While there are numerous reasons that people choose to smoke marijuana, from medicinal purposes to recreation, you should always be aware of the various ways in which this plant is affecting your body. Research into the potential benefits of marijuana is still growing. Still, there is already plenty of research into the long-term effects of it, thanks to its status as a Schedule I substance.
As an adult, you should take the time to inform yourself of the potential long-term effects of smoking marijuana. You can weigh the pros and cons and make an informed decision as to whether you want to continue to smoke it and how frequently to do so. For many people, the potential pros outweigh the potential cons, but this is an individual decision. The following are some of the long-term effects of marijuana that you should be aware of.
Effects on Memory
Long-term use of marijuana is sometimes associated with memory loss, especially for those who started smoking when they were still teens or before reaching adulthood. Experts believe that the memory issues associated with long-term use come from the interactions between marijuana and your hippocampus, responsible for short-term memory. Cannabis temporarily stops your brain from learning new things and developing new memories.
A study published in Molecular Psychiatry even found that those who heavily use cannabis may develop false memories. That was also the case in people who previously used marijuana heavily but had not smoked in over a month.
Another study, this one published in Hippocampus, looked at teenagers who had smoked pot daily for three years. By the time they were in their early 20s, their hippocampal regions of the brain were “abnormally shaped.” Additionally, they tended to perform about 18 percent worse in tests of long-term memory when compared with subjects who had not smoked marijuana.
Numerous other studies look at this connection between smoking marijuana and memory loss. One published in the JAMA Internal Medicine mentioned that the researchers were surprised to see that chronic marijuana exposure was consistently associated with verbal memory, even after accounting for other factors, including alcohol and cigarettes. This study found that the more years that participants had smoked marijuana, the lower their verbal memory score would be.
Other research suggests that smoking marijuana daily for years can lead to struggling with cognitive tasks. That research indicates that even smoking less often