ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT MARIJUANA SIDE EFFECTS
Marijuana comes from an Indian hemp called cannabis. It is from the flowers that the “drug” is made from, much less than from other parts of the plant. It is most commonly known as “weed” or “pot,” can be smoked, eaten, vaporized or (uncommonly) made into a tea to produce a “high” feeling. This high is caused by the primary psychoactive compound in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), interacting with the body’s cannabinoid receptors.
The high that marijuana induces is extremely subjective and is experienced by people differently but generally will include feelings of relaxation, mild paranoia and anxiety, alteration of visual, auditory, and olfactory senses, fatigue, and stimulation of the appetite.
And although no deaths have been directly related to smoking marijuana, it has been shown to produce some potentially negative side effects in people. Many of these side effects, although backed by scientific studies, have also been disputed and discredited by other scientific studies and reviews, making marijuana a hotly disputed topic.
Physical Side Effects of Marijuana
Although almost all reported side effects of smoking marijuana are disputed, some common ones that can easily be observed are reddening of the eyes, dryness of the mouth and increase in heart rate. It has also been linked to a decrease in intraocular pressure, which is why it is sometimes prescribed for people with glaucoma (a condition that involves pressure on the eye).
Mental Side Effects of Marijuana
Many studies have been done about marijuana’s effects in regard to bipolar disorder, depression, mood swings and schizophrenia, but no reliable conclusions have been achieved. The reason is that there are just as many studies that have drawn a correlation between marijuana use and these disorders as there are scientific studies and scientific peer reviews that say there is no correlation at all.
For example, in one study, “Moderation of the Effect of Adolescent-Onset Cannabis Use on Adult Psychosis by a Functional Polymorphism in the Catechol-O-Methyltransferase Gene: Longitudinal Evidence of a Gene X Environment Interaction” published in Biological Psychiatry, researchers claimed to find a link between marijuana use and psychosis. However, a different study “Genotype effects of CHRNA7, CNR1 and COMT in schizophrenia: interactions with tobacco and cannabis use” published in The British Journal of Psychiatry has cast doubt on those findings. There are dozens of these types of studies that make conclusions one way or the other depending on how the results are interpreted, making them all relatively useless when trying to pinpoint long-term health effects of marijuana.
Although a German study allegedly found that marijuana use was a direct causal factor in some cases of schizophrenia, the fact that marijuana use has skyrocketed in most countries in the past few decades while cases of schizophrenia and psychosis have stayed the same makes that study’s conclusion seem highly doubtful.
Another study published in The British Journal of Psychiatry, “Causal association between cannabis and psychosis: examination of the evidence,” found that while marijuana generally exacerbates the onset of psychosis in people who are predisposed to having the condition, it won’t cause a condition in a healthy person.
Several studies have also been published that both claim and dispute marijuana’s negative side effects on the development of adolescent brains, long and short-term memory and the capacity for learning.
Short-Term Effects of Marijuana
The following symptoms may be experienced by an individual who uses marijuana:
- Increased heart rate
- Increased risk of stroke
- Loss of sense of personal identity
- Lowered reaction time
- Problems with coordination
- Severe anxiety
- Sexual problems
- Short-term memory problems
- Very strange behavior
Long-Term Effects of Marijuana
Long-term marijuana users may suffer the following conditions:
- Antisocial behavior including stealing or lying
- Decline in IQ
- Financial difficulties
- Greater chances of being unemployed
- Impaired thinking and ability to learn and perform complex tasks
- Increased welfare dependence
- Poor school performance
- Relationship problems
In his book, The Science of Marijuana, professor of pharmacology at the University of Cambridge Leslie L. Iversen says between 10 to 30 percent of regular marijuana users will develop a dependency on it but only about 9 percent will develop a serious addiction to it.
In the book, Iversen reviews decades of international laboratory and survey research on marijuana.
Compared to harder drugs like cocaine or heroin (or even the perfectly legal nicotine) marijuana has few severe withdrawal symptoms and the majority of people who use it recreationally are able to quit easily. Withdrawal symptoms might include mild anxiety, depression, nausea, insomnia and some gastrointestinal problems.
