With cannabis use becoming more widespread and accepted, there has been an increased focus on both the positive and negative effects of cannabis use. Since the start of prohibition, haters have been quick to point out the negatives of cannabis. A simple plant gets called one of the most dangerous drugs out there. The truth is, as more research is conducted, we are seeing that cannabis is not even close to as harmful as the nay-sayers claim it is. This is especially true compared to other drugs (alcohol, nicotine, heroin – we're talking to you!).
In fact, cannabis can be quite beneficial when used in moderation. The funny thing is, science is now showing those that previously dragged cannabis through the mud that there are far more positives than negatives of cannabis.
Positive and Negative Effects of Weed
Cannabis and the Endocannabinoid System
To understand the positive and negative effects of cannabis, one must first understand how cannabinoids such as Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC and CBD interact with the body. We are talking, of course, about the endocannabinoid system.
The endocannabinoid system, also referred to as the ECS, is responsible for keeping your body in a homeostasis state. That means it helps ensure bodily functions are regulated and working properly. In other words, the ECS more or less ensures that trains are running on schedule in your body. The ECS was only discovered in the last 30 years, so there is a lot that we don't yet know about it. So far, researchers have determined that the ECS plays a role in regulating mood, appetite, sleep, memory, and reproductive functions.
Your endocannabinoid system is continually working for you, even if you have never taken a puff of weed in your entire life! It's part of being human. The ECS consists of three main parts: endocannabinoids, enzymes, and receptors.
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Endocannabinoids are essentially the same as cannabinoids, except they occur naturally in your body. They play a key role in regulating the body's functions. Endocannabinoid receptors are vital because they connect to endocannabinoids. Their presence alerts your endocannabinoid system that a function needs to occur in the body. The two types of endocannabinoid receptors are CB1 receptors, found in the central nervous system, and CB2 receptors, located in the peripheral nervous system – especially your immune system. When you feel your body getting sick, endocannabinoids will link with CB2 receptors to tell your immune system that it's time to go to battle! Last, we have the enzymes, whose primary function is to break down endocannabinoids once they have finished their job regulating your bodily functions.
Again, knowledge of the endocannabinoid system is still fairly new, but so far, scientists have determined that it regulates the following essential functions:
- Motor control, learning, and memory
- Appetite, digestion, and metabolism
- Chronic pain and inflammation
- Cardiovascular health, liver function, and muscle formation
- Immune and reproductive functions
- Bone growth
If any of these functions were to break down, your body would not be able to maintain homeostasis and would begin to shut down. When things go awry with your body, your ECS is there to save the day!
When your body takes in THC, the cannabinoids work the same as endocannabinoids, joining receptors to instigate a reaction from your ECS. This is why cannabis works as well as it does for pain relief. Unfortunately, this can also cause adverse reactions, which scientists are still studying to learn how to mitigate them. The effects of cannabidiol, a.k.a. CBD, have not been studied as long and therefore are not well known. One thing currently being debated is how CBD reacts differently than THC. Some believe that CBD has heightened effects on the body because it prevents endocannabinoids from breaking down after use. Others posit that perhaps CBD attaches itself to endocannabinoid receptors that have yet to be discovered. Both are very plausible theories.
Related: How Cannabis Became Pot
So, what are the negative effects of cannabis? There are a few potential concerns, although as more research comes in, we tend to see a lot more positives than negative side effects of medical cannabis. For instance, cannabis' negative effects on the brain have turned out to be less detrimental than initially thought. Nonetheless, there are a few drawbacks worth knowing about. Let's take a look at some of the negatives of cannabis use.
Weed can change the way you think
One of the negative effects of cannabis on the brain is that it might change some of your cognitive functions (science talk for "affecting the way you think"). For instance, one of the negative effects of long term cannabis use can be short-term memory loss. Indeed, many dedicated marijuana users have trouble remembering what they had for dinner last week or the names of people they recently met. Although, for many, alcohol may also have something to do with it.
Another of the possible negative effects of cannabis on the brain has to do with mental health. People who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder might have a worsened condition with prolonged use. The same could happen to individuals who suffer from psychosis like schizophrenia, which cannabis can exacerbate. Aside from these things, cannabis' negative effects on the brain are pretty few and far between.
You may become dependent
As with other substances, there is a risk that you could become dependent. This is especially the case when it comes to the negative effects of long term cannabis use. Though cannabis is not nearly as addictive as other substances (hello again, alcohol, heroin, methamphetamine, and prescription pills!), there is still a danger of becoming dependent on it. This is why, as with all things, moderation is key!
There has long been a belief that marijuana use led to the use of other more dangerous drugs like cocaine, heroin, and so on, thus its nickname as the "gateway drug." It is true that some studies have shown this to be the case. However, it is also true that other, more recent studies show that cannabis can actually help heavy drug users "kick their habit." This is especially the case with prescription opiate users who have switched to cannabis to treat their chronic pain.
