The Terrifying Impact of Marijuana on Your Brain Is Something People Never Talk About

Marijuana legalization is on the rise. While marijuana does have medicinal benefits and could potentially boost the economy, it’s important to know that there are negative side effects of the drug. Specifically, marijuana can have significant effects on the brain.

Here’s what you need to know before you decide to smoke the drug or consume weed-laced products. We’ll also take a quick look at how marijuana affects other parts of the body.

Memory loss

Stressed woman having headache

Everyday pot smokers can have short-term memory problems. | SIphotography/iStocks/Getty Images

Smoking a lot of weed can potentially do damage to your short-term memory. A team of researchers in Switzerland examined marijuana users over a 25-year period. At the end of the study period, the test subjects took a test that assessed their cognitive abilities. The study concluded that those who smoked marijuana daily for at least five years had poorer verbal memory by their middle age than those who did not smoke.

Next: This serious mental illness is linked to marijuana use. 

Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia and pot are linked. | iStock.com

A committee for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine studied marijuana for years and published a report in January 2017 with every conclusion they’ve been able to draw from their studies. They drew several conclusions about schizophrenia. The most important one: Marijuana can cause it.

The researchers concluded that there is substantial evidence of a link between marijuana use and the development of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia causes delusions and hallucinations. It is characterized by thoughts or experiences that are out of touch with reality. However, marijuana did not appear to worsen the effects of schizophrenia in those who were diagnosed prior to use.

Next: The drug can temporarily cause these. 

Hallucinations

Scared and frightened man

High doses of marijuana can lead to seeing things that aren’t there. | iStock

According to drugabuse.gov, temporary hallucinations can occur with high doses of marijuana. This is different from schizophrenia because the effects are not permanent. With a hallucination, the marijuana user might perceive something that is not actually present. Temporary delusions are also possible during a high. This means that someone might believe something that is untrue (such as paranoia — the feeling that someone is out to get them).

Next: This anxious feeling is common with use of the drug. 

Paranoia

man in casual clothes abandoned lost in depression

The world can seem out to get you. | iStock.com/OcusFocus

In some people, smoking marijuana reduces worry and relaxes them. However, those who have known cases of anxiety, depression, or low self-esteem are more likely to suffer from paranoia and worsened anxiety when they are high. A study done by the University of Oxford found that, of those who had THC (the ingredient that causes a “high”) in their systems, 50% had paranoid thoughts compared to just 30% of those who did not have THC in their systems.

Next: Marijuana impairs this, creating potentially dangerous situations. 

Slowed reaction time

Driving while high is dangerous. | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

In a study done by researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana had an impact on driving ability. Those who had THC in their systems had noticeably worse driving impairments than those who did not use the drug. The study also found that when marijuana was combined with alcohol, the high was more intense and the driving ability was even more impaired. Overall, though, alcohol appeared to have a greater impact on driving impairment.

Next: It can be hard to develop relationships because of these. 

Mood swings

Couple fight hard

Mood swings aren’t uncommon. | oneinchpunch/iStock/Getty Images

Marijuana use has the ability to cause extreme mood swings. People behave differently when they are high, which can mean a drastic change in mood when someone is high versus when someone is not. Mood swings can make it more difficult to develop interpersonal relationships because of a lack of balanced behavior. The drug can also cause de-personalization, which can make it harder to develop a relationship with someone.

Next: The drug can cause potentially fatal decisions. 

Poor decision making

You won’t make good decisions when you’re impaired. | Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Fatalities due to marijuana “overdose” are extremely uncommon. However, marijuana does affect decision making. When a 19-year-old jumped to his death from a fourth story balcony after consuming six times the legal limit of THC, lawmakers called for warning labels to be put on marijuana edibles. Consuming too much THC can affect the ability to make rational decisions and can lead to dangerous situations, including death.

Next: How does marijuana affect other parts of the body?

Heart and stroke risk

cannibis joint and herb, marijuana

Marijuana can have health benefits, but people with heart problems need to be extra careful. | iStock/Getty Images

While it’s easy to picture a marijuana user mellowing out as they wish, marijuana can raise a heart rate by 20% to 100% shortly after smoking, and the effect can last up to 3 hours, according to Live Science and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This may raise the risk of heart attack.

“A 2017 study by the Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia found that those who used marijuana were 26 percent more likely to have a stroke than those who did not use marijuana,” explains Live Science. “Those studied were also 10 percent more likely to have developed heart failure.”

Next: Not all marijuana consumption is the same.

Lung irritation

smoking a joint

Marijuana smoke can irritate your lungs. | Pedro Pardo/AFP/Getty Images

Although there is no conclusive evidence that marijuana causes lung cancer, it does create a series of respiratory problems in frequent users, such as a prolonged cough, airway inflammation, and wheezing. According to the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, marijuana smoke contains harmful chemicals that are in similar range to those in tobacco smoke. Since marijuana requires a deeper inhalation than cigarettes, it leaves about five times the carbon monoxide concentration and three times the tar in the respiratory tract compared to cigarettes.

Next: Can marijuana really lower testosterone and sperm count?

Low testosterone levels

Man smoking marijuana at a festival

Marijuana might lower your testosterone levels. | Mark Piscotty/Getty Images

Some studies have shown that chronic cannabis use can result in lower testosterone levels, and even a lower sperm count. Doctors have agreed that it’s very plausible that chronic marijuana use can lower testosterone. However, researchers cannot draw a completely factual conclusion until they complete several more studies. Low levels can also result in something called gynecomastia, which is caused by a hormone imbalance between testosterone and estrogen levels in men.

Next: You need to know how marijuana edibles affect people differently.

Exposure to dangerous potencies

View of marijuana cupcakes for sale

Marijuana in edible form is very potent. | Alejandro Pagni/Getty Images

Today, marijuana products are much stronger than they used to be. Edible products tend to have a potency that is up to 10 times higher than that of a traditional joint, according to Steven Wright, a pain and addiction medicine specialist in Denver. Wright told USA Today that since edibles’ effects take up to an hour to set in — unlike joints, which reach the brain in just seconds — people end up consuming far more than they intended, which can cause more harm than the drug in its traditional form.

Next: You don’t always get the munchies.

Loss of appetite

a man refusing to eat a hamburger

This hamburger is missing something. | iStock.com

Everyone knows marijuana can trigger a case of the munchies, but some users complain they find their appetite disappears when they aren’t using the drug.

“I find that I don’t have much of an appetite any more unless I am stoned,” wrote Reddit user oz24. “[T]hinking about eating sober gave me nausea. [Probably] the worst part of all the side effects,” echoed user newmilwaukee.

Scientists who study the relationship between marijuana and appetite have discovered that a component of the drug appears to activate hormones that produce hunger, but it’s not clear what effect that might have on a person’s desire to eat when they aren’t high. A separate study found that people who smoked weed at least three times per week were skinnier than people who didn’t use marijuana, but why that’s the case isn’t clear.

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