While nearly the entire country has legalized cannabis to some degree, the plant remains a Schedule I drug on the federal level. Research on the topic has always been performed with a negative bias, or intent to prove negative effects, until recently. For the last handful of years, we’ve been able to fight for more readily accessible research performed by a non-biased source.
Research in a Positive Light
The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine published new research in January of 2017, titled, “The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids.” The research presents close to 100 conclusions that are all related around the effects of smoking cannabis. These conclusions demonstrated potential benefits, potential negative consequences, and different effects for short-term, long-term, and chronic use of the plant.
What Do People Use Cannabis For?
Getting bigger in the medical community due to its potential benefits, those that report they use cannabis are coming forward with reasons as to why they use the plant. For example, reports indicate that one of the biggest reasons for using cannabis today is to simply relax. On the medical cannabis use side, the three most frequently expressed reasons for using the plant are for managing depression, treating anxiety, and reducing pain. Over 58% of cannabis users surveyed reported they use it to manage anxiety.
These reasons allow us to take a step back from the stereotypical identity of a typical cannabis user – on the contrary, fewer people than ever are using cannabis “just for fun,” and the classic stoners that just like to sit around and get high are becoming a thing of the past.
Short-Term Effects of Cannabis Use
Thanks to medical marijuana being legalized across more of the country, we have findings for therapeutic effects and loads of potential benefits when it comes to conservative, safe cannabis use. Depending on how the plant is consumed, one important short-term effect is that it can relax muscles, helpful for those with multiple sclerosis that experience muscle spasms.
It can reduce nausea and stimulate appetite, effective for those undergoing chemotherapy. For patients that experience chronic pain, cannabis use has been shown to provide a significant reduction in pain symptoms.
Other, more well-known short-term effects include uncontrollable laughter, loss of inhibition, affected perception of color, sound, and other sensations, a relaxed and reflective mood, and classic cravings for delicious food. Relaxation, a flood of sleepiness, altered vision, and bloodshot or red eyes are also common symptoms, especially after consuming cannabis through smoking.
Not everyone has negative symptoms short-term when they smoke or consume cannabis, but some of those symptoms can be dizziness, headache, reduced balance and coordination, low blood pressure, increased heart rate, anxiety, altered memory, and paranoia.
When consuming a low to moderate amount of cannabis, you’ll experience a combination of the symptoms listed above, typically for 2 to 4 hours depending on how often you use the plant. However, if you consumer a higher dose of cannabis, often mistakenly done when eating edibles, you may experience some more intense short-term effects that can last up to 4 hours.
These effects may be restlessness, panic or anxiety, hallucinations, confusion, decreased reaction time, or a detachment from reality. Depending on your reaction from this point, you’ll either escalate the negative side effects, calm down quickly, or “sober up,” where you feel the effects of the plant dissipate as if you hadn’t consumed it.
How to Avoid Negative Short-Term Side Effects
No one wants to have a bad trip for 4 hours just because they ate a little too much THC or ripped a little too hard on their bong. Fortunately, you can avoid the negative symptoms that can come with the cannabis medicine by trying to eat regular food, as you feel the effects of cannabis less on a full stomach. You can also consume pure CBD, either by vaping or sublingually dosing under the tongue. CBD counteracts THC’s harsher side effects.
It’s also important to note that cannabis is still a medicine at the end of the day, and just like any other medicine, there is always some risk involved. Medicine you take in pill-form can also produce unwanted side effects, so the same goes for a medicine that you eat or smoke. Try to use moderation when consuming the plant, and use responsibly for your health, weight, and size.
Long-Term Effects of Cannabis Use
This subject is certainly a little hazy with the lack of research due to federal law, but we are constantly learning more about the long-term effects that happen with chronic cannabis use. More long-term, larger studies are needed to extend the findings we have and confirm speculations.
One paper was published with findings on the potential long-term effects of cannabis use on the brain. The method for the research paper consisted of 110 participants, 48 of which were cannabis users and 62 non-users to act as controls. They studied the brain of each participant through MRI scans and accounted for differences between age, ethnicity, gender, and so on.
Combining three different MRI techniques, it was found that prolonged cannabis use may cause degradation to the “wiring” or structural connectivity of the brain. This is directly correlated with frequency and severity of use, however.
Aside from this paper, doctors have claimed in the past that long-term cannabis smoking may be harmful to the respiratory system of the body, but more research certainly needs to be put into play before we can fully determine that. Many of the harsher long-term side effects that happen with extended cannabis use may be inconclusive rumors that simply don’t have enough evidence to back them.
Most findings prior to this paper, to date, have been large inconclusive, and much more research is needed to truly uncover the long-term effects and potential benefits for cannabis use. These findings on the effects chronic cannabis use has on the brain may indicate that moderation could be the key to receiving full medicinal benefits and therapeutic effects of cannabis without experiencing the negative or long-term side effects. Simply monitor the frequency and severity in which you’re using the plant and watch for different ways to consume besides just smoking.