Smoking is Bad
Of course, we should discuss the negative health effects of smoking cannabis, since smoking remains one of the most common ways to use marijuana. One of the possible negative effects of long term cannabis use is lung damage. Smoking, in general, is harmful. However, there is scant evidence showing that smoking cannabis is any more dangerous for your health than other consumption methods.
Look, we all know smoking is bad for you, and we will not try telling you otherwise. Luckily, there are plenty of other ways to consume cannabis that do not risk lung damage, such as taking edibles, using tinctures, or topical creams. Vaping is also thought to be healthier, not to mention it is not nearly as harsh when you inhale. Smoking tends to be more of a popular intake method for recreational marijuana users. On the other hand, edibles and topicals prove much more popular with the medical use crowd.
It can be dangerous to your heart
What are the negative effects of cannabis concerning your cardiovascular or heart health? Cannabis can speed up your heart rate from the normal 50-70 times per minute to 70-120 times per minute. This results in your heart working harder than it would have to under normal circumstances. When you consider how long the effects of cannabis can last, this can result in upwards of 3 hours where your heart is working nearly double the rate it’s used to. This, of course, can result in high blood pressure, leading to a slew of other health problems.
Heart rate is not the only possible effect worth considering here. A faster heart rate is not always a problem in itself. However, some evidence suggests that weed's different chemical compounds might increase your chances of having a heart attack or a stroke. This could especially be bad news for you if you are older and already experiencing heart problems.
Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome
If you want to talk about some negative effects of cannabis that are truly horrifying, we need to talk about Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome. A newly discovered condition, this syndrome, also known as CHS, is a dangerous health condition that leads to pervasive vomiting. CHS is relatively rare, and only appears to occur in long-term cannabis users. Scientists have still not discovered what causes cannabis users to develop CHS; however, it is believed to originate in the digestive system.
Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome is interesting, to say the least. This is because cannabis is typically thought to reduce nausea, which is also why it is often used by cancer and AIDS patients. It appears that a very small number of people are affected in different and highly unpleasant ways.
CHS has three separate stages, according to researchers: the prodromal, hyperemetic, and recovery stages. In the prodromal stage, patients may begin feeling nausea and the need to vomit, usually in the mornings. This is often followed by abdominal pain. The hyperemetic stage is marked by constant vomiting, persistent nausea, even a fear of vomiting. The constant vomiting often results in dehydration and weight loss. Once the patient stops using cannabis, they eventually enter the recovery stage, where all symptoms subside.
Now that we have discussed the negatives, it's time to discuss the positives. This subject is a lot more fun! While there are both positives and negatives of cannabis, as more research is conducted, researchers are finding that the pros far outweigh the cons. From everyday health benefits to serious medical concerns, let's look at some of them now!
How many positive uses for cannabis have been proven?
Conducting research on the effects of cannabis (medicinal and otherwise) has always been a challenge. Research on the plant has been largely banned for most of the last century, mostly because cannabis is a Schedule I drug. This classification identifies it as a highly addictive drug with no medical benefits. However, in recent years, restrictions have been lifted, and scientists worldwide have been able to study the plant and the multitude of benefits it can provide.
Now the list of benefits grows every year. Among other things, cannabis has been thought to help treat insomnia, inflammation, chronic pain, loss of appetite, epilepsy, and nausea. Cannabis' negative effects on the brain have turned out to be vastly overblown.
What are the positives and negatives of cannabis for older people? The news here is pretty good! Recent research has shown that cannabis use can help improve the side effects of health problems commonly found in older people. These include memory and violent behaviors, which typically accompany conditions like dementia and Alzheimer's disease. This discovery may explain why we are seeing cannabis use, once only popular with younger generations, gain popularity among older people.
One thing we know for sure is that the positives far outweigh cannabis' negative health effects. The science is finally catching up. With so many benefits from a single plant, we now know, once and for all, that prohibition and the war on drugs were a big mistake.
Insomnia is one of the most common health problems that cannabis is used to treat. According to the National Sleep Foundation, up to 70 million American adults suffer from a sleep disorder. Sleep is vital to our body, maintaining homeostasis. As you might remember from earlier in this article, homeostasis is supported by your endocannabinoid system (ECS). Sleep cycles are also maintained by your ECS.
Research has shown that cannabis use can go a long way towards helping correct your sleep cycle, which might affect how the ECS regulates sleep. Of course, there are positives and negatives of cannabis with regard to sleep. Some studies have shown that cannabis can negatively impact sleep, but this has more to do with how often you use it and what strain you use.