Although there has been no long-term study linking marijuana use to cancer, it certainly cannot be ruled out. Smoking it certainly does not cure cancer like some marijuana users like to claim.
THC is a relatively harmless drug for the human body but the problem is that to get THC into their systems, most people choose to smoke it and that’s where it can become dangerous. Scientific analyses of marijuana smoke, cited in Iversen’s book, have identified at least 6,000 of the same chemicals in marijuana smoke as are present in tobacco smoke. Smoked marijuana and smoked tobacco are chemically very similar, the main difference between them being the THC in marijuana and the nicotine in tobacco.
A potent carcinogen in tobacco smoke, benzo(α)pyrene, is present in higher amounts in marijuana smoke. And because marijuana smokers usually hold the smoke in their lungs longer than cigarette smokers, this increases the amount of tar deposited in the respiratory system.
Using vaporizers, water pipes or ingesting marijuana by eating it are ways to help avoid some of the chemical found in marijuana smoke.
Respiratory Health Risk
Despite marijuana smoke being quite similar to tobacco smoke, several studies have been conducted and have concluded that even daily smoking of marijuana has little negative effect on the body’s respiratory system.
Dr. Donald Tashkin, who has done extensive research on marijuana smoke, has said that “essentially there is no significant relationship between marijuana exposure and impairment in lung function.” He also added that this could be due to THC’s anti-inflammatory effect.
Marijuana acts as a gateway drug
Many anti-marijuana activists like to point to the theory that marijuana acts as a gateway drug for young people, leading them to try other, harder drugs down the road. However, there has been no conclusive study to prove this theory and because of the fact that both alcohol and nicotine tend to be much more readily available and are often used in conjunction with marijuana by young people, the theory has been impossible to conclusively prove.
The effects and side effects of marijuana will likely continue to be studied, debated, hyped, lied about, proven and disproven moving forward. The only sure thing every person can agree on is that marijuana will continue to be hotly debated as laws surrounding it continues to soften.
Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome (CHS)
The drug trade continues to be one of the major problems in the U.S. The government’s initiative to scale down drug trade in the country has somehow lead to the legalization of cannabis, which is one of the most common illegal substances used. Despite initiatives to legalize the substance, lawmakers may have overlooked one point with marijuana use: the emergence of Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome.
Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome (CHS) is a collection of symptoms that occur after prolonged and massive usage of cannabis. According to an Australian clinical study conducted by Dr. Hugh Allen in 2004, about 10 patients were exhibiting the same symptoms, with all of them found to be marijuana users.
Excessive use of marijuana is the result of such condition. This occurs when marijuana is used more than 3-5 times a day, which eventually leads to a chronic use of the substance for years on end.
Cannabis use creates a euphoric effect for the user. However, some individuals may experience this rare condition despite its usual antiemetic effect. What cannabis users would do is to take in more with the hope of being relieved with the unfavorable symptoms. However, increasing the dose will do more harm than good.
Signs and Symptoms of CHS Use
Individuals who suffer from CHS usually complain of abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. They may frequent the emergency room for 3-5 times before doctors would conclude that the vomiting and nausea are related to marijuana use because there are other conditions that may exhibit the same symptoms.
CHS is a rare condition; it does not happen to all cannabis users. It usually takes years before the onset of symptoms occurs. The shortest reported length of consumption of cannabis having the symptoms was 18 months.
Individuals who have CHS may experience the following:
- Agitated state
- Elevated urea
- Gastric mucosal trauma
- Postural hypotension
How is CHS different from Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome?
Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome (CVS) may also present the same symptoms as that of Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome. It usually lasts from a few hours to several days. Repeated attacks happen with no apparent reason. The only difference of CVS from CHS is that with CVS, cannabis use is not present.
Each episode of CVS happens as the previous one, which means episodes may occur at the same time of the day, the same duration, or with the same symptoms and intensity.
