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How Does Weed Affect Your Body?

Weed is otherwise known as marijuana, cannabis, and pot, among other names. While many people smoke or vape weed, you can also use it as an ingredient in food, drinks, topicals, or tinctures.

The flower of the cannabis plant is extracted for its recreational or medicinal purposes. The stalk or stem of the plant is used for industrial reasons (like hemp fiber). The seed of the cannabis plant is used for food or household purposes (such as hemp seed or hemp oil).

Different ways of ingesting cannabis may affect your body differently. When you inhale weed smoke into your lungs, the compounds enter your bloodstream and quickly reach your brain and other organs. The effects may onset within seconds to minutes.

When you consume products containing cannabis, the compounds must first pass through your digestive system and liver before entering your bloodstream. The effects may onset within minutes to hours.

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is responsible for the effects of cannabis. It may also provide medicinal effects for conditions like: 

  • Pain
  • Nausea
  • Reduced appetite
  • Insomnia

CBD (cannabidiol) is non-intoxicating. It offers potential medicinal effects for conditions like epilepsy and anxiety. However, there is still a lot we do not know about THC and CBD.

There is ongoing debate surrounding the effects of cannabis on the body. People report a mixture of physical and psychological effects, ranging from discomfort and anxiety to pain relief and relaxation.

Common Side Effects of Marijuana

Marijuana overactivates areas of the brain that contain the highest number of these receptors. This leads to the ‘high’ that people experience. 

Other side effects of marijuana include: 2

  • Altered senses (e.g., seeing brighter colors)
  • Altered sense of time
  • Shifts in mood
  • Impaired body movement
  • Problems with thinking and problem-solving
  • Impaired memory
  • Hallucinations, when taken in high doses
  • Delusions, when taken in high doses
  • Psychosis 

In the long-term, too much marijuana affects brain development. When people start using marijuana as teenagers, the drug may affect thinking, memory, and learning functions. It may also affect how the brain develops connections between the areas required for these functions.

It is still unknown how long marijuana’s effects last and whether some changes may be permanent.

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Can You Overdose on Weed?

A fatal marijuana overdose is unlikely, but that does not mean the drug is harmless.3 The signs and side effects of using too much marijuana are similar to the usual effects of ingesting marijuana (but are more severe).

How Much Weed is “Too Much?”

How much weed is ‘too much’ depends on the individual. If you experience heavy signs and symptoms of marijuana use, you have likely consumed too much cannabis.

Symptoms of Marijuana Overconsumption 

The signs and symptoms of marijuana intoxication may include: 3

  • Extreme confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Panic
  • Fast heart rate
  • Delusions or hallucinations
  • Heightened blood pressure
  • Severe nausea or vomiting

In some cases, a cannabis overdose may lead to an unintentional injury like a motor vehicle crash, fall, or poisoning.

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Remedies for Marijuana Overconsumption 

When you or a loved one overdoses on marijuana, a visit to the emergency room may be necessary. If your loved one is experiencing a psychotic break due to a cannabis overdose, keeping them safe is essential.

For milder cases, try hydrating with lemon water. This helps neutralize terpenes and deals with the hydrating effects of THC. In many cases, treating marijuana intoxication is a waiting game.

Paranoia or psychosis may occur in extreme cases, so it is essential to soothe, reassure, and place the affected individual in a safe and comfortable environment.

Other Effects & Risks Associated with Marijuana Use

Here are other effects and risks linked with marijuana use:

Behavioral Effects

Researchers from the University of Toronto gathered 124 studies from 1995 to 2020 that assessed how recreational marijuana use had adverse consequences on behavior.5 They identified four main areas where cannabis had negative implications on mental health.

The researchers discovered that marijuana addiction impacts specific areas of cognition, including memory, decision-making, and attention. They found that high marijuana drug use led to more significant lapses in memory, particularly among those who started using marijuana as adolescents.

They also discovered that cognitive impairments happening while users were high were more significant among participants who had not developed a tolerance to marijuana.

Psychological Effects

Long-term marijuana use has been associated with mental illness in some cannabis users, including: 2

  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Worsening symptoms in patients with schizophrenia—a severe mental health disorder with symptoms such as hallucinations, paranoia, and disorganized thinking 

Substance use disorders like marijuana addiction have also been linked to other mental health issues. These issues include depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.

However, it is essential to understand that study findings are mixed.

Psychosocial Effects

An extensive set of data demonstrates that when young people use cannabis consistently during their development, they are less likely to complete high school and are less likely to finish a college degree.

