What happens to your body when you smoke marijuana?

marijuana
Marijuana throws your dopamine out of whack.
Credit: Metro file photo

With Colorado’s recreational-use marijuana dispensaries opened this month, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo forging forward with a medical marijuana plan and 20 states now allowing medical marijuana facilities, is American becoming a pro-pot nation? Time will tell, but as with any substance we put in or on our bodies, it’s important to know about both short- and long-term effects. We asked Dr. Muhammad Mirza, medical director at Allied Medical & Diagnostic in Clifton, N.J., for the lowdown on the drug’s physiological and psychological effects.

“Marijuana acts like any addictive product,” says Mirza. “It’s a stimulant and causes euphoria.” As a stimulant, that means that when you’re on it, your heartbeat and blood pressure rise, and your breathing quickens. “It can also stimulate the appetite,” the doc says — but you already know that as getting the munchies.

Ironically, all that quickening causes your brain to slow down. Mentally, in the short-term, pot can cause slowed reaction time, impaired judgment and psychosis: “Psychosis is when you lose connection to reality, and time and space becomes blurred.” This state, he says, can be brought about via cocaine, amphetamines and even some prescription meds.

Mirza says studies have found that long-term marijuana use can cause a variety of mood disorders, such as anxiety, depression and suicidal tendencies. It can result in reduced productivity and failure to maintain focus, too. Physically, long-term use can cause erectile dysfunction, decreased sperm count and hormonal imbalance. There is evidence that smoking marijuana causes certain lung cancers, too.

So how does it do all of that?

“The biomechanics of marijuana is that it causes an imbalance with certain neurotransmitters,” Mirza says. “It changes dopamine levels, which regulate mood.

“There’s a Chinese proverb that says, if it is a medicine, there is some poison in it. That applies equally to marijuana as it does to drugs like Lipitor (which reduces cholesterol). There are always side effects.”

If you ingest marijuana through food (like pot brownies), “essentially, the effects are the same,” says Mirza, “but, predominantly, you’ll see the effects more quickly with inhalation of marijuana than eating it. Smoking marijuana releases the drug more quickly and more strongly into the system.”


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Comments

4

  1. An ever-growing body of scientific research clearly demonstrates that Marijuana is less addictive than a cup of tea.

    http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/library/basicfax5.htm

    Dr. Jack E. Henningfield of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and Dr. Neal L. Benowitz of the University of California at San Francisco ranked six psychoactive substances on five criteria.

    Withdrawal — The severity of withdrawal symptoms produced by stopping the use of the drug.

    Reinforcement — The drug’s tendency to induce users to take it again and again.

    Tolerance — The user’s need to have ever-increasing doses to get the same effect.

    Dependence — The difficulty in quitting, or staying off the drug, the number of users who eventually become dependent

    Intoxication — The degree of intoxication produced by the drug in typical use.

    The tables listed below show the rankings given for each of the drugs. Overall, their evaluations for the drugs are very consistent. It is notable that marijuana ranks below caffeine in most addictive criteria, while alcohol and tobacco are near the top of the scale in many areas.

    The rating scale is from 1 to 6 — 1 denotes the drug with the strongest addictive tendencies, while 6 denotes the drug with the least addictive tendencies.

    HENNINGFIELD RATINGS

    Withdrawal Reinforcement Tolerance Dependence Intoxication

    Nicotine 3 4 2 1 5

    Heroin 2 2 1 2 2

    Cocaine 4 1 4 3 3

    Alcohol 1 3 3 4 1

    Caffeine 5 6 5 5 6

    Marijuana 6 5 6 6 4

    BENOWITZ RATINGS

    Withdrawal Reinforcement Tolerance Dependence Intoxication

    Nicotine 3 4 4 1 6

    Heroin 2 2 2 2 2

    Cocaine 3 1 1 3 3

    Alcohol 1 3 4 4 1

    Caffeine 4 5 3 5 5

    Marijuana 5 6 5 6 4

  2. Researchers have found that there are no differences between daily marijuana users and those using no marijuana in their use of the emergency room, in hospitalizations, medical diagnoses, or their health status.
    