Treatment for CHS
Cannabis users usually find relief when they take a hot shower. According to a study from Philadelphia, “taking hot showers may be a way of correcting the cannabis-induced imbalance that affects the regulation of the temperature of the hypothalamus”.
The symptoms usually go away after a few days of completely stopping from consuming cannabis.
Other forms of treatment for this condition include providing medications to relieve abdominal pain and electrolyte replacement to maintain the balance of electrolytes in the body lost due to vomiting.
This condition, if left untreated, may lead to severe dehydration and kidney failure.
Marijuana Medical Use and Legal Issues
For years, the potential medical effects of marijuana have been the subject of substantive research and political debates. Although this hemp plant derivative has been widely used in the ancient times to remedy various ailments like rheumatism, malaria, as well as aches and pains, marijuana's medicinal use remains unacknowledged in many countries today.
Scientists have confirmed that the cannabis plant contains active ingredients with therapeutic potential for relieving pain, controlling nausea, stimulating appetite, and decreasing ocular pressure. Consequently, it is sometimes used to treat the symptoms of AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, glaucoma, and other serious conditions. Yet despite these marijuana facts, only a few countries have allowed the use of marijuana for clinical and medicinal purposes.
In 2001, Canada became the first country to regulate and legalize marijuana for medical use - published under the Marijuana Medical Access Regulations. The policy authorized people suffering from terminal illnesses or severe conditions such as epilepsy, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and cancer to use the drug if it eased their symptoms. Furthermore, it allows some people to be able to grow marijuana themselves under strict guidelines. Others would be allowed to buy it from companies licensed by the government. Ottawa awarded the first (and so far, the only) federal license to supply marijuana to a Saskatoon-based company, Prairie Plant Systems. The pot is grown in an underground mine in Flin Flon, Man.
In the United States, marijuana remains a controlled substance under the federal law; yet, some states have passed laws that create a medical use exception to otherwise applicable state marijuana sanctions. In 1996, California was the first to pass such a law when Californian voters passed a ballot initiative, Proposition 215 (The Compassionate Use Act of 1996) that removed certain state criminal penalties for the medicinal use of marijuana. Voters in Oregon, Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Washington and Nevada have followed suit in passing medical marijuana initiatives. To date, more than half of the 50 states in the US have passed and enacted laws to legalize medical marijuana, including:
- Delaware (2011)
- Arizona (2010)
- DC (2010)
- New Jersey (2010)
- Michigan (2008)
- New Mexico (2007)
- Rhode Island (2006)
- Montana (2004)
- Vermont (2004)
- Colorado (2000)
- Hawaii (2000)
- Nevada (2000)
- Maine (1999)
- Alaska (1998)
- Oregon (1998)
- Washington (1998)
- California (1996)
The 13 states with failed legislation to legalize medical marijuana are:
- South Carolina
Marijuana will continue to be a controversial substance for years to come, and much focus will shift towards the legalization of cannabis throughout the United States and the remainder of the world.
Impact of Marijuana Legalization on CHS Incidence
The main effect of taking marijuana is having that euphoric feeling, which has encouraged many people to try it and eventually get hooked on it. Incidentally, medical experts have found out that using cannabis may give benefits to people who are suffering from severe pain which is common to cancer patients. In other words, patients may have found an alternative source of relief in marijuana. This is the primary reason why marijuana legalization was pushed.
More and more states have legalized the use of marijuana, and several more states are expected to join the bandwagon. While it remains like an endless debate among others who do not agree to its legalization, still there are people who see it as their last recourse in helping them cope with the severe pain they are going through.
The New York Times stated the following reasons for legalizing marijuana, namely:
- It will relieve the government from using additional funds. Individuals have been arrested and put behind bars because of possession of cannabis. Police authorities are spending so much time and money running after individuals when they can focus and use their time going after individuals involved in many severe crimes.
- Despite the government’s initiatives of criminalizing marijuana offenders, it has failed in reducing the number of people involved in using marijuana.
- Cannabis has known medical benefits. For many years, marijuana has been referred to something that has a negative effect on one’s health. However, further studies showed that it can also help certain medical conditions such as epilepsy, Crohn’s disease and muscle spasm, just to name a few.
