Marijuana has been in the news quite a bit over the last few years. With the legalization of medical marijuana and then recreational marijuana use in many US states, it’s become a hot topic for conversation in this country. Although the perception for decades has been the marijuana is relatively safe, we’re beginning to see that this may not necessarily be the case.
As Crownview Co-Occuring Institute points out, marijuana may actually have more potential for addiction than previously thought, an individual may go through withdrawals upon cessation, and it may be dangerous to use when the brain is still developing.
Reuters published a report on a study recently that found a link between marijuana use and hypertension. Specifically, the study found that marijuana users may have three times the risk of dying from high blood pressure than those who have never used it before.
However, this study was mostly showing a linkage, and doesn’t prove causation. That is, there may be many other factors at play such as tobacco use, diet, exercise, and many more things. Although these findings are interesting and may point us toward something useful, it is not fair to say that marijuana for sure triples your risk of hypertension death.
On the other hand, Staci Gruber published a piece in 2013 that found that teenagers and young adults actually had alterations in their brain from marijuana use. She continues to study the long-term effects of marijuana use, but this is not the first study to suggest that marijuana use during the years in which our brains are developing may be harmful.
Marijuana has been linked several times to various mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, and even schizophrenia. However, we don’t know for certain if marijuana use causes these disorders or if people are self-medicating for their disorders by using marijuana. We do know that long-term marijuana abuse can result in learning impairments, memory loss, and increased risk of psychotic episodes. Marijuana use may also cause amotivational syndrome, or the state in which people don’t have their normal drive for pleasurable activities. This is especially true for those that use during their teen years.
The “Gateway Drug” Argument
This has been a point of contention for many years. The idea of marijuana as a gateway drug is that those who use marijuana are likely to continue on to harder drugs. Multiple studies have found that marijuana use during adolescent years increases the risk of an individual developing alcohol addiction, nicotine addiction, and other drug use disorders. However, this doesn’t mean that every person who tries pot once is going to move on to harder drugs.
Marijuana is not as associated with lung disease as tobacco and cigarettes are, but we’re beginning to understand that it may actually contribute to unhealthy lungs. Marijuana smoke causes inflammation in the lungs and airways, increased risk of chronic bronchitis, and increased risk of developing pneumonia. THC suppresses our immune response, so we’re much more likely to develop infections.
A recent study by Harvard Health and Beth Israel found that marijuana use greatly increases the risk of heart attack. It found that your risk goes up to five times that of a non-smoker within the first hour after smoking marijuana. Again, this doesn’t mean everyone who smokes weed has a heart attack, but it certainly can increase the risk!
Marijuana and Development
The developing mind is a fragile thing. When we smoke marijuana in our teen years, we are impacting the ways our brains develop. When we’re flooding the brain with dopamine and serotonin from smoking pot, the brain doesn’t develop in a normal fashion. The greatest risks associated with marijuana abuse are worst in young adults and teenagers.