Humanity has been acquainted with drugs for arguably thousands of years. Alcohol, hallucinogens and psychedelics, opioids, various chemical compounds invented not so long ago—these are just some of the substances that have been used and abused all over the world, in different cultures, and for different reasons. For instance, hallucinogenic mushrooms and plants were—and still are—used in shamanism, or for religious ceremonies. Alcohol was an almost indispensable attribute for the majority of social events, starting with feasts at kings’ palaces and ending up with village weddings. Cocaine was once a prescribed medicine that could be legally purchased in a drug store.
Things have changed over the course of centuries. Today, there are perhaps little-to-no people who would not know about the negative effects drugs can have on physical and mental health; at the same time, there are many of those who experiment with drugs, especially in adolescence. One of the most common substances teenagers start (and fortunately, finish) their acquaintance with psychoactive substances is marijuana. Relatively cheap, relaxing, and tolerated in many countries all over the world, it alters a user’s consciousness to a greater extent than alcohol or nicotine. In fact, marijuana is so popular that medical institutions of different countries invest money in research, studying the positive and negative effects of cannabis. So far, we can witness the wave of justification: scientists, physicians, and politicians claim that marijuana is an almost-safe drug, the negative effects of which are so insignificant that they are not worth considering. All this information is widely published on the Internet and other media, causing larger amounts of people to get introduced to smoking pot.
However, it is not that simple. As any psychoactive substance, marijuana contains chemicals that affect the brain; as these chemicals are not innate to the human body (no one is born with THC or CBD in their brains), they can—and sometimes do—disturb the subtle balance of biochemical reactions in a way that can be harmful to an individual. Although this perspective has not been too popular currently, let us take a closer look at what harm marijuana can do anyways.
What are the short-term effects of smoking marijuana? What does a high look like? Users report that when being under the effect of the drug, they most often experience an altered sense of time: some feel like it passes slowly, whereas others can miss out large periods of time. Decreased reactions are often followed by slow speech and thinking. A marijuana smoker can forget what they were about to say in the middle of a sentence, or what happened to them a minute ago. Many people tend to feel drowsy and/or sleepy—in fact, marijuana can act as a soporific. Marijuana often causes relaxed mood, and makes almost everything look funny. This is why people laugh so hard when they are under marijuana high. Also, cannabis users report altered senses and perception: they tend to perceive colors and sounds more vividly, become more sensitive and moody (MedicalMarijuana, Inc).
It is said that the regular use of marijuana does not impair one’s health, and numerous research studies support this claim. However, there are also not-so-popular studies that prove the opposite: marijuana can be harmful. This is especially fair in the case of teenagers. When a young person, whose brain has not yet fully formed physiologically uses marijuana regularly, it can affect the ways in which the brain builds connections between its areas responsible for memory, concentration, and learning. Whereas people who started smoking pot as adults rarely feel negative mental health effects, for those who were introduced to cannabis as a teenager, the situation is different. For example, a recent study conducted in Duke University, New Zealand, has proved that those who started heavily smoking marijuana as teenagers and developed an addiction lost on average eight IQ points during the period between their 13 and 38 years. In other words, an early exposure to marijuana can make you less intelligent, in a long-term perspective. Moreover, lost mental capabilities do not seem to regenerate on a full scale even after test subjects quit smoking marijuana. Those who started smoking pot as adults had no such problems, but it may be the lack of detailed research (National Institute on Drug Abuse).
Even though marijuana is often consumed as an antidepressant, it is known to worsen mental disorder symptoms—at least in a short-term perspective. In particular, the drug can make a person paranoid, suspicious, or depressed. It can also cause mental conditions such as schizophrenia to become worse. At the same time, it is true that marijuana can make depression symptoms lighter, so it is fair to say that its effects of mental health are complex, and cannot be unequivocally labelled as positive or negative. What is for sure, though, is that marijuana can damage one’s lungs: regularly consuming this drug can cause respiratory problems such as bronchitis, inflammations, and chronic cough—although these effects are still not as severe as when smoking tobacco (MedicalMarijuana, Inc).
Moreover, the usage of marijuana is not recommended to pregnant women. This warning may look superfluous, as everyone is supposed to know that future mothers should avoid all kinds of substances in order to not cause harm to a child, but in fact, more and more women expecting a child are starting to smoke marijuana, as a 2016 JAMA study states. Exposing an unborn baby to marijuana can cause them severe health problems; in particular, it is known that babies whose mothers smoked marijuana during pregnancy had low birth weight, anemia, and impaired impulse control. They also had attention and memory problems (Health.com).
As it can be seen, marijuana is not as harmless as it is widely believed nowadays. Although its negative health effects can be subtle for those who started smoking it as an adult, for younger users, it can have a number of negative side effects—impaired cognitive capabilities, for example. Marijuana can also cause or worsen symptoms of several mental disorders, and is especially dangerous for unborn babies, in case if a women smoke it during pregnancy. Overall, it can be said that the risks of smoking marijuana outweigh its benefits.
“Side Effects of Marijuana.” Medical Marijuana, Inc., 26 Jan. 2018, www.medicalmarijuanainc.com/side-effects-marijuana/.
“Marijuana.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, Feb. 2018, www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana.
“10 Things to Know About Pot and Your Health.” Health.com, www.health.com/pain/marijuana-benefits-risks.