”Researchers from Boston Medical Center (BMC) and Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) studied 589 adults who screened positive for drug use at a primary care visit. Those patients were asked about their drug use, their emergency room use and hospitalizations, and their overall health status. In addition, information about other medical diagnoses was obtained from their medical records. They found the vast majority of the study sample (84 percent) used marijuana, 25 percent used cocaine, 23 percent opioids and eight percent used other drugs; 58 percent reported using marijuana but no other drugs. They also found no differences between daily marijuana users and those using no marijuana in their use of the emergency room, in hospitalizations, medical diagnoses or their health status.”

    http://m.medicalxpress.com/news/2013-09-association-frequency-marijuana-health-healthcare.html

    A study at the beginning of the last decade and reported in Scientific American magazine seemed to show that “workers testing positive only for marijuana exhibited absenteeism some 30 percent lower than average”.

    According to a report published by NIDA in 2002, Utah Power and Light actually “spent $215 per employee per year less on the drug abusers in health insurance benefits than on the control group. Those who tested positive at Georgia Power had a higher promotion rate than the company average.”

  3. 1) Tobacco is cancer causing largely because it delivers specific carcinogens such as NNK and NNAL that are not present in cannabis. Not all “tar” is created equal, and tobacco has some of the most carcinogenic types of tar known to science, whereas cannabis does not.

    2) Cannabis (marijuana) use is associated with a DECREASE in several types of cancer… potentially even providing a protective effect against tobacco and alcohol related cancer development.

    Donald Tashkin, a UCLA researcher whose work is funded by NIDA, did a case-control study comparing 1,200 patients with lung, head and neck cancers to a matched group with no cancer. Even the heaviest marijuana smokers had no increased risk of cancer, and had somewhat lower cancer risk than non-smokers (tobacco smokers had a 20-fold increased lung cancer risk). Tashkin D. Marijuana Use and Lung Cancer: Results of a Case-Control Study. American Thoracic Society International Conference. May 23, 2006.

    Researchers at the Kaiser-Permanente HMO, funded by NIDA, followed 65,000 patients for nearly a decade, comparing cancer rates among non-smokers, tobacco smokers, and marijuana smokers. Tobacco smokers had massively higher rates of lung cancer and other cancers. Marijuana smokers who didn’t also use tobacco had no increase in risk of tobacco-related cancers or of cancer risk overall. In fact their rates of lung and most other cancers were slightly lower than non-smokers. Sidney, S. et al. Marijuana Use and Cancer Incidence (California, United States). Cancer Causes and Control. Vol. 8. Sept. 1997, p. 722-728.

    “Components of cannabis smoke minimize some carcinogenic pathways whereas tobacco smoke enhances some. Both types of smoke contain carcinogens and particulate matter that promotes inflammatory immune responses that may enhance the carcinogenic effects of the smoke. However, cannabis typically down-regulates immunologically-generated free radical production by promoting a Th2 immune cytokine profile. Furthermore, THC inhibits the enzyme necessary to activate some of the carcinogens found in smoke. In contrast, tobacco smoke increases the likelihood of carcinogenesis by overcoming normal cellular checkpoint protective mechanisms through the activity of respiratory epithelial cell nicotine receptors. Cannabinoids receptors have not been reported in respiratory epithelial cells (in skin they prevent cancer), and hence the DNA damage checkpoint mechanism should remain intact after prolonged cannabis exposure. Furthermore, nicotine promotes tumor angiogenesis whereas cannabis inhibits it.”

    So there we have it: Tobacco Causes Cancer and Cannabis Prevents Cancer – even when smoked!

  4. Maju Mathew Koola (University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, USA) and team have found that Cannabis use is associated with reduced mortality risk in patients with psychotic disorders.

    Researchers studied 762 patients with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder or psychosis not otherwise specified, aged 18-55 years, who were followed up for more than 10 years. Analysis revealed that cannabis users were significantly less likely to die over the study period than nonusers, with 5- and 10-year overall mortality rates of 3.1% versus 7.5% and 5.5% versus 13.6%.

    “We observed a lower mortality risk in cannabis-using psychotic disorder patients compared to cannabis non-users despite subjects having similar symptoms and treatments.” … “Future research is warranted to replicate these findings and to shed light on the anti-inflammatory properties of the endocannabinoid system and its role in decreased mortality in people with psychotic disorders.”

    http://www.news-medical.net/news/20120710/Cannabis-use-may-reduce-mortality-risk-in-psychosis-patients.aspx