According to a Gallup poll released in October 2017, 64% of the U.S. population believes that marijuana should be legal, and our neighbor to the north—yes, Canada—has actually gone ahead and cleared the way for the federal legalization of marijuana, which takes effect in July 2018. Part of what’s driving the mainstream acceptance of marijuana on either side of the border and around the world is the notion that weed is a relatively harmless substance. Somehow, the prevailing wisdom taking hold is that weed is, you know, not so bad, and a lesser evil than alcohol, tobacco, and other harmful substances. But is that true?
There are some pretty strong arguments to support that idea that marijuana is harmless, but the reality is that marijuana use can have a slew of significant impacts—positive and negative—on your body and brain. Here are 20 of the most important ways the weed impacts your health:
1. Yes, marijuana alters your sleep.
You don’t have to be a longtime reader of Best Life to know that we love sleep. Or rather, we love the positive effects of a good night’s shuteye on our practically all other aspects of our lives. But the connection between weed and sleep? It gives us pause.
First, it depends on the type of weed you’re using. An “indica” is known the relaxing type of marijuana—whereas a “sativa” is said to be energizing. The former, of course, would be the one that would, in theory, help you sleep better.
Studies have shown that using even indica marijuana will lengthen stage 3 sleep in your sleep cycle at the expense of stage 4 sleep—or REM sleep. Now, for the record: Stage 3 sleep is thought to be what repairs your body the best, while stage 4, or REM sleep, is what refreshes your brain. You need both stages in the right amounts to feel optimally refreshed and rejuvenated.
2. It could help in the repair broken bones.
A study by researchers at Tel Aviv University showed that using marijuana may actually help heal bone fractures and breaks. The team administered mice test subjects with cannabinoid cannabidiol, which is found in cannabis leaves and stems, and found that injured mice recovered more quickly. Now, let’s try not to dwell on the disturbing thought of scientists snapping mice limbs before getting them high, and instead focus on what their research had lead them to believe: weed helps minerals get into the bone tissue, making them stronger, sturdier, and less likely to break in the future.
3. Weed might improve your night vision.
Did you know that Jamaican fisherman have excellent night vision? Neither did I, but apparently, it was an observation made by a researcher at McGill University in Montreal who quickly rushed back to Canada and started applying a synthetic cannabinoid to the eye tissues of tadpoles.
Shortly thereafter, it was discovered that cannabinoids made certain retinal cells more sensitive to light, and improved the speed and which the eye responded to even the dimmest stimulus.
4. But it may also negatively affect your eyesight.
Before you add bong water to your contact lens solution, you should know about findings from another study, published in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology, which looked at marijuana’s effect on the retinal ganglion cells—which are responsible for transmitting electrical pulses from the eye to the brain.
Researchers discovered that there was a delayed response time in the transmission of that electrical pulse for marijuana users compared with people who did not use the drug, which led them to posit that this may impact the eyesight of people who use marijuana regularly.
5. It could be bad for your heart.
Most people who reach for their pipe, pen, bong, or rolling papers are looking for a peaceful, easy feeling, and—according to 2016 study from the American College of Cardiology—some might get it. Forever.
The study, which looked at over 20 million health records from the Nationwide Inpatient Sample, found that smoking pot is associated with a significantly increased risk of stroke, heart failure, coronary artery disease, and sudden cardiac death.
6. It directly impacts short-term memory.
If you use marijuana or know people who do, it won’t come as a surprise to you that weed can adversely affect memory. What you may not know is why. Several studies have tried to answer that question, including one from Northwestern University, which discovered that former pot smokers had developed brain abnormalities in regions associated with short-term memory, and performed slightly worse on memory-related tasks.
But wait, it gets worse. The brains of pot smokers were found to be abnormally shaped and looked similar to brains damaged by schizophrenia. Yikes.
7. It can make schizophrenia symptoms worse.
The connection between weed and schizophrenia only gets more troubling. A few years ago, a Dutch research team recruited 48 pot smoking psychiatric patients and 47 pot smoking healthy people, and asked them to record what they were doing and how they felt 12 times a day for a six day period.
The results showed that schizophrenia sufferers were more sensitive than healthy individuals to both the positive and negative effects of marijuana. “What the data clearly show are that, if anything, the core symptoms of schizophrenia actually get worse after using cannabis,” said Deepak Cyril D’Souza, a psychiatrist at Yale University.
8. Weed may numb your creativity.
There’s a pretty strong association between weed and artists. (Find us a rock band that doesn’t partake every now and then!) In fact, it’s enough to lead you to think that marijuana helps get creative juices flowing. Well, another study from the Netherlands—quelle surprise!—seems to be reminding us that correlation is not causation.
Volunteers who were given potent marijuana were not able to come up with as many solutions to a problem as those given a placebo. Coming up with solutions to a problem isn’t like being tasked to come up with a dank Hendrix-style guitar riff, of course, but the lateral thinking it requires is indicative of creative thinking.
