Last updated: March 1, 2021
Marijuana is the common name for a plant member of the family Cannabaceae that contains the psychoactive chemical delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC for short. The plant is well known for its recreational and medical uses, some of which have been adapted and approved by the FDA for the treatment of certain medical disorders such as chronic pain and nausea. A similar cannabinoid substance to THC is also naturally generated by the human body. Recently, the plant has been receiving a fair amount of media attention, and for people unfamiliar with the plant or its uses, it begs the question, how does marijuana actually affect your body?
Many agencies and organizations have listed possible side effects of short-term and long-term use as well as the effects on the body after chronic abuse of the plant. It is important to note that marijuana is a drug, not all side effects affect people in the same way, and a doctor should be consulted before trying or using marijuana in any of its forms.
There are various ways of introducing marijuana into the body, the most common of which is by inhaling the smoke of the plant or plant extract, or by ingesting it in the form of a pill or food substance. Some of the short-term side effects of marijuana include temporary paranoia and/or anxiety, increased heart rate, shortness of breath, pupil dilation, vomiting, nausea and hangover-like feelings, altered judgment, short-term memory loss, an increased appetite (the munchies), and in extreme cases, disorientation and/or hallucinations.
Although THC is classified as a hallucinogenic psychoactive substance, hallucinations may only be experienced in low frequencies by the general population. Most of these symptoms will subside on their own within minutes to hours after ingesting marijuana. If symptoms persist for extended periods of time, contact your doctor immediately.
If marijuana is used frequently, the prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain thought to be mostly in charge of short-term memory formation) can become less active and some memories will not make it into longer term storage, which can result in issues in developing brains. Chronic use can lead to a lower production of sperm in males, causing infertility. Experiments have shown that a person of about 140 pounds would need to ingest over 4 pounds of marijuana at once to die and that in the case of an overdose, no permanent damage may present itself.
Although marijuana was commonly thought to not cause addiction, statistics now show that around nine percent of the population that have used marijuana become addicted. Since marijuana use releases dopamine, it can cause feelings of euphoria and elation, which leads to addiction and dependence on marijuana use. Similar to tobacco users, marijuana users who stop using may experience withdraw symptoms of irritability, change in mood, decreased appetite, restlessness or sleeplessness, anxiety, and craving, and other physical discomforts. Symptoms can last up to two weeks or more.
Given all the information currently available, researchers still do not fully understand marijuana’s long-term effects.