It’s about being balanced and informed — exploring the upsides and downsides to cannabis.
We’ve reported many times on the benefits of cannabis and its potential in medical applications, but what about the other side of the coin? Is it fair to say that cannabis carries no risks? When treating people and seeing positive benefits, what negative effects might also arise?
Marijuana has been the subject of intense debate over these last few years. Now legal in multiple states in the U.S. and authorized for medicinal purposes in even more, an increasing number of people are recognizing how arbitrary the line is between legal substances, like alcohol and cigarettes, and illegal ones, like pot — particularly since both alcohol and cigarettes have been shown to be extremely detrimental to the human body, while marijuana has not.
But what’s the reason for that? Obtaining marijuana to study has proven to be incredibly difficult for many researchers and therefore getting study results has been tough.
So given that this natural substance is being used incredibly regularly, and yet doesn’t have a full scope of research behind it, we wanted to balance the scales and bring awareness to the fact that we should really think twice before using this substance daily for long periods of time, particularly under the misconception that it’s completely safe. The exception here would be if you have been prescribed it for a medical issue, but it’s still good to be aware of the risks.
This article came in response to a recent article that pointed out the many benefits of smoking cannabis without mentioning the risks involved. We feel any research that takes this approach is simply not beneficial to public awareness.
To be clear, we’re not saying this plant should be illegal. It’s a plant, but we don’t know as much about its safety in daily and long term use as we’d like.
We Can’t Blindly View It as Safe
The massive support for the legalization of marijuana does have its drawbacks, as it leads people to believe that smoking marijuana is completely harmless, and even good for you. While it can be quite therapeutic for dulling pain or alleviating anxiety, so can alcohol and even prescription drugs. It seems like people are willing to see the downsides of those substances, but not do the same for cannabis.
In reality, research shows that smoking cannabis on a regular basis may still be hazardous. Many forget that the plant’s medicinal benefits are most readily accessed when it is ingested, not smoked.
It is admittedly encouraging to see all of the support for the legalization of marijuana, and all of the evidence emerging that smoking it is not as harmful as it was originally said to be. Marijuana legalization threatens many industries, so perhaps this is why it has taken so long to get the ball rolling.
That being said, more of a balance is needed: With so much support out there for marijuana, many people, especially young people, think there are no health consequences involved with smoking it. This is why we’ve decided to put together a list of seven reasons why you should really consider not smoking marijuana on a regular basis.
We are very well aware of the other side of cannabis (articles). For example, we recently published an article showing how cannabis helped cure a girl from cancer. She is one of many examples of people who have benefited immensely from cannabis, and it’s important to raise awareness about how paediatric cannabis is saving lives. You can read that article here.
We have also published a number of articles on why marijuana should be legal, as well as reported on the dozens of health benefits it boasts, from helping people with pain and epilepsy to replacing prescription drugs and more.
A number of studies have been published that show cannabis completely annihilates cancer. We are talking about decades of research (a simple Google search for scholarly articles on cannabis and cancer will show you this). Despite this fact, no human clinical trials have been conducted. Here is an article of a molecular biologist explaining how THC kills cancer.
It’s also important to mention that we are not against smoking weed, but based on the science, wish to convey that smoking weed regularly on a daily basis for a period that lasts more than a year could be harmful to your health.
“Really, the way to do these things, is to do them rarely so that your whole system can reassert itself and come to equilibrium. . . I think the real way to do cannabis is like, once a week. . . . “
— Terrence McKenna (source)
1. Most of the Medicinal Benefits of Marijuana Come From Different Methods of Ingestion, Not Smoking
Cannabinoids are any group of related compounds that include cannabinol and the active constituents of cannabis. They activate cannabinoid receptors that already exist in our body, and our bodies themselves actually produce compounds called endocannabinoids. These play a vital role in the human body, helping to create a healthy environment. Cannabinoids themselves also play an important role in immune system regeneration. Studies have shown that multiple constituents of cannabis can kill cancer cells, repair damaged brain cells, and more. The medical potential of this plant is truly miraculous, and it’s a shame that, despite decades of research showing undeniable results, like its ability to completely annihilate cancer, human clinical trials are only n0w commencing, and only in conjunction with chemotherapy drugs.
It’s important to know that, contrary to popular belief, smoking cannabis does not assist a great deal in treating disease within the body, as therapeutic levels cannot be reached through smoking. Creating oil from the plant or eating the plant is the best way to absorb cannabinoids. Smoking also alters the plant molecules; when cannabis is heated and burned it changes the chemical structure and acidity of the THC, which in turn negates its therapeutic value. The smoke from marijuana is toxic to the body, just as the smoke from any other substance would be. (I will discuss this further on in the article.) Furthermore, anytime you burn something and inhale it, you create oxidation within the body, which is unhealthy and can lead to many issues.
None of the health benefits of marijuana come from smoking it. When one says “cannabis cures cancer,” that doesn’t mean smoking it.
