How Marijuana Affects the Body
With the legalization of recreational and medical marijuana growing, we at CleanFleet wanted to take a step back and look at how marijuana effects the body. Though infrequent use of pot may not lead to long-term negative health consequences, using marijuana can cause immediate and intermediate mental and physical side effects beyond the feeling of being "high". Here’s what you need to know.
Marijuana comes from the hemp plant Cannabis sativa. It has an active ingredient called THC that makes you feel high. THC and other compounds in marijuana can also affect the way your body works.
No matter how it gets into your system, it affects almost every organ in your body. When you smoke marijuana, your body absorbs THC right away. Eating a baked good, or other item, may take longer for your body to absorb THC because it has to break down in your stomach before it enters your bloodstream.
How Marijuana Affects the Head and Brain
Memory Problems - Changes in your hippocampus affect your ability to form fresh memories. Attention, memory and learning are impaired among heavy marijuana users, even after users discontinued its use for at least 24 hours. In a survey of 150 marijuana using students, 59% surveyed report they sometimes forget what a conversation is about before it has ended. 41% report if they read while stoned they remembered less of what they had read hours later. (Dr. Richard Schwartz, Vienna Pediatric Associates in Psychiatric Annals as reported in NIDA Capsules)
Impaired Judgement - THC alters the way you process information, so your judgment skills may be off. It distorts your sense of time. Use of marijuana may result in intense anxiety, panic attacks or paranoia. (National Institute of Drug Abuse)
Withdrawal - A small percentage of marijuana users develop an addiction and have temporary withdrawal symptoms when they stop. If you’re a long-time user, you can have physical withdrawal symptoms -- like cravings, irritability, sleeplessness, and less appetite -- when you stop.
Phlegmy Cough - If you smoke often, you’re likely to cough and produce a lot of phlegm.
Red Eyes - Those red eyes are caused by the chemical THC, which makes the blood vessels in your eyes expand and have dilated pupils. However, marijuana can also lower pressure within the eyes and relieve symptoms of glaucoma for a short time.
Burning Mouth - Marijuana smoke may burn your mouth and throat.
How Marijuana Affects the Heart and Lungs
Accelerated Heartbeat - Smoking marijuana causes an almost immediate increase in your heartbeat that can last for hours. Physiological effects of marijuana include an alteration of heart rate.
In The Bloodstream - THC may interfere with tumor growth as it is carried throughout your body in your bloodstream.
Bronchitis - Marijuana users may have many of the same respiratory problems that tobacco smokers have, such as chronic bronchitis and inflamed sinuses. (Marijuana Facts: Parents Need to Know, National Institute on Drug Abuse ). Frequent smoking can irritate your bronchial passages and increase your risk of developing bronchial infection. Marijuana smokers, when compared to non marijuana smokers, have more respiratory illness. (Polen et al. 1993).
Lung Irritation - Like tobacco smoke, marijuana smoke contains a mixture of toxic chemicals and carcinogens that can irritate your lungs in the short term and potentially lead to long-term problems. The daily use of 1 to 3 marijuana joints appears to produce approximately the same lung damage and potential cancer risk as smoking 5 times as many cigarettes. (UCLA) The study results suggest that the way smokers inhale marijuana, in addition to its chemical composition, increases the adverse physical effects. The same lung cancer risks associated with tobacco also apply to marijuana users, even though they smoke far less. (reported in NIDA Capsules). Benzopyrene is the chemical in tobacco that causes lung cancer. An average marijuana cigarette contains nearly 50% more benzopyrene than a tobacco cigarette. An average marijuana cigarette contains 30 nanograms of this carcinogen compared to 21 nanograms in an average tobacco cigarette (Marijuana and Health, National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine Report, 1982) Benzopyrene suppresses a gene that controls growth of cells. When this gene is damaged the body becomes more susceptible to cancer. This gene is related to half of all human cancers and as many as 70% of lung cancers. Shallow breathing
How Marijuana Affects the Body and Stomach
A Dose of Dopamine - Marijuana triggers the brain to release dopamine, giving you a “high” and affecting your sensory perception.
Pain Relief and Settled Stomach - Marijuana may temporarily relieve inflammation, provide relief from pain, ease nausea, and ease vomiting.
Slowed Reaction Time - Balance and coordination are affected by marijuana, and your reflexes may be slower than usual. A roadside study of reckless drivers who were not impaired by alcohol, showed that 45% of these drivers tested positive for marijuana. (Dr. Dan Brookoff, published in the New England Journal of Medicine). If you drive after using marijuana, your risk of being in a car accident more than doubles.
Trouble for the Immature Brain and Changing Bodies - Babies whose mothers use marijuana while pregnant may develop memory and concentration problems. During puberty, heavy marijuana use can affect hormones in both males and females, and may delay the onset of puberty in young men.
Sexual Desire and Menstrual Cycle - Marijuana can have adverse effects on sperm production. If you’re a man, heavy use could lower your testosterone levels, and your sperm count and quality. That, in turn, can lower your libido and fertility. Among women, regular marijuana use can disrupt the normal monthly menstrual cycle and inhibit the discharge of eggs from the ovaries. (Marijuana Facts: Parents Need to know, National Institute on Drug Abuse).
Appetite - Marijuana stimulates the appetite, which can be useful for people being treated for cancer or AIDS.
Immune System Goes Down - THC might harm the immune system, making you more vulnerable to illness. Marijuana and some of its compounds influence the immune system and affect the body's ability to resist viruses, bacteria, fungi and protozoa, and decreases the body's anti tumor activities. Marijuana has the potential to alter the backup safeguards of the immune system because it affects diverse types of cells in the body. This could compromise the immune system's ability to screen out cancer cells and eliminate infection. (Dr. Guy A. Cabral, Professor, Medical College of Virginia, speaking at NlDA's National Conference on Marijuana Use: Prevention, Treatment and Research.) Marijuana can also cause more health problems if you have a condition like liver disease, low blood pressure, or diabetes.
What We Don’t Yet Know About Marijuana’s Effects on the Body
We don’t yet know if marijuana is linked to higher odds of getting lung cancer. But the process does irritate your lungs -- which is why regular pot smokers are more likely to have an ongoing cough and to have lung-related health problems like chest colds and lung infections.
Marijuana impairs light users' attention and concentration but doesn't appear to affect regular or heavy users within six hours of smoking or ingesting it. In the long run, researchers have found that after 3 weeks or more since last using marijuana, subjects' attention and concentration return to normal.
Several studies likewise found no residual or long-term effects on working memory. A 2002 study, for example, tested 77 heavy smokers for days after abstaining from smoking pot. Memory impairment was found for heavy users up to 7 days after using marijuana, but by day 28 their memory test results didn't differ significantly from control subjects. In other words, even if your memory is affected when you smoke up, after you stop it will likely go back to normal with time.
Marijuana in the Workplace
Marijuana’s negative effects are dangerous in the workplace, especially in safety-sensitive roles or where drug abuse is high in certain industries, like Food Preparation & Serving services, Construction, Installation & Maintenance, and Transportation.
Companies must be aware of local, state, and federal rules surrounding workplace drug testing in order to keep the business safe from legal issues when a drug testing program and policy is in place.
For a free consultation, call CleanFleet to discuss your drug testing program options at 503-479-6082.