Adolescents who use marijuana regularly are less likely to go to class, finish their homework, or achieve and value good grades. Evidence also suggests that those who use marijuana early in life, and continue to use it frequently, have less economic success than the general population.

One study in New Zealand followed a group of children through middle adulthood while tailing their marijuana use.4

Participants were more likely to use weed chronically as adults if:

  • Their parents used it
  • They had a conduct disorder
  • They were classified as novelty-seeking
  • They experienced trauma as a child

Additionally, those who used marijuana commonly as adults were more likely to have mental disorders and abuse other drugs.

Health Effects

Consistent cannabis use can lead to many serious health problems in the long term.

Smoking weed irritates the lungs, and people who smoke it often can develop the same breathing problems as those who smoke tobacco. These issues may include daily cough and phlegm, more frequent lung illness, and a higher risk of lung infections. 

However, researchers have not yet found a higher risk for lung cancer in people who smoke cannabis.

Marijuana use also increases heart rate for up to three hours after smoking. The effect may heighten the chance of heart attack. Older people and those with heart issues may be at higher risk.

Cannabis use may also cause problems with child development during and after pregnancy. 

In one study of dispensaries, nonmedical staff members at marijuana dispensaries recommended cannabis to pregnant women for nausea. However, medical experts warn against this.

This is because cannabis use during pregnancy is associated with lower birth weight and an increased risk of brain and behavioral issues in babies. If a pregnant woman uses cannabis, the drug may affect specific developing parts of the baby’s brain.

Babies exposed to marijuana in the womb have an increased risk of issues with attention, memory, and problem-solving compared to unexposed babies. 

Some research also shows that moderate amounts of THC can reach the breast milk of nursing mothers. With consistent use, THC can hit amounts in breast milk that could affect the child’s developing brain.

Other research suggests an increased risk of preterm births. However, more studies are necessary. 

Finally, regular, long-term cannabis use can lead some people to develop Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS). This condition causes some people to experience regular cycles of severe nausea, dehydration, and vomiting. It can require a visit to the emergency room.

Signs of Marijuana Use

Marijuana is an addictive drug. Signs that an individual is using cannabis may or may not be clear to loved ones.

Signs of marijuana use are linked to the psychological, physical, and behavioral shifts in the person who is using marijuana.

Here are some commonly observed signs:

  • Red eyes
  • Eating or excessive eating outside of typical meal or snack times 
  • Poorer performance in school, work, and/or in meeting responsibilities at home
  • Withdrawing from friends, family, coworkers, and/or classmates 
  • Spending time with people who use marijuana or substances
  • Buying cannabis products, such as bongs and rolling papers, to smoke marijuana 
  • Conducting online research on various types of marijuana and highs, such as waxes, tinctures, and edibles
  • Using slang terms for marijuana like weed, pot, bud, and cannabis

Treatment Options for Marijuana Use

Treating marijuana abuse with standard treatments, including medications and behavioral therapies, may help reduce cannabis use.7 This is especially among those involved with excessive use and those with chronic mental health disorders.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) teaches people strategies to understand and correct problematic behaviors to improve self-control, stop drug use, and address various other problems that may co-occur with them.

Contingency management is another type of treatment to help with marijuana use. The therapeutic management approach is based on consistent monitoring of the target behavior and providing or removing positive rewards when the target behavior happens or does not happen.

Another option is motivational enhancement therapy. This treatment is a systematic form of intervention designed to create rapid, internally motivated change. This therapy does not try to treat the person but instead mobilizes their internal resources for change.

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Resources

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Cannabis (Marijuana) and Cannabinoids: What You Need To Know, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NIH), November 2019 NIDA. "Marijuana DrugFacts." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 24 Dec. 2019 Is it possible to “overdose” or have a “bad reaction” to marijuana?, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), March 2018 Boden, Joseph M et al. “Life-course trajectories of cannabis use: a latent class analysis of a New Zealand birth cohort.” Addiction (Abingdon, England) vol. 115,2 (2020) Sorkhou, Maryam et al. “The Behavioral Sequelae of Cannabis Use in Healthy People: A Systematic Review.” Frontiers in psychiatry vol. 12 630247. 16 Feb. 2021 NIDA. "What are signs of drug use in adolescents, and what role can parents play in getting treatment?." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 14 Jul. 2020 NIDA. "Available Treatments for Marijuana Use Disorders." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 13 Apr. 2021
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