Is Smoking Weed Bad For Your Health?
Published on 8/20/19
Updated Jun 7, 2022
Around the world, roughly 158.8 million people consume cannabis. For some perspective, that is 3.8 percent of the entire global population. That's a whole lot of people sparking up. And despite the legal cannabis industry, both in North America and globally, multiplying in both product offerings and popularity, smoking flower is still the primary form of consumption for the vast majority of users.
According to a recent survey from NORML, smoking cannabis remains more than half of users' "only mode of marijuana use." That means millions of individuals smoke cannabis instead of utilizing other consumption methods like vaping, orally ingesting edibles, sublingually administered liquids, or topical applications, despite the many health concerns and issues associated with smoking.
Although smoking marijuana has been a staple for centuries, more and more studies have revealed that this particular method isn't as beneficial as others. So, is marijuana harmful to you? Let's find out!
The Impact Cannabis Usage Has On Different Systems Within Your Body:
While the cannabis plant itself isn't necessarily harmful to you, the content of cannabis smoke isn't as healthy as you may think. To break down the many ways that cannabis smoking affects us when we use it, let's break it down step by step.
After we consume cannabis, people tend to experience different effects like euphoria or relaxation and medicinal and therapeutic benefits. With so many effects, one has to wonder, how does cannabis usage affect vital parts of our body such as our brain, respiratory system, nervous system, and cardiovascular system?
Let's start with the brain. The chemical structure of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is similar to the neurotransmitter known as anandamide. Anandamide, also known as "the bliss molecule," is often recognized as an endogenous cannabinoid and is essential in many functions throughout our brain.
Since the structure of anandamide and THC aren't that different, receptors in our body bind THC, which alters normal brain functioning. These neurotransmitters send chemical messages throughout the central nervous system via neurons. Thus, the areas of the brain impacted influence memory, concentration, movement, coordination, pleasure, thinking, and perception of time.
In addition, the endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays a significant role in maintaining homeostasis and proper functioning of the central nervous system. After THC is consumed, it disrupts the cerebellum and basal ganglia--parts of the brain responsible for regulating coordination, reaction time, and balance. This explains why people may struggle to operate a vehicle well when under the influence of marijuana.
Also, THC can activate the brain's neurochemical reward system, thus affecting the brain's response to pleasurable activities such as eating and sex. Certain cannabis strains can stimulate a person's appetite or sex drive.
Furthermore, the ECS plays a vital role in regulating various vascular functions. The effects marijuana has on the cardiovascular system haven't been linked to severe health issues for most cannabis users.
However, in rare cases, it is possible to experience myocardial infarction, strokes, and other adverse cardiovascular events after consuming cannabis and high levels of THC.
People with preexisting cardiovascular problems should be cautious when consuming cannabis, primarily THC. Opting for cannabidiol-dominant strains or other forms of consumption that don't involve smoke inhalation can help mitigate health risks.
When using cannabis, inhaled cannabis smoke moves its way into the body's airway and lungs, then absorbed into the bloodstream. Compared to smoking tobacco, cannabis users typically inhale for more extended and deeper periods.
If cannabis consumption happens daily, mainly smoking, one's respiratory system can be negatively impacted by the frequent exposure to smoke and the harmful ingredients within the smoke. But, this isn't the norm for all cannabis users.
Central Nervous System:
When cannabis is consumed, different cannabinoids like THC interact with the body's CB1 and CB2 receptors. These receptors are located throughout various systems, including the central nervous system and immune cells. The majority of CB1 receptors are located in the central nervous system and have numerous effects, including appetite boosts, nausea reduction, immune system balancing, and stress and anxiety regulation.
After THC is consumed, it moves through the body and affects neurological centers from within. Through the endocannabinoid system, cannabis directly alters the central nervous system. This leads to different effects and benefits, such as anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties.
Short-term Versus Long-term Effects of Cannabis Usage:
On average, smoking weed affects everyone differently. Some people may feel very high and cognitively impaired from certain cannabis strains, and others may experience the opposite. Everyone has their tolerance to cannabis as their metabolism and genetic make-up are different. These factors play a vital role in the effects people feel from cannabis (short-term and long-term).
A handful of short-term effects people may experience from consuming cannabis include:
- Short-term memory difficulties
- paranoia (depends on the strain one uses and their personality)
- lowered reaction time
- increased heart rate (this tends to occur from pure sativa strains)
- coordination problems
If you consume large quantities of cannabis regularly or consume cannabis every day, there are possible long-term effects to be aware of, even though you may never experience these.