For many who suffer from chronic insomnia, smoking weed can be very helpful for obtaining a good night's sleep – even if needed long term. It also isn't believed to be habit-forming like many alternative and pharmaceutical sleep aids.
Related: Am I Too High
How does cannabis positively support sleep?
Tetrahydrocannabinol, a.k.a. THC, is the psychoactive cannabinoid in weed that has been shown to help induce sleep. It does this by reducing the amount of REM sleep you get in a night, which supposedly reduces nightmares. THC also helps reduce pain, which keeps many people up at night. That's reason enough to puff before bed, right?
One of the often-touted benefits of cannabis use is its ability to help treat cancer. But just how effective is it? Are there negative side effects of medical cannabis when it is used to treat cancer? Scientific evidence from relatively recent studies has shown that cannabis taken as an oil or edible can be particularly useful in treating nausea and appetite loss. These symptoms are commonly caused by chemotherapy treatments.
Further evidence from studies conducted on cancer cells has shown that cannabinoids can help alleviate and sometimes even stop cancer cells' growth altogether. However, other studies have shown that cannabis, while completely safe, is not an effective inhibitor of cancer cell growth. More research is needed to determine which is true or identify variables for cannabis's effectiveness. So far, there do not seem to be any negative effects of cannabis for treating cancer.
On the flip side, there is little to no evidence suggesting that cannabis use can lead to cancer development. This is even despite the possible negative health effects of smoking cannabis – undoubtedly great news!
So, does cannabis have positive effects on cancer treatment?
In short, the positive and negative effects of cannabis as used in cancer treatments need to be researched further. Science cannot definitively say anything like "weed cures cancer," as some perhaps overly eager stoners might have said a bit prematurely. We can say for sure that there are positive effects, but results may vary depending on the individual.
One thing that we can absolutely say about cannabis is that it is amazing for pain relief. There is ample evidence showing this, not to mention it is the number one cited reason for using medical marijuana. This pain relief includes chronic pain and muscle spasms, a common side effect of multiple sclerosis (MS), as well as other conditions. Going back to the sleep thing, using marijuana can help people with sleep apnea and those suffering from debilitating pains caused by conditions such as fibromyalgia, which helps them get better sleep.
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Scientists believe that pain relief occurs because of how cannabis interacts with CB1 receptors in your endocannabinoid system, which helps control pain relief in our bodies. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is especially effective because of the prolonged time it remains active in your body, specifically your endocannabinoid system.
In more recent decades, cannabinoids, specifically CBD, have proven incredibly effective when treating seizures caused by epilepsy. They are particularly useful with severe epileptic disorders such as Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gestaut syndrome. Both disorders result in constant seizures, often up to hundreds per day. Those unfortunate enough to have these disorders could not live normal lives due to the constant danger of seizures.
This was before research, and clinical trials using CBD oil showed that CBD reduced the number of seizures in children with Dravet syndrome by 39 percent. Because of CBD, many of these children not only survived, but they were able to live pretty much normal lives. Of course, anyone looking to take CBD medicinally should consult with a physician before embarking on a new treatment. This is especially the case if you are already taking some kind of medication, as marijuana can have adverse reactions with some medications.
For much of the last century (and some of this one), staunchly anti-marijuana politicians, lobbyists, police, etc., made the argument that marijuana was a dangerous drug that deserved to be classified as a Schedule I drug. This was because one of the negative effects of cannabis was thought to be its potential as a "gateway drug," leading users to use harder and far more dangerous drugs like heroin, methamphetamine, etc. Cannabis was demonized with these genuinely dangerous drugs.
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There is scant evidence that marijuana use can lead to people experimenting with increasingly dangerous drugs. This has turned out not to be the case with most people. Using marijuana does not mean you will use other drugs in the future.
As a matter of fact, recent data has shown that people have used cannabis to effectively wean themselves from the hard stuff, using it as an "exit drug." One such example is the people who have used weed to treat dependence on pain pills like opioids. Modern science now knows these medically approved drugs are far more dangerous in the long run than any potential adverse side effects of medical cannabis.
Despite the drought of reliable research in the past, science is catching up fast. We have discovered a lot about this plant in a short time, including far more positives than cannabis' negative health effects. What's more, many of the negative myths about cannabis have turned out to be false.
Of course, there is still a lot more that we have not found out about this plant. There is no doubt that future research will continue to show new and exciting data about both the positive and negative effects of cannabis. Most likely, many of the negative effects of cannabis will continue to be disproven.
The failed war on drugs has taught us a valuable lesson. For roughly 75 years, the country was denied access and information about this potentially life-changing plant. Maybe we should research things more before deciding to ban them (especially knowing that prohibition largely doesn't work, even for dangerous substances). Or, at the very least, maybe let's not fall victim to alarmist – as well as racist and classist – propaganda? Just food for thought.