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2. Heavy Marijuana Use Is Linked to Lower Dopamine Levels in the Brain
Researchers in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University have found that heavy smokers of marijuana could have a compromised dopamine system. When studying heavy smokers, they discovered lower dopamine release in one region of the brain, the striatum, which is the part of the brain that’s involved in working memory, impulsive behaviour, and attention. Several other studies have shown that addiction to other drugs can have similar effects on dopamine release, but this is the first evidence of its kind linking it to smoking cannabis.
The study examined 11 adults between the ages of 21 and 40 who were heavily dependent on cannabis against 12 healthy control subjects. 16 was the average age these individuals started smoking, and they had not stopped since.
Their press release outlines how the study was conducted, and the methods used:
Using positron emission tomography (PET) to track a radiolabelled molecule that binds to dopamine receptors in the brain, the scientists measured dopamine release in the striatum and its subregions, as well as in several brain regions outside the striatum, including the thalamus, midbrain, and globus pallidus. The cannabis users in this study stayed in the hospital for a week of abstinence to ensure that the PET scans were not measuring the acute effects of the drug. Participants were scanned before and after being given oral amphetamine to elicit dopamine release. The percent change in the binding of the radiotracer was taken as an indicator of capacity for dopamine release.
Compared with the controls, the cannabis users had significantly lower dopamine release in the striatum, including subregions involved in associative and sensorimotor learning, and in the globus pallidus. (source)(source)
Anissa Abi-Dargham, MD, a professor of psychiatry (in radiology) at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and a lead author of the paper, said that “the bottom line is that long-term, heavy cannabis use may impair the dopaminergic system, which could have a variety of negative effects on learning and behaviour.” She also went on to emphasize that “these findings add to the growing body of research demonstrating the potentially adverse effects of cannabis, particularly in youth, at the same time that government policies and laws are increasing access and use.”
Here is another study that was done two years ago that examines the same thing.
While correlation doesn’t always mean causation, it doesn’t mean we should disclude a possible connection. You have to make your own judgements, use the Bradford Hill Criteria, and look at a number of different studies from both sides.
Based on everything I’ve looked at, in my opinion, marijuana smoking does have some sort of effect on the brain in multiple ways, differing from person to person. Whether it’s ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ I’m not sure.
3. Smoking Marijuana Linked to Schizophrenia, But It’s Complicated
A number of studies have linked smoking cannabis to schizophrenia and psychosis. For example, a fairly recent study found that schizophrenia plays a role in a person’s likelihood of smoking weed. The study showed that genetic variants predicting schizophrenia can also be used to predict a person’s tendency to smoke pot. The study showed that the same genes that predispose people to enjoying smoking cannabis might also predispose some to develop schizophrenia.
Lead author of the study, Robert Power, a genetic psychiatrist at King’s College London, stated that “there is a well-established link between people who use cannabis and schizophrenia.”
Based on the scientific literature, it’s quite clear that there is a link, and at the same time, it seems to be clear that there isn’t. Mathew Hill, a cell biologist at the University of Calgary, tells us “the relationship is an ongoing debate in the scientific world — at least what the nature of the association is.” He also told us that “there is little evidence that, at a population level, cannabis use during adolescence is a primary contributing factor in the development of psychiatric illness.”
Just because some studies show an associative link does not mean there is one. At the same time, it doesn’t mean that there’s not one. This is the key! Some studies have shown that people who are in the early stages of schizophrenia that also smoke weed experience much larger brain modifications, like changes in white matter, compared to those who are not susceptible to schizophrenia.
What is clear is that people who already show signs of psychotic illness do experience adverse effects from smoking marijuana.
“There is definitely some kind of genetic basis to increased vulnerability to these adverse effects [in people with schizophrenia] that go beyond the correlational association discussed in this paper”
— Mathew Hill (source)
Again, it’s well-known that marijuana smoking by people with schizophrenia only worsens the disease, and a number of studies have shown that smoking marijuana actually increases the development of schizophrenia in those who might be genetically predisposed to it. So, if you have a family history of psychotic illness, smoking weed is something you might not want to partake in — or if you suffer from any other ailment that’s classified as a mental illness, for that matter.
One thing seems to be certain: Cannabis smoking does affect the brain in various ways, especially at crucial stages of brain development in adolescents.
Below is a great publication and a good summary to find out more information about this topic and why it’s so confusing. Again, this connection is still up for debate in the scientific world, and conflicting studies emerge every single year. This suggests that we simply don’t know enough and therefore should be careful with our habits.
So, the next time someone tells you that there is a link between schizophrenia and marijuana smoking, they’re wrong, and the next time someone tells you there is no link, they are also wrong! The best way to avoid any risk is to just avoid smoking marijuana altogether.
4. Smoking Marijuana Changes Your Brain
One recent study found that using marijuana daily for at least four years or longer can create certain anatomical changes in the brain. In this particular study, researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine the brains of approximately 50 adults who were chronic marijuana users, compared to more than 60 people who didn’t use marijuana at all.
Researchers found that the people who had been smoking daily for at least four years had a smaller volume of gray matter in their orbitofrontal cortex, a phenomenon usually associated with addiction.
Lead author of the study Francesca Filbey, an associate professor in the School of Behavioural Brain Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas, said that “not only is a change in structure, but there also tends to be a change reflected in the connectivity.”
