Marijuana, pot, weed, or ganja—this herb goes by different names. But no matter what you call it, one thing’s for sure: We all love it and use it for different purposes.
Research shows that 85% of adult cannabis users use it for recreational purposes, while 10.5% use it for medical purposes. That being said, there’s a plethora of both negative and positive information about weed out there. This has created ripples in the minds of many cannabis users because, quite frankly, we don’t know who to believe anymore.
So, to shed light on the matter, we prepared this guide detailing every aspect of weed consumption and answering the question, what does weed do to your brain and body? We’ll also look at the benefits and risks associated with using weed.
Modes of Weed Consumption
Whether you’re using it for medical or recreation purposes, your mode of weed consumption plays a significant role in how it affects you. Here are the most common ways in which weed is consumed.
This is by far the most common mode of weed consumption. Most people smoke weed by rolling it with tobacco rolling papers or in the form of a blunt, which is basically a cigar with marijuana instead of tobacco.
Some people also use bongs and bumblers. And since stoners are known for their creativity, some of them fashion bongs out of soda bottles and pieces of fruit.
Depending on how much you smoke and your tolerance levels, it can take anywhere from 10 seconds to 30 minutes for weed to kick in.
Despite being a relatively new mode of weed consumption, vaping is becoming very popular, especially among younger users. Vaping typically involves using a vaporizer, which heats the weed to a point just below its combustion point. This way, users can inhale only the active ingredients without the harmful smoke.
The onset of the herb’s effects typically takes about 1-10 minutes to kick in, depending on how much you vape, how fast you vape, and how big your hits are.
Edibles have been around for decades. Traditionally, they were in the form of home-baked marijuana brownies. But now, weed is being added to literally any food you can think of.
Most edibles are made from oils extracted from cannabis plants, then added to various products such as gummies, cookies, granola bars, and chewing gum.
Edibles can take between 30 minutes to two hours to kick in, depending on the concentration of weed in the edibles, how much you take, and your tolerance levels.
Tinctures are liquids extracted from cannabis plants and infused with a solution of alcohol. Users place a few drops under the tongue, after which it is absorbed into the bloodstream.
Due to their high concentration and potency, tinctures are mainly used for medical purposes. But some people also use them for recreational purposes. Tinctures can take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour to kick in.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s check out how weed affects your mind and body.
How Does Weed Affect Your Brain?
You’ll Get High
This is probably the main reason why most people use weed. The main psychoactive ingredient in weed is THC. It stimulates the part of your brain that responds to pleasure. This triggers a dopamine release, which, in turn, gives you a euphoric, relaxed feeling.
Depending on how you use it, the THC levels in your brain peak at about 30 minutes, with effects lasting up to three hours (if you smoke it). But if you eat or drink it, the effects might last up to six hours.
Weed Controls Epileptic Seizures
A 2003 study found that weed can prevent epileptic seizures. Another study published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics found that marijuana prevented seizures in rats for about ten hours.
THC controls seizures by binding to the cells responsible for regulating relaxation and controlling excitability.
Weed May Slow the Progression of Alzheimer’s Disease
According to a study led by Kim Janda at the Scripps Research Institute, weed may slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Similarly, a 2006 study published in the Journal of Molecular Pharmaceutics found that Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound in weed, slows the formation of amyloid plaques by effectively blocking the enzyme that makes them. Amyloid plaques cause Alzheimer’s by killing brain cells.
Weed Might Affect Your Mental Health
Most cannabis users have a pleasant experience after using weed. But on the flip side, it might leave you anxious, panicked, afraid, or paranoid. And at its worst, it can raise your chances of clinical depression or even worsen the symptoms of any underlying mental disorders that you already have.
That said, most of these negative effects occur when weed is consumed in high doses. Research suggests that micro-dosing on weed may reduce stress. But taking it in high doses might do just the opposite.
Your Thinking Might Get Distorted
Weed can cloud your sense of judgment. But the effects differ in terms of how much you consume, how potent the strain is, and how much weed you’ve used in the past. In some cases, weed:
- Heightens your senses. Sounds might seem louder and colors brighter.
- Hurts your motor skills, thus reducing your response time. This can make driving more dangerous.
- Distorts your sense of time.
- Lowers your inhibitions. This might cause you to take risks, such as engaging in risky sex.
You Might Get Addicted
10% of regular cannabis users develop a cannabis use disorder, otherwise known as cannabis addiction. This means that once you get hooked, you can’t stop using it, even if it affects your job, relationship, health, or finances.
The risk of marijuana addiction is higher for younger people and those who use it regularly. In addition to being addicted, you may also grow physically dependent on weed. This might cause your body to go into withdrawal mode, leaving you restless, irritable, and unable to sleep or eat unless you use it.
Weed Can Impair Your Brain
Weed can make it harder for you to learn, focus, and remember things. This is a short-term effect and mostly wears off within 24 hours after you stop using weed.
