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Understanding Cannabis Side Effects

There are both long- and short-term side effects from the use of cannabis, many relatively mild but some certainly serious. Of course, the natural effects cannabis provides—an immediate sense of relaxation, a soothing of anxiety and a feeling of euphoria that allows the user to escape from the stresses of daily life—can also easily lead to a dramatic loss of motivation and a lack of attention to common responsibilities.

Cannabis works by rapidly entering the brain and attaching to cannabinoid receptors, preventing the chemicals naturally occurring there from regulating how cells send, receive and process information. Activity in the brain is therefore significantly slowed, resulting in the characteristic “high” users experience.

Physically, consistent use of cannabis—whether smoked in its most common plant form or as hash or hash oil—leads to an increase in the same respiratory diseases associated with smoking tobacco. Additionally, because marijuana can stimulate appetite while decreasing the desire for physical activities, the persistent user will often experience weight gains and a general deterioration of good health.

However, it’s the psychological side effects of constant cannabis abuse that should considered very serious and most certainly negatively life-altering. Severe memory loss and a decrease in learning abilities are both often reported with consistent use—for example every day or several times a week—of cannabis. Also, cannabis addiction and depression has been studied by health experts who have determined that the two conditions are quite often linked: some estimates even suggest that more than half of all cannabis addicts have an underlying mental issue such as chronic depression. And in fact, several mental health issues are also linked to chronic cannabis abuse and addiction, including uncontrollable anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (marijuana use can even shut down the processes by which dreams form in the brain, a troubling occurrence for PTSD victims who experience nightmares) and even schizophrenia. If any of these health conditions exist in the cannabis abuser it’s vital that drug addiction counseling or other professional healthcare—including psychiatric diagnosis—be sought, as marijuana use can easily mask these very serious psychological issues.

Lastly, although rare there is a condition known as cannabis overdose that has been reported. In the case of overdose—also known as “greening out”—the user may feel intense feelings of paranoia, fear and anxiety; may experience shortness of breath, a fast heart rate, a shaking feeling and pupil dilation; may vomit or become nauseated; and may have a sense of severe disorientation and, occasionally, hallucinations. Fortunately, this situation does not result in any permanent disability or death, and is most common in people who have not used the drug often.