Cannabis is a psychoactive drug brought into mainstream attention through its recreational and medical use legal battles over the years. Its popularity is evident through its slew of other names ranging from the somewhat formal marijuana to the more colloquial weed, pot, and herb. However, although the usage of marijuana has increased over the years, there are still many misconceptions when it comes to the side effects of marijuana and the effects of being high. This page serves as a guide through the many forms cannabis can take and the side effects and risks each product has.
General Info about Marijuana
Marijuana is comprised of nearly all parts of the cannabis plant, including its seeds, stem, and leaves. Those components are dried and shredded up, breaking up and preserving the natural oils that contain the two main components of marijuana’s fame: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the main psychoactive ingredient within marijuana, producing the euphoric sensation of being ‘high’ by targeting the dopamine center of the brain. CBD is the main pain-relieving ingredient in marijuana. While it is usually harvested from hemp, the variety of cannabis that is specifically bred for non-drug use, it is also present in cannabis and effects the way THC is treated within the body.
Marijuana is commonly used as either a recreational drug or as a medicine or therapy against pain both mental and physical. As of 2019, it has been fully decriminalized and legalized in ten states, including California, Vermont, and Oregon. Medical marijuana is also legalized in thirty-three U.S. states and the District of Columbia. However, at the federal level, marijuana is still illegal as a Schedule I substance. That means that federally, marijuana is defined as having a high potential for abuse with no currently accepted medical use. Users should double-check their state’s regulations on marijuana use for any purpose before partaking.
General Side Effects
One of the main purposes of consuming marijuana is that it produces a relaxing and euphoric high, the duration of which depends on the product and how it was consumed. It also can provide pain relief to a certain extent due to the presence of CBD. There are also many products sold which only contain CBD for pure medical use only, and those products offer only pain relief and no high. When experiencing a high, one might feel a variety of symptoms or side effects including:
- Increased dopamine release, which results in feelings of happiness
- Heightened sensory and temporal perception
- Decreased anxiety and depression symptoms
- Relief from muscle and stomach pain
- A slowed reaction time
- An increased appetite, or the munchies
- Dry mouth
- Bloodshot eyes
Due to these more positive effects, marijuana can be prescribed or used as self-medication for a variety of illnesses and conditions, such as for individuals with chronic pain from Multiple Sclerosis and other conditions, sleep problems from fibromyalgia and other conditions, general anxiety, loss of appetite and resultant weight loss from those undergoing treatments for conditions such as cancer or AIDS, seizures from epilepsy, and other conditions involving ongoing pain. Marijuana also features in many cultural traditions and practices, seeing as it has a long history in Asia before it was introduced to the West in the 18th century.
As with most mind-altering substances, using marijuana can also produce a variety of more negative effects such as:
- Worsened anxiety and paranoia
- Impaired motor control, making driving and similar tasks exponentially dangerous
- Negative interaction with certain medications, such as blood thinners
- Increased risk of a heart attack or a stroke due to increased pulse
- In very rare cases, cannabis-induced psychosis leading to paranoid delusions, extreme sedation, hallucinations, and confusion
The intensity of negative symptoms can be modulated by taking smaller or restrained dosages of marijuana, using products with different strains (and thus, different concentrations of THC), and using when in a positive communal environment.
Marijuana Abuse and Addiction
One common misconception of marijuana is that individuals cannot get addicted to it. While it is true that THC is not as addictive as other drugs and medicines, it is ultimately still a chemical that affects the brain. When addicted, the brain permanently adjusts to and expects the flow of, in this instance, THC and other chemicals to constantly enter the body. If that flow is weakened or stopped, withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, loss of appetite, and insomnia may occur as the brain assumes a freak-out mode. Thus, if an addicted person consumes marijuana on a frequent, steady basis and then suddenly stops, they will experience withdrawal and psychological stress in the form of persistent cravings. While the symptoms are not fatal the way other substances’ withdrawal symptoms are, they are still pervasive, invasive, and uncomfortable to deal with. Common symptoms of marijuana addiction are similar to other addiction symptoms such as:
- An increased tolerance
- Continued use despite it negatively affecting other areas of life
- Disengagement from social circles
- Physical symptoms, as mentioned above
More common than marijuana addition, in fact, is marijuana abuse. As reported on drugabuse.gov, between 9 and 30 percent of marijuana users may also develop a marijuana use disorder or abuse. While marijuana abuse differs from addiction in that the brain is less severely adapted to the presence of THC, resulting in a withdrawal period that peaks and lessens, it is still a dangerous position to be in. The user can still be using marijuana during situations where a sober brain is needed, therefore abusing it, and affecting their day to day life—just with the ability to restrain themselves more than someone addicted can.
