Cannabis, commonly called marijuana, is a psychoactive drug that produces mind-altering effects. Derived from the Cannabis sativa plant, marijuana contains over 400 chemicals, the most notable being THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) -which is the main chemical ingredient that produces the psychoactive effects.

As one of the most popular and affordable drugs on the market today, most people consider cannabis to be a safe substance, and it is used recreationally to enhance social experiences or alter moods in general. Some use cannabis as a means of long-term pain management as well. Until recently, cannabis was totally illegal for sale and consumption in the United States, but recent changes in regulations have seen it become legal in several states. The change in cannabis’s legal status has led to an increase in recreational use, which has resulted in the dispensing of cannabis through prescriptions written by health care providers (medical marijuana) who are treating patients with conditions such as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), chronic pain, and anxiety-related disorders.

Cannabis affects the cannabinoid receptors in the brain (called CB1 And CB2 receptors). The psychological effects of cannabis result from the stimulation of the CB1 receptors. This stimulation provides a change in the level of neurotransmitters in the brain. The transmitters (present to affect mood, motor control, memory and learning, perception, pain relief, plus ocular and saliva stimulation) include glutamate, endorphins, acetylcholine and noradrenaline.

Effects of Cannabis When Used Long Term

According to a drug fact sheet provided by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), there have been no deaths reported from an overdose of marijuana. However, long-term use of cannabis can contribute to other issues such as the following:

Lung Damage

While studies have not really shown a link between smoking marijuana and lung cancer, it is known that cannabis smoke contains at least 50 recognized carcinogens. Despite the abundance of cancer-causing carcinogens in marijuana smoke, the lack of evidence linking the two is due to the fact that not enough official and controlled studies have been conducted. Additionally, by exposing the lungs to smoke, there is an increased chance of obtaining other health issues, such as bronchitis, emphysema, or pneumonia.

Brain Function Changes

THC is the strongest chemical found in cannabis. It has been shown to bind to the specific receptors in the brain that control memory and learning. Studies have indicated that for young individuals with a developing brain, marijuana use increases the possibility of long-term, and possibly permanent, changes to cognitive and behavioral development. Research conducted at Duke University indicated a loss of 8 IQ points for users between 13 and 38 years old, and the lost mental abilities were not regained by those individuals, even if they quit using cannabis as adults.

Another concern is that, because cannabis works on areas of the brain associated with mood, people who use the drug are more prone to developing conditions of anxiety or depression. It is also suggested that for users who have a predisposed but unseen genetic disorder (such as schizophrenia), they may see it materialize because of marijuana use.

Reproductive System Damage

While this is not a confirmed condition due to a lack of extensive research, damage to the reproduction system is now being considered and examined by research professionals. In testing done so far, both animal and human studies have shown a correlation between THC and the reduction in the production of testosterone in males. Additionally, the motility of sperm (their ability to swim) has been negatively affected.

In females studied, research has shown a reduced production of estrogen and progesterone (sex hormones) and that THC and cannabis smoke inhalation can negatively impact fetal growth and development.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.