The Effects of Marijuana on Your Body
Marijuana is made from the shredded and dried parts of the cannabis plant, including the flowers, seeds, leaves, and stems. It’s also known as pot, weed, hash, and dozens of other names. While many people smoke or vape it, you can also consume marijuana as an ingredient in food, brewed tea, or oils.
Different methods of taking the drug may affect your body differently. When you inhale marijuana smoke into your lungs, the drug is quickly released into your bloodstream and makes its way to your brain and other organs. It takes a little longer to feel the effects if you eat or drink marijuana.
There is ongoing controversy around the effects of marijuana on the body. People report various physical and psychological effects, from harm and discomfort to pain relief and relaxation.
Here’s what happens to your body when this drug enters your bloodstream.
Marijuana can be used in some states for medical reasons, and in some areas, recreational use is legal as well. No matter how you use marijuana, the drug can cause immediate and long-term effects, such as changes in perception and increased heart rate. Over time, smoking marijuana may cause chronic cough and other health issues.
The effects of marijuana on the body are often immediate. Longer-term effects may depend on how you take it, how much you use, and how often you use it. The exact effects are hard to determine because marijuana has been illegal in the U.S., making studies difficult and expensive to conduct.
But in recent years, the medicinal properties of marijuana are gaining public acceptance. As of 2017, 29 states plus the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana to some extent. THC and another ingredient called cannabidiol (CBD) are the main substances of therapeutic interest. The National Institutes of Health funded research into the possible medicinal uses of THC and CBD, which is still ongoing.
With the potential for increased recreational use, knowing the effects that marijuana can have on your body is as important as ever. Read on to see how it affects each system in your body.
Much like tobacco smoke, marijuana smoke is made up of a variety of toxic chemicals, including ammonia and hydrogen cyanide, which can irritate your bronchial passages and lungs. If you’re a regular smoker, you’re more likely to wheeze, cough, and produce phlegm. You’re also at an increased risk of bronchitis and lung infections. Marijuana may aggravate existing respiratory illnesses, such as asthma and cystic fibrosis.
Marijuana smoke contains carcinogens, so it may increase your risk of lung cancer too. However, studies on the subject have had mixed results. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), there is no conclusive evidence that marijuana smoke causes lung cancer. More research is needed.
THC moves from your lungs into your bloodstream and throughout your body. Within minutes, your heart rate may increase by 20 to 50 beats per minute. That rapid heartbeat can continue for up to three hours. If you have heart disease, this could raise your risk of heart attack.
One of the telltale signs of recent marijuana use is bloodshot eyes. The eyes look red because marijuana causes blood vessels in the eyes to expand.
THC can also lower pressure in the eyes, which can ease symptoms of glaucoma for a few hours. More research is needed to understand the active ingredients in marijuana and whether it’s a good treatment for glaucoma.
In the long term, marijuana has a possible positive effect on your circulatory system. Research isn’t conclusive yet, but marijuana may help stop the growth of blood vessels that feed cancerous tumors. Opportunities exist in both cancer treatment and prevention, but more research is needed.
The effects of marijuana extend throughout the central nervous system (CNS). Marijuana is thought to ease pain and inflammation and help control spasms and seizures. Still, there are some long-term negative effects on the CNS to consider.
THC triggers your brain to release large amounts of dopamine, a naturally occurring “feel good” chemical. It’s what gives you a pleasant high. It may heighten your sensory perception and your perception of time. In the hippocampus, THC changes the way you process information, so your judgment may be impaired. The hippocampus is responsible for memory, so it may also be difficult to form new memories when you’re high.
Changes also take place in the cerebellum and basal ganglia, brain areas that play roles in movement and balance. Marijuana may alter your balance, coordination, and reflex response. All those changes mean that it’s not safe to drive.
Very large doses of marijuana or high concentrations of THC can cause hallucinations or delusions. According to the NIDA, there may be an association between marijuana use and some mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. More research is needed to understand the connection. You may want to avoid marijuana if you have schizophrenia, as it may make symptoms worse.
When you come down from the high, you may feel tired or a bit depressed. In some people, marijuana can cause anxiety. About 30 percent of marijuana users develop a marijuana use disorder. Addiction is considered rare, but very real. Symptoms of withdrawal may include irritability, insomnia, and loss of appetite.
In people younger than 25 years, whose brains have not yet fully developed, marijuana can have a lasting impact on thinking and memory processes. Using marijuana while pregnant can also affect the brain of your unborn baby. Your child may have trouble with memory, concentration, and problem-solving skills.
What happens when you smoke or ingest marijuana? Learn the effects it has on your body with this interactive graphic.
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Cultural idioms like “butterflies in the stomach” and “gut feelings” are more than funny little aphorisms. They express a neurological reality that we are only just beginning to understand.
This reality, modern research reveals, is largely communicated and controlled by the endocannabinoid system. This means cannabis has a powerful role to play in digestive health.
The Gut-Brain-Immune Connection
There are roughly the same number of neurons in the gut as there are in the brain, and the two are in constant dialogue. But there is also a third party in this conversation—the immune system.
The gut houses approximately 70 – 80% of your immune cells , defending you from potential pathogens that may have snuck in with your food.
The brain talks to the gut. The gut talks to the brain. They both talk to the immune system, and together, they coordinate your gut health—when to pass things through (diarrhea), when to slow them down and absorb (digestion), when to go on high alert and attack (inflammation). This 3-way conversation is very complex and mediated almost entirely via the endocannabinoid system.
Inflammation Is the Enemy
Most chronic gut issues are the result of inflammation. Things like irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, and even Crohn’s disease. They all share the characteristic of uncontrollable inflammation—the immune system isn’t turning like it should so it just keeps attacking and causing collateral damage throughout the gut.
This leads to all kinds of uncomfortable experiences like food allergies and hypersensitivity, digestive issues, bowel irregularities, low energy, and visceral pain.
Sometimes the problem’s origin lies in nutrition, sometimes in chronic stress, sometimes even in genetics. But fundamentally, this is a communication problem between the gut, brain, and immune system.
And now we know these networks of specialized cells talk to each other—the endocannabinoid system.
Cannabinoids and Inflammation
Cannabis contains hundreds of active compounds, the two most prominent being THC and CBD . Interestingly, both of these powerful chemicals have potent anti-inflammatory effects which they achieve in totally different methods.
A strain of cannabis with a CBD:THC ratio of 1:1 provides a two-pronged means of reducing gut inflammation and mitigating the symptoms of digestive conditions.
Cannabis and Gut Health
Cannabis has been used by humans for thousands of years, so it’s no surprise to find that the world’s oldest medical traditions—Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine—prescribe cannabis for a variety of digestive issues.
In our current age, people continue to use cannabis to help their symptoms and the anecdotal evidence has finally led to a few human trials. In one study treating IBS with cannabis, 90% of those treated reported their symptoms improved and 60% said they completely disappeared .
The Way Forward
These are promising results, but they are just the first steps towards understanding the complexities of how cannabis can balance our health through the gut-brain-immune connection and help heal chronic digestive issues. More research needs to be done on cannabis for digestive health to truly move past the anecdotal and pilot study phase before cannabis can truly be utilized as a viable treatment.
And for that, we will need to work together to dismantle legal obstructions and uninformed prejudices.
Studies show that using cannabis can be an option to reduce gut inflammation and improve gut health, helping you heal your digestive issues. THC and CBD have potent anti-inflammatory effects. Join us as we dive into the scientific research to learn more.