- Legalization of cannabis may decrease usage. The government sees a possible decrease in usage once a tax is implemented over cannabis trade.
- It is believed that cannabis is less harmful than alcohol and tobacco because “its effect is euphoric and mild” compared to alcohol drinkers who turn themselves into maniacs and domestic abusers.
More Information About Marijuana
What is “Dabbing”?
The THC in marijuana can be extracted into oil, which can be converted into wax and smoked. The wax can further be processed into a hard glass-like substance called “shatter”.
This concentrated form is then heated quickly using a very hot surface, which is then vaporized and inhaled through a special device called “oil rig”. This is process is called dabbing.
Effects of Dabbing
With dabbing, the effects of cannabis can be intensified. The THC content in dabs can reach up to 90 percent. This form of marijuana is slowly gaining popularity and not much is known about the harmful effects. However, doctors and drug abuse specialists are quick to say that the harmful mental effects created through dabbing have been magnified compared to using a regular joint.
The use of concentrated marijuana can create hallucinations, psychotic breaks and unusual sensations like insects crawling under the skin. Most often, due to marijuana overdose, there have been repeated occasions when 911 teams had to be called.
What is “Mooking”?
Mooking is a way of smoking tobacco and marijuana in a bowl of a pipe. The chemicals of both substances trigger the nervous system and can affect both the mind and body of the user. Unfortunately, some of the effects are irreversible.
Smoking of this form of marijuana has been known to cause end-stage lung disease which requires oxygen tubes to be connected to the user for 24 hours. This would not enable the user to even take short trips to another room as it will cause him shortness of breath.
What are Marijuana Edibles?
Unlike in previous times when marijuana was just either inhaled or smoked, marijuana can now be mixed with food in the form of “edibles”. Its popular forms are through candies, cookies, sodas, brownies and teas.
Smoking marijuana may take just a few minutes before you can actually feel its effect. Unlike when ingested through the several forms mentioned above, it may take between 30-45 minutes before its effects can be felt. When the effect hits them, users experience a greater intensity of psychotic episodes.
The amount of THC on edibles can be great that there had been reports that users have experienced paranoia and anxiety to almost having psychotic behavior.
Several incidents of consumption of marijuana edibles have been reported to turn really bad. One instance involved a Colorado teen who took a bite of a piece of marijuana-infused cookie. After 30 minutes, the effect has not kicked in, and so he decided to eat the whole cookie. When the effect of marijuana suddenly started to be felt, the teenager went to the balcony, where he jumped to his death.
What is Vaping?
Vaping has been very popular since it started back in 2010. It was then using a chemical to replace tobacco to supposedly help cigarette smokers to slowly wean from tobacco.
However, marijuana users have found a new way of getting “high” in the hope of making it unnoticeable to authorities. Concentrated THC oil may be placed on a vaporizer to make others think that they are just vaping conventional chemicals. The effects of vaping marijuana, however, have not been fully researched.
Alcohol vs. Marijuana
Both substances may lead to addiction. However, there are several differences in the effect of each substance with its use.
Alcohol contains one chemical substance called ethanol, while marijuana has over 400 chemicals that also includes cancer-causing substances found in tobacco smoke.
Alcohol can be excreted from the body a few hours after consumption. Marijuana, meanwhile, stays longer in the body, which may range from weeks to months, depending on the amount of marijuana used.
THC damages the immune system while alcohol does not.
No matter which side of the fence you are at, it is best to know the side effects of marijuana to make you aware of the consequences that can happen after use. These bits of information should help you decide whether using marijuana is good for you or not. In the end, it’s still a good idea to consult with your doctor in case you are planning to use marijuana for medical purposes.
Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome may probably affect the decision of other states in joining the rest of the country to legalize marijuana. While we see the benefits of this substance, lawmakers may be thinking of adding provisions to this law to protect medical cannabis users and to prevent them from further encouraging recreational marijuana use, for the sole purpose of avoiding the increase in the risk of CHS.