This is concerning, especially given the fact that grey matter is a major component of the central nervous system, and is associated with muscle control, sensory perception, memory, emotions, speech, decision making, and self-control. Loss of grey matter has also been implicated in a number of psychiatric disorders, including depression. There is a widespread reduction of grey matter in people who suffer depression, and while smoking marijuana may give temporary relief from depression, if someone doesn’t have it, they might feel depressed. Marijuana could therefore contribute to depression, and the fact that people feel better when they smoke it might make them think that it helps with their depression — a dangerous pattern that could lead to continual grey matter depletion.
Again, there are a number of studies that show smoking marijuana can drastically change the brain, and also disrupt brain development.
Another recent study also found that marijuana smokers showed signs of damage in the corpus callous, which is a major white matter tract that connects the left side of the brain to the right side. However, the study did mention that the people examined could have had deviant brain structures prior to their use.
A study published a few years ago showed that people who constantly smoke marijuana have abnormal brain structures, but multiple studies have also shown that marijuana smokers show no difference in brain structure.
The list goes on and on, but one thing is for certain: The effects on the brain are unclear. Further research is needed to identify what smoking marijuana does to the brain, because the research is inconclusive and contradictory right now.
5. Smoking Harms the Lungs
Regardless of what you are smoking, smoke is harmful to lung health; this is a no-brainer. Whether it’s burning wood, tobacco, or marijuana, toxins and carcinogens are released from the combustion of materials. According to the American Lung Association:
Smoking marijuana clearly damages the human lung. Research shows that smoking marijuana causes chronic bronchitis and marijuana smoke has been shown to injure the cell linings of the large airways, which could explain why smoking marijuana leads to symptoms such as chronic cough, phlegm production, wheeze and acute bronchitis.
Again, marijuana smoke contains a similar range of harmful chemicals to that of tobacco smoke, and there is no shortage of research suggesting that long-term marijuana smoking leads to an increased risk of some respiratory problems. Despite this proven correlation, there is no association between smoking marijuana and lung cancer.
There are other alternatives to smoking marijuana, however, such as vaporizing or eating it.
6. Smoking Marijuana Can Increase Your Risk of Serious Cardiovascular Disorders
Multiple studies have connected smoking marijuana with potential cardiovascular disorders. One recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association noted:
Several striking cardiovascular complications following cannabis use raised the issue of the possible implication of cannabis in cardiovascular outcomes and the necessary national review. Despite the known underreporting, the rate of cannabis-related cardiovascular complications reported steadily rose during the past 5 years. Cardiovascular disorders represented 2% of the reports related to cannabis, classified into cardiac, cerebral, and peripheral complications. The majority consisted of acute coronary syndromes and peripheral arteriopathies. This result is consistent with previous findings and strengthens the idea that cannabis may be responsible for serious complications, in particular on the cardiovascular system.
Another recent study, published last year, concluded, “The evidence reported in this article point toward an undisputed linkage between cannabis consumption and potentially lethal cardiovascular complications.” (source)
Something to Consider:
Trouble Living Life Without Smoking
As with so many of our other favourite habits, smoking is a vice, and many people who smoke weed have difficulty stopping. Life often feels boring without it; smoking becomes a need and almost a mental addiction (we know there is no physical addiction involved.) And this is obviously problematic. It is rare to find someone who will be able to smoke a joint a couple of times a month, which is the amount many experts in the field of “mind-altering” drugs propose. It’s a substance that is abused and not given the respect it deserves, often being used as an escape — helping the person avoid asking themselves why they feel the need to alter their state so often. If you are a regular smoker and notice that without smoking for a night or two you become bored, anxious, or depressed, or have certain feelings come up because you don’t have a joint in your hand, it may be time to consider reducing your usage, and perhaps facing those negative feelings head on.
If you have a hard time going without smoking a joint, that in itself is a problem. Alternatively, if you are a regular marijuana smoker but can easily stop for weeks at a time, without any desire to smoke, perhaps you don’t have a problem. The main point here is that smoking shouldn’t be used to escape one’s problems because it just prolongs the process of facing them.
How Is it Grown?
These days, it’s hard to find ‘pure’ weed. Most people are unaware of the original source, and marijuana can be grown with harmful pesticides. In fact, it wasn’t after the legalization of marijuana in Colorado that authorities found dangerous pesticides in most of the marijuana being sold. You can read more about that here.
Where do the seeds come from? When Big Pharma takes over, what type of seeds will they be, and how will it be grown? Are they genetically modified? There are still many questions to be asked.
So what can you take from all of this? We simply don’t know enough about this plant to smoke it every day and expect no repercussions. A misleading culture surrounding marijuana’s safety has been established and it’s something we need to start questioning.
Many natural substances are harmful to you if you have too much of them or use them too regularly. Even natural medicinal botanicals are not meant to be used every day and come with risks.
Again, we hope this helps to clear up the negative stigma around marijuana, but also the blindly positive stigma around it, too. Balance is important in this case, and what we strive to convey in this report.
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