However, using weed heavily, especially in your teens, may leave more permanent effects. Imaging tests conducted on a few adolescents found that weed may physically change the brains of certain individuals. Most affected teens had fewer connections in their brains in areas linked to alertness, memory, and learning. Tests also show lower IQ scores in some people.
How Weed Affects Your Body
Weed May Stop Cancer From Spreading
According to a report published by researchers at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, a chemical in weed, CBD, prevents cancer from spreading.
Another study published in the Journal of Molecular Cancer Therapeutics found that CBD may stop cancer by turning off the Id-1 gene, which induces the growth of cancer cells and promotes their survival.
In the study, researchers examined breast cancer cells with high levels of Id-1 and treated them with CBD. After the treatment, the cells had lower levels of Id-1 and spread less aggressively.
Weed May Relieve Chronic Pain
A comprehensive review conducted in 2017 at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine assessed more than 10,000 scientific studies on the adverse effects and medical benefits of marijuana. It found out that marijuana and products containing marijuana are effective in relieving chronic pain.
Your Lungs May Hurt
Despite the numerous positive effects weed presents, there are some negative effects, too, the most common of which is irritation in the lungs. Weed smoke can inflame and irritate your lungs. And if you smoke it regularly, you might even have the same breathing problems as someone who smokes cigarettes.
Some regular cannabis smokers experience an ongoing cough with colored mucus. Their lungs are also more easily prone to picking up infections since weed seems to weaken the immune system. That said, you can avoid these issues by simply switching your mode of weed consumption to edibles and tinctures.
You Might Feel Hungrier
Most cannabis users get “the munchies” after smoking weed. This is especially helpful to people suffering from autoimmune diseases like AIDS and cancer since it can help them regain their weight.
Weed May Intensify the Dangers of Alcohol
Most people who use weed also drink alcohol. While many people enjoy combining these two substances, it may put them in danger of reckless driving or lead to professional and personal problems. This is due to the fact that weed increases the effects of alcohol by limiting the feeling of drunkenness, which, in turn, can cause you to drink more than you can handle.
Weed May Harm Your Heart
Weed makes your heart work harder. Normally, your heart beats about 50 to 70 times a minute. But when you’re high, it can go up to 120 beats per minute. The added strain, combined with tar and other chemicals in weed, can raise your chances of getting a stroke or heart attack. The danger is more significant if you are older or have underlying heart conditions.
And if you are pregnant, using weed might make your newborn underweight. New mothers who use weed face a higher risk of giving birth to premature or underweight babies. That said, researchers still don’t know if these kids grow up to develop any cognitive or behavioral problems later in life.
Benefits of Using Weed
Weed May Help With Alcohol and Drug Addiction
A comprehensive review of evidence published recently in the journal Clinical Psychology Review showed that using weed may help people with opioid and alcohol dependencies fight their addiction.
However, there is a bone of contention between this and another review published in the National Academies of Sciences that suggests that using weed actually increases the risk of drug abuse since it acts as a gateway drug.
That said, numerous people suffering from opioid addiction have benefited from cannabis use since it helps alleviate some of the withdrawal symptoms associated with opioid use, such as nausea and loss of appetite.
Weed May Help With Depression, PTSD, and Social Anxiety
A review published recently in the Clinical Psychology Review assessed all scientific literature linked to the use of cannabis as a treatment for mental illnesses. According to the review, there exists significant evidence supporting the use of cannabis to relieve post-traumatic stress (PTSD) and depression symptoms.
That said, the authors of the review also caution that weed is not an appropriate treatment for certain mental health conditions such as psychosis and bipolar disorder.
The review also indicates that there is some evidence to suggest that weed might alleviate symptoms of social anxiety. However, this notion is contradicted by another study that reveals that regular use of marijuana in moderation might actually increase the risk of social anxiety.
Weed May Help People With Multiple Sclerosis
Weed may help improve symptoms of spasticity among people who have multiple sclerosis when used orally over a short period. That said, the positive effects are pretty modest.
Risks of Using Weed
Weed Might Increase Your Chances of Contracting Testicular Cancer
Although there is no evidence linking using weed to a heightened chance of getting cancer, the National Academies of Sciences found some evidence suggesting that using weed increases your chances of developing a slow-growing subtype of testicular cancer.
Weed May Reduce Your Bone Density
According to a study published in 2017, using weed regularly in moderation may reduce bone density. This reduction in bone density increases the risk of bone-related health problems such as osteoporosis, thus increasing the risk of bone fractures.
On the upside, other studies suggest that cannabinoids accelerate bone healing and can even make bones stronger after a fracture.
The Bottom Line
So, what does weed do to your brain and body? There is substantial evidence that suggests the harms and health benefits of weed. And despite the emergence of comprehensive and up-to-date reviews of the scientific studies that evaluate its benefits and risks, it is clear that more research is needed to determine the benefits and health implications of using weed.
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