While many factors can contribute to the development of drug abuse and addiction of any kind, including genetic disposition or unmedicated mental illness, and while one can be dependent on marijuana without being addicted to it, drug abuse and addiction is nothing to scoff at. Users are cautioned to look towards their family’s history as well as their personal medical history before frequently partaking in marijuana, as well as to check in with a supportive community when doing so.
In our ever progressing time, marijuana has evolved far past its humble origins of crushed flowers in a wooden bowl. There are several new ways to smoke, ingest, or absorb THC and CBD, some of which have been extensively researched while others have barely been created in someone’s basement. The amount of THC in cannabis has also increased steadily over the past few decades due to a thriving community of cannabis breeders. If not properly informed, a person may accidentally consume a higher level of THC than expected, leading to increased negative symptoms or a bad trip. By monitoring which strains of marijuana are used in the products listed below, the chances of a negative experience with marijuana can be decreased.
One of the oldest methods of consuming THC, smoking marijuana is one of the fastest ways to get high as the lungs can, within seconds or minutes, get chemicals within the body’s bloodstream on contact. When smoking, the typical high peaks at thirty minutes and wears off in around two to three hours. Ways to smoke marijuana include:
- Hand or machine rolled joints, blunts, and spliffs. Joints are ground marijuana rolled in cigarette papers. Blunts are hollowed out cigars filled with marijuana, or joints wrapped with tobacco leaf wrappers. Spliffs are a blend of marijuana and tobacco wrapped in cigarette rolling papers.
- Pot pipes. There are pipes made specifically for smoking marijuana, the most common of which being the handheld pipe. Usually made out of glass, they are relatively easy to get, use, and clean.
- Bongs or water pipes. Water pipes are similar to regular pipes except the water pipe has the smoke filter through water. The most common water pipe is the bong, which is also easy to get and use. While they are tricky to clean, they require regular maintenance.
- Resins or dabs. Resin can encompass a variety of things, from the natural resin secreted by the cannabis plant to the tar-like residue found on glass pieces after multiple uses. They can contain a strong and intense concentration of THC but, when smoked, taste harsh and contain a lot of tar.
- Vaporizer pens. A big trend of the 2010s, vaporizer pens (or any other similar device) quickly vaporize marijuana concentrates and extracts into a vapor free of many of the carcinogens found in smoke.
Side Effects and Risks
Due to its quick nature, smoked marijuana produces a fast and short high encompassing the symptoms mentioned in the above General Side Effects section. Since it is in the process of being burned quickly, it generally does not produce as concentrated of a high as edibles do. As when inhaling anything that isn’t air, inhaling marijuana smoke can irritate the lungs, which can also increase susceptibility to infection and, over time, decrease overall lung health. There are also carcinogens in smoke that, like cigarette smoke, can potentially increase the risk for cancer.
While it is said that bongs and vape pens reduce the dangers of smoking as they release vapor instead of pure smoke, it still involves the inhalation of something that is not just air. Inhaling vapor simply eases the act of smoking, making it less irritating to the throat, while also potentially having the benefit of being flavored as well. Another thing to note is that while marijuana is not highly addictive, blunt wraps contain nicotine as they are made, partially, from tobacco. Smoking marijuana along with tobacco and nicotine increases the chances of addiction of some kind, as marijuana use becomes associated with nicotine within the brain.
