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How Does Weed Affect the Body & Brain?
Marijuana refers to the combination of stems, flowers, seeds, and dried leaves from the cannabis plant. It contains tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, a mind-altering chemical considered as the main psychoactive compound found in marijuana.
People take marijuana in various ways: brewed, eaten, smoked, vaporized, inhaled, and topically. Smoking cannabis, or marijuana, is the most common way of using the drug through bongs, bubblers, and glass pipes.
Other names for marijuana include:
Marijuana affects the body and brain in different ways. In the body, it causes various problems such as:
- Respiratory problems (cough, phlegm production, lung infections, and frequent bronchitis)
- Heart failure
- Increased heart rate
- Reduced sperm production
- Disruption of a woman’s menstrual cycle
- Decreased appetite
Marijuana affects the brain by over-activating some parts that cause people to feel a “high.” However, it doesn’t last very long. Some of marijuana’s effects on the brain include:
- Altered sensation (such as seeing bright colors)
- Altered perception of time
- Mood changes
- Impaired body movement
- Reduced problem-solving skills
- Impaired memory, thinking, and learning
- Hallucinations and delusions (in high doses)
- Psychosis (especially with regular use of highly potent marijuana)
Why Do People Smoke Weed? Is it Habit-Forming?
Alcohol or cocaine addiction is more common, but a person can get hooked on marijuana. This means that the person cannot stop using it (even if they want to).
People use weed for various reasons. These include:
For some, using weed is a rational option to improve the quality of their lives. Others use the drug recreationally. For teenagers and young adults, it’s a way to fit in with the crowd. People of this age are easily known to give in to peer pressure.
Adults typically use weed for stress relief. The results of a study backed this up. It says that stress relief can be achieved as long as cannabis is used in low and monitored doses.
There are medical benefits associated with the use of weed. For example, it has been linked to the management of mental and physical problems and in preserving health.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of marijuana for two rare and severe forms of epilepsy: Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome.
Research is ongoing on marijuana’s possible benefits in treating the following conditions:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Anorexia (loss of appetite)
- Cancer and cancer pain
- Cachexia (wasting syndrome)
- Crohn’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Muscle spasms
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Spiritual well-being is a recognized part of overall health. Marijuana has been used in spiritual practices to achieve a sense of enlightenment, meaning, and connection.
Hindus, Sikhs, and Rastafarians use cannabis during religious ceremonies. It is said that the relaxing effects of cannabis promote contemplation, personal growth, and reflection.
What is Marijuana Use Disorder? Is it Common?
Using marijuana can lead to marijuana use disorder. In severe cases, this can lead to an addiction to weed. Marijuana use disorders are closely linked to dependence. The person experiences withdrawal symptoms when not taking marijuana.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), marijuana use disorder is common in the U.S., but it often goes untreated. Almost 6 million people experienced the disorder in 2015.
What are the Signs of Marijuana Use Disorder?
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has combined marijuana dependency and marijuana addiction into one category: cannabis use disorder.
According to the APA's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - Fifth Edition (DSM-5), marijuana use disorder (or cannabis use disorder) is determined by the user's behavior patterns. These include:
- Taking cannabis in larger amounts over a longer period than originally intended
- Wanting and trying to cut down or control marijuana use but not being able to do so
- Craving marijuana
- Failure to fulfill obligations at work, home, or school due to recurrent marijuana use
- Continuously using marijuana despite the problems that it causes
- Neglecting activities once enjoyed in favor of marijuana use
- Using marijuana in dangerous situations
- Continuously using marijuana despite the presence of physical or psychological problems related to marijuana use
- Developing tolerance
- Developing withdrawal symptoms after stopping use
Can Marijuana Cause Withdrawal Symptoms?
Some states have legalized marijuana for medical and recreational purposes. Because of this, people are under the impression that marijuana is not addictive. However, this is not the case.
Marijuana can be addictive. When someone who uses marijuana regularly suddenly stops using it, marijuana withdrawal symptoms may develop.
Cannabis withdrawal symptoms include:
- Cravings for marijuana
- Diminished appetite
- Feeling depressed
- Inability to focus and concentrate
- Mood swings
- Sleep-related problems such as insomnia
- Stomach problems
- Sweating or cold sweats
These withdrawal symptoms can sometimes range from mild to severe. They also differ from person to person. While these symptoms may not be life-threatening, they can be uncomfortable.
For long-time users, quitting weed isn’t easy. The longer the person has used marijuana, the higher the chance of developing withdrawal symptoms.
Is it Safe to Quit Marijuana ‘Cold Turkey?’
Quitting “cold turkey” means that a regular user, who uses a substance every day, decides to stop suddenly. There is no transition period in between. This method of quitting produces negative effects, with severe withdrawal symptoms that make quitting cannabis very difficult or close to impossible.
Chronic marijuana users who decide to quit weed cold turkey will most likely experience withdrawal symptoms. These include anxiety, anorexia, depression, insomnia, and irritability. For some people, these symptoms can be overwhelming and may lead to a relapse.
Similarly, anxiety and depression have been linked to an increase in suicide risk. This can result in fatal consequences.
Quitting weed cold turkey may work for some people; it could pose a serious health problem for others.
