Both sides of the pro and con marijuana debate agree about one thing and that is that marijuana is a plant that grows naturally. That’s where the agreement seems to end. Smoking marijuana does not require processing in any way nor does it need to be aged to improve its effectiveness at inducing a change in affect also called impairment. This article will offer some of the reported health benefits and health risks associated with regular marijuana use. Everything listed below pertains to research conducted with human beings not animals such as mice. Extrapolating research from animal studies to the human species can be questionable and as such only research conducted with real people is listed below.
The psychoactive ingredient in marijuana is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). After being ingested THC is carried to the brain and other organs via the bloodstream. Ingesting THC in food is slower in reaching the brain while smoking is the quickest as it flows through the lungs into the bloodstream. When THC reaches the brain it binds with what are called cannabinoid receptors. These receptors are normally activated by neurochemicals similar to THC occurring naturally in the brain and contribute to the endocannabinoid system. This system is a major component in brain development and function. Essentially, marijuana via the active ingredient THC overloads and over-stimulates the endocannabinoid system causing the marijuana “high.” The cannabinoid receptors have a high density in components of the brain influencing coordinated movement, memory, pleasure, thinking, concentration and time perception.
A recent article written by Marco Torres, a research specialist and consumer advocate for healthy lifestyles outlined the following health benefits of smoking marijuana:
• As an atypical anti-psychotic in treating schizophrenia
• Decreases the manifest symptoms of Tourette’s Syndrome
• Acts as an anti-spasmodic for seizures
• Used as a treatment for migraine headaches
• Used as a treatment for glaucoma
• Stops the neurological effects and muscle spasms associated with Multiple Sclerosis
• Used as a treatment for attention-deficit disorder (ADD) and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
• Used to treat Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s disease by stopping nausea, diarrhea and abdominal pain
• Prevents Alzheimer’s disease
• Treats the cramps and discomfort associated with Premenstrual Syndrome
Marco Torres believes that marijuana is a powerful healing plant void of overdose concerns and that smoking marijuana does not directly cause cognitive decline or psychological/psychosocial problems. Mr. Torres cited studies published in The Lancet, the world’s premier general medical journal and studies conducted at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom.
In contrast to the above listed health benefits of smoking marijuana are those reporting the health-related risks and lifestyle concerns that are associated with marijuana use. The short-term effects include:
• Slower reaction time
• Sensory distortion
• Panic and anxiety
• Poor coordination of movement
• Rapid heart-beat increasing the risk of heart attack
• After the initial ‘high,’ the user becomes drowsy and often feels depressed
Because THC remains in the body for weeks or longer depending on the frequency and amount used the long-term effects may include:
• Reduction of male sex hormones
• Growth disorders
• Reduced resistance to common illnesses such as colds
• Suppressed immune system
• Increase of abnormally structured cells throughout the body
• Damage to lung fibers
• Reduced sexual capacity
• Damage to sperm cells
• Diminished ability to learn and retain information
• Drowsiness, apathy and lack of motivation
• Possible personality and mood changes
• Inability to understand situations and conversations clearly
The smoke from marijuana reportedly contains 50% to 70% more cancer-causing ingredients than tobacco smoke. Often long-term users are diagnosed with bronchitis which is an inflammation in the respiratory tract. Marijuana is an addictive drug. Chronic users experience withdrawal symptoms including irritability, sleep difficulties, decreased appetite and anxiety and drug-craving while trying to quit. The experience of these symptoms can make it difficult to quit and contribute to psychosocial problems including the magnification of existing problems.
Compared to non-marijuana users heavy users generally experience poorer mental and physical health, more relationship problems, lower life satisfaction and less academic and career achievement and success. Some studies related to employment concerns and issues suggest that regular users of marijuana have increased absences, more tardiness and more accidents on the job and job turnover than non-users.
There you have it. The debate about the reported health benefits and health-related risks of marijuana use will continue. Research will continue into marijuana’s effects on the body and in the process discover more effective means to help those choosing to quit.