed on the amount and potency of what people can buy until the age of 25. These recommendations have not been followed.

WATCH: What Canadians need to know about recreational marijuana come legalization

Busse is concerned by the survey’s finding that nearly half of adults who consume marijuana daily have children in their households. “We don’t know enough about the effects of second-hand smoke.” Also, many edible products, like candies, can appeal to children and increase their risk of overdose.

While overdoses aren’t fatal, they could involve hallucinations and warrant a visit to the emergency room, he said.

Also, the more often you use marijuana, the more likely you are to become dependent, he said.

“Once you become a chronic user it’s often hard to step away from that chronic use.”

Around one in 10 chronic users will become dependent, he said. That means stopping the drug would be difficult and people may experience withdrawal symptoms like loss of appetite, anxiety and sleep disturbance.

So how often should you consume marijuana, to mitigate these risks? The science isn’t there to tell you yet, Busse said.

“I do think that if individuals are able to reduce the frequency of consumption, it stands to reason that they would also be able to lower their risk of some of these adverse events.”

He’s happy to see that most people are unlikely to start using marijuana if they aren’t already. According to the Ipsos survey, 84 per cent of people say their frequency of use will remain about the same after legalization. Most people who aren’t currently using it say their habits won’t change.

Exclusive Global News Ipsos polls are protected by copyright. The information and/or data may only be rebroadcast or republished with full and proper credit and attribution to “Global News Ipsos.”

This Ipsos poll on behalf of Global News was an online survey of 2,000 Canadians conducted between Oct. 5-9. The results were weighted to better reflect the composition of the adult Canadian population, according to census data. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is considered accurate to within plus or minus 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Frequent use of marijuana may raise your risk of cognitive impacts, respiratory issues and dependence, researchers say.