A handful of long-term effects that have occurred (although rare) after prolonged heavy cannabis use are:
- IQ declines (the number of IQ points typically depends on the age the individual started consuming cannabis)
- Symptoms of chronic bronchitis
- learning difficulties (if using cannabis at a young age)
Research Findings Regarding Negatives Associated With Cannabis Usage:
Several decades ago, scientists found that chronic cannabis smokers experience a rise in adverse respiratory symptoms, including phlegm production and wheezing. More recently, we discovered that regular marijuana smokers have an increased chance of experiencing a chronic cough, sputum production, hoarse voice, or chest tightness.
Additionally, a 2005 study mentioned that smoking marijuana or tobacco might increase one's risk of respiratory exposure and adverse symptoms from organisms like mold and fungus that can be found on tobacco and cannabis plants. However, it's essential to keep in mind that the content of marijuana smoke and tobacco smoke are pretty different.
For example, tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, and at least 250 of those chemicals are harmful to the body. Out of these 250 dangerous chemicals, a minimum of 69 are known to cause cancer. Whereas, in cannabis, there are multiple chemicals, but they're known for their medicinal and therapeutic properties rather than being harmful. Also, it has been found that cannabis can combat cancerous cells instead of causing them - much different from that tobacco.
Negative Effects From Certain Cannabis Consumption Methods:
Frequently, individuals don't experience any adverse effects after consuming cannabis via smoking, vaping, or ingesting edibles. To protect your health, many studies suggest staying away from combusting/smoking marijuana to protect your health in the short-term and long-term.
Unfortunately, the content of marijuana smoke isn't necessarily healthy as it can irritate one's lungs and throat. Therefore, vaping marijuana is becoming a more popular option since the plant material is heated to a specific temperature, producing vapors rather than smoke. Orally ingesting edibles is another beneficial option because nothing needs to be inhaled, so your respiratory system will likely be unaffected.
Additionally, if you consume cannabis every day, it's possible to become dependent on the substance, but this doesn't happen to everyone. If you regularly consume large quantities of cannabis, you can become addicted (about 9 percent of long-term users).
Also, the more cannabis you consume, the higher the chance your tolerance will change over time. As a result, some cannabis users take breaks from consuming marijuana so their tolerance level will revert to a normal state. Still, ultimately, this depends on the individual and their specific situation.
How to Avoid the Negatives of Smoking
Now that we've broken down all of the negatives and downsides of smoking cannabis let's break down some alternative ways to enjoy your medicine or recreational cannabis without the many downsides of actually sparking up.
The first alternative would be edibles. Not only have edibles sales been up since 2020, which makes a whole lot of sense amid a global respiratory-based pandemic, but their growth has outpaced other forms of cannabis. It's crystal clear that edibles are here to stay, so why not take advantage of the variety? For example, in ultra-developed markets like Colorado, California, and Oregon, you can pick up all different types of edibles. Candy infused with THC, soft drinks and beverages that will get you high, and pastries chock full of cannabinoid punch. It's a great alternative to still get all the benefits of cannabis without putting your lungs, heart, and other vital systems at risk by inhaling smoke.
If you're a fan of smoking and just can't let it go, we have an alternative for that. We highly suggest picking up a dry leaf vaporizer. Think of it like diet smoking. You still get the sensation of breathing in and exhaling the vapor, but without all the harmful effects of inhaling burning plant materials. All you do is buy cannabis flower, grind it up like you usually would, and load them up in your vaporizer. The device will heat the plant material to extract the cannabinoids without burning the material, giving you a more potent, smoke-free high that's not too different from just smoking it.
The Bottom Line
Today's legal cannabis industry is as advanced as it's ever been. With the massive variety of tinctures, vapes, edibles, and concentrates out there, smoking flower isn't the only way. We highly encourage people, especially those who care about their long-term health, to try some new methods.
It will be good for your overall health, but it's a great way to explore dosages and the way they affect you. There are no downsides to taking a smoke break and opting for another consumption method instead, even if it's not permanent. After all, variety is very much the spice of life!
After learning about some of the potential negative effects of consuming cannabis and how it impacts your mind and body, is smoking weed bad for you, in your opinion? If you think so, will you consider shifting away from smoking marijuana and opt for other methods instead? Let us know in the comments below!