10 Tips to Quit Smoking Weed
Making the decision to quit smoking weed is life-changing, especially if you commit to it and achieve sobriety. Here are some tips to help you on your journey to recovery:
1. Change your environment
One of the most important things to do when trying to stop smoking weed is to change your environment. Determine your triggers and avoid places, things, and people that tempt you to use weed.
If you have family members or friends who smoke, avoid their company. If your current environment exposes you to marijuana, move someplace else. These changes may seem overwhelming at first, but these are necessary.
2. Set goals
When you set goals, you put yourself in a mindset for success. Ask yourself what you want to achieve after you overcome your battle with marijuana addiction. This will motivate you to work hard toward your goal while living a full life without marijuana in the picture.
3. Get rid of your stash
If you have kept weed "for future use," it's time to get rid of them. You're not going to use them anymore. Deciding to quit smoking weed means you have no use for marijuana stashed somewhere in your house. Throw them out and never look back.
Some people opt to quit smoking weed cold turkey. However, this method predisposes them to severe withdrawal symptoms. The best way to stop smoking weed is to taper use gradually.
For example, if you're used to smoking weed five times a day, you may cut it down to two uses a day until you reach a stable level. When that occurs, you can cut down on your dosage again until you are finally able to wean yourself off the drug.
5. Be prepared
When it comes to quitting weed, it's important to know that things will get tough first before they get better. Knowing this will help you prepare for withdrawal and all the symptoms that go with it, such as irritability, jitters, and anxiety.
6. Keep yourself busy
Boredom is a culprit when you're trying to quit a habit. The best way to keep your mind off marijuana is to keep yourself busy.
Take up a new hobby or join a club. Fill your time with enjoyable activities that will keep you preoccupied. This will help you focus on worthwhile things rather than your desire to smoke weed.
7. Exercise daily
Exercise has been shown to reduce addiction cravings, according to research studies. It also helps reduce stress. For people who use marijuana for stress relief, exercise serves as a healthier, safer alternative.
Additionally, since marijuana use has been associated with cognitive impairment, exercise is beneficial because it helps restore healthy brain function.
8. Plan sober activities
Organize sober activities instead of spending your days and nights with pot-smoking friends. Having weed-free events will help you get rid of temptations. Soon, you'll realize that it is possible to have fun without getting high. This discovery will allow you to find joy in being sober.
9. Have a support system
Having a support network of family and friends that understand what you’re going through will help you get through your journey to recovery.
Let your support system know that you are trying to quit smoking weed. Voicing it out compels you to stick to your commitment because you wouldn’t want to let them down. When times get difficult, you can always lean on your support system.
10. Get professional help
Sometimes, personal efforts aren't enough, no matter how hard a person tries. This is when outside help is needed. There are lots of rehabilitation treatment centers that can provide marijuana detox and other forms of professional treatment options. You may also consider acquiring the services of a therapist or a counselor practicing addiction medicine.
Benefits of Quitting Marijuana Use
Quitting marijuana provides significant benefits. Some of these are noticeable right away, while others might take a few weeks or months to take effect.
Some of the physical and mental benefits include:
- Increased energy
- Enhanced motivation
- Better focus
- Improved breathing
- Healthier lungs and heart
- Positive, balanced mood
When a person decides to quit smoking marijuana, improvements in work or school performance, relationships, financial situation, and overall health become apparent.
Some things may take time, such as sleep problems. However, these will eventually improve after a few weeks or months.
How Long After Stopping Weed Does Memory Improve?
Memory begins to improve two days to one week after a person stops using marijuana. It is during these times that brain receptors start to return to normal function. Brain receptors are responsible for regulating neurological processes such as memory, learning, motivation, pleasure, and fine motor control.
Four weeks to several months after quitting marijuana, brain receptors have returned to normal function. Attention span, mental acuity, and memory improve a lot during this time.
Marijuana Detox: At-Home + Professional Treatment Options
The main goal of marijuana detox is to rid the body of the toxicities brought about by marijuana use.
Some people do this from the comfort of home. At-home detox can be safe and successful for others, but it’s not for everyone. Doing so can pose significant challenges mainly because the process can be uncomfortable.
THC detox kits and THC detox products are specifically designed to get rid of the toxins and impurities from the body. Products such as detox pills, drinks, shampoos, cleansers, and more are used together with all-natural home remedies for detoxification.
However, nothing is safer than medically supervised detox. Detoxification can bring about unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, and these are why most at-home detoxes fail. Many people who detox at home don’t really have a concrete strategy or a long-term plan. Because of this, they are more prone to relapse.
Aside from detox, there are several professionally administered substance use treatment options for marijuana use disorder. These address physical symptoms, mental health issues, and psychological symptoms. Treatment options include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): This is a form of psychotherapy that helps people by teaching strategies for identifying and correcting problematic behaviors. This helps with enhancing self-control and stopping drug use.
- Contingency management (CM): This therapeutic management approach involves frequent monitoring of behavioral goals and providing positive rewards when the goals are met.
- Motivational enhancement therapy (MET): This method of intervention aims to produce rapid change through internal motivation.
- Inpatient rehabilitation centers: Some people choose to receive inpatient rehab treatment to kick start their journey to recovery. This usually lasts between 30 and 90 days. Rehab centers work with a mental health professional for patients with co-occurring mental disorders.
- Support groups: These include Marijuana Anonymous (MA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), SMART Recovery Program, 12-Step programs, and many more.