Due to being eaten like normal food, consumed products are a lot less irritating to the throat and lungs compared to inhaled products. Many prescribed marijuana products tend to be either consumed or topical products because of their ease of use. However, as the effectiveness of a consumed product depends on one’s digestion and metabolism, it’s a lot trickier to determine the dosage and efficiency of edibles on the first try. They can take anywhere between thirty minutes to two hours to go into effect, but the high they produce is a lot longer—usually lasting between two to four hours, depending on the concentration of THC one can potentially have a high for up to eight hours. Ways to consume marijuana include:
The most commonly consumed product is edibles, which can come in the form of baked goods such as brownies to newer novelty snack foods such as gum, gummies, and other similar candies. Marijuana is either cooked in butter or used as extracts to make edibles.
A method as old as time, this method is quite simple. Just add marijuana buds and oil, or marijuana-infused products such as honey or oils, to a cup of hot water, steep, and enjoy.
Marijuana pills can contain either encapsulated cannabis oil or a synthetic form of THC called Marinol. Usually prescribed to patients who require high dosages of THC to combat pain, marijuana pills are an easier way to consume the product.
Very popular for their versatility in usage, THC and CBD can be found in oil form for baking, rubbing on the skin, or even placed under the tongue for quick oral consumption.
Tinctures and sprays
Tinctures are alcohol-based marijuana extract and are also popular for their versatility in usage. They are readily available in spray form to make consuming them as easy as a spray or two.
Side Effects of Marijuana
One major side effect to consider when using consumable marijuana products is that they take much longer to kick in and have a long-lasting high. It is very easy to overconsume THC when using edibles, and new users of edibles may accidentally eat more than intended when the high eludes them for an hour. Edibles usually contain a much higher concentration of THC as well, compared to a joint. When using consumed products, it’s better to err on the side of caution and consume a more restrained initial dose, waiting a while before taking another. Another thing to note is that due to the wide array of consumable products, the dosage is even more difficult to determine than with inhaled products. Not only should the strain of weed be considered, but how the consumed product was made as well as the product’s serving sizes itself before consumption. Although this may seem obvious, be careful with how edibles are stored as well. Because they can look like delicious snacks and treats, children or babies may accidentally consume edibles if lying about the house. Finally, there are also many CBD only products available in a consumable form.
Typically used for physical pain rather than high, topical products are to be used externally, although there several specific exceptions to this rule.
Ways to use topical marijuana include:
As mentioned above, marijuana oils can be massaged directly onto the skin to relieve cramps, muscle spasms, and other types of localized pain.
There are a wide variety of goods sold that are infused with marijuana, including lotions, balms, patches, and lubricants. They all have their recommended uses and directions, so when using a new product for the first time be sure to read any labels and instructions provided before use.
Side Effects and Risks
Like with consumed products, topical marijuana products take longer to kick in, as there is limited access to the body’s bloodstream from the skin. Therefore, there is no exact feeling of being high as there is with inhaled and consumed products. There can be tingly or cooling sensations in the locations where the topical product has been applied, but for the most part, these products tend to focus on pain relief. There are many ways to purchase topical products, including Amazon, but not every vendor is legitimate. It is advised to shop carefully to make sure whatever products are bought are safe and effective.
In conclusion, when choosing to use marijuana do so wisely—like with any other kind of mind-altering substance. Purchase from trusted dispensaries and vendors, try to avoid mixing marijuana with other substances such as alcohol and take a restrained approach to dosage if partaking for the first time. While marijuana is not as immediately dangerous as other drugs or even alcohol, there are still consequences to overindulging and using for extended periods. The use of marijuana can be a positive and therapeutic thing. As long as users are cautious and informed, marijuana can bring lots of relief into a life otherwise plagued with stress, pain, or the other discomforts of reality.
You knew it was coming, the text in this article is informational only and not intended to be legal or medical advice or recommendations in any way. Use this information as you will with your own discretion.
The bottom line is – be safe, follow the rules, and enjoy some Mary Jane while you are in the Bicentennial State for your Rocky Mountain High!