9. Weed increases oral cancer risk.
According to a study published in the January 2014 issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention, long-term stoners have an increased risk of developing oral cancer. The study’s authors note that the high temperatures of marijuana smoke may irritate the oral tissues and trigger cellular changes, potentially leading to the development of precancerous lesions in the mouth.
10. It might make erections less potent.
Bad news, fellas: Cannabis has an inhibitory effect on certain receptors inside the erectile tissue of the penis. What’s more, a 2012 study titled “Cannabis and Sex: Multifaceted Paradoxes” found that that the prevalence of erectile dysfunction is three times as high for daily marijuana smokers compared to those who don’t use it at all.
11. Or… not.
Believe it or not, weed may help with one of the biggest erection killers of them all: performance anxiety. Of course, it has to be the right kind of weed. Specifically, it has to be one with greater CBD (Cannabidiol) to THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) ratio.
Ever wonder why some people get paranoid after smoking weed, while the anxiety of others dissipates? It may have to do with the CBD/THC ratio of whatever they’re smoking. THC is anxiety producing, while new research that shows CBD has been found to reduce anxiety—sexual or otherwise.
12. Weed will increase testicular cancer risk.
A study conducted by researchers at the University of Southern California showed that smoking weed could increase a man’s odds of getting testicular cancer. The USC researchers found that men who had testicular germ cell tumors were more likely to report previously using marijuana than those who didn’t have the tumors.
13. It can cause men to produce fewer, lazier sperm.
Just a couple of joints a week may be enough to reduce men’s sperm count by around a third, according to a Danish study published in 2015. According to Dr. Victor Chow, a clinical associate professor at the University of British Columbia Medical School’s department of urological sciences, sperm influenced by marijuana appears “more mellow, and swimming in circles.”
14. Weed is a booster of female libido.
The results of another USC study showed that weed can increase women’s arousal and strengthen physiological responses to sexual stimulation. A topical oil containing cannabis was applied to test subjects who were then shown erotic films. Blood flow associated with sexual arousal were measured, and test subjects were found to have an increased sexual response following the application of the cannabis oil.
15. It causes bad breath and tooth decay.
A common side effect of weed, regardless of how you ingest it, is dry mouth or xerostomia. It’s caused by marijuana’s effect on the nervous system. Without enough saliva to wash away food and bacteria from the teeth and gums, xerostomia can cause bad breath and tooth decay and, if not treated promptly, tooth loss.
16. Weed affects babies in the womb.
It’s widely known that marijuana can reduce body pains and nausea. That information, combined with the mainstreaming of the drug, may have lead to a significant increase in the number of pregnant mothers using marijuana during pregnancies.
According to a federal survey, the percentage of women who used marijuana during pregnancy went from 2.6% to 4% between 2002 and 2014. But experts maintain that THC, marijuana’s main psychoactive ingredient, can cross the placenta to reach the fetus and potentially harm the baby’s brain development, cognitive abilities, and birth weight. A 2012 study published in the journal Nature showed that cannabis used in pregnancy was associated with lower birth weight.
17. It increases your chance of developing Alzheimer’s.
Low blood flow to the brain—the hippocampus in particular—can put people at higher risk of developing cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s. In 2016 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, researchers found that marijuana users had significantly lower blood flow to the brain than healthy non-smokers. For more on reality of life with Alzheimer’s, check out this heart-wrenching story, “My Mother’s Prison.”
18. It can triple your risk of death from hypertension.
People with hypertension are strongly advised to watch their sodium intake. Unfortunately, your average stoner’s penchant for Ruffles isn’t the only thing that he or she needs to worry about. According to research from Georgia State University, marijuana users are three times as likely to die from hypertension compared to those who didn’t smoke weed.
19. It could stop the progression of cirrhosis of the liver.
Proponents of legalizing marijuana on a federal level in the United States often compare its comparatively benign effects on the mind and body with those of alcohol which—aside from a 13-year blip at between 1920 and 1933—is perfectly legal. The relationship between weed and booze gets particularly interesting when you consider new research that shows marijuana’s effect on slowing the progression of cirrhosis of the liver, a condition associated with chronic alcohol use as well as hepatitis c, hepatitis b and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
Studies suggest that a major cannabinoid found in cannabis, cannabidiol (CBD), can help combat—though not reverse—cirrhosis progression by assisting in the death of hepatic stellate cells (HSCs). When these cells are activated, they proliferate and produce excess collagen, which causes a build up of scarring on the liver. Findings also support that CBD can serve as a protective strategy against the key mechanism of tissue damage in cirrhosis.
20. It might cause you to die younger.
Sure, smoking a ton of weed didn’t hurt the careers of Woody Harrelson, Willie Nelson, or Snoop Dogg, but according to scientists at University of California Davis and Duke University, they are outliers.
“People who smoked cannabis four or more days of the week over many years ended up in a lower social class than their parents, with lower-paying, less skilled, and less prestigious jobs than those who were not regular cannabis smokers,” says study author Magdalena Cerdá. What does that to do with health you ask? A lot. As of 2010, the average, upper-income 50-year-old guy could expect to live to 89. At a lower socioeconomic level that very same guy would only live to 76, according to a 2015 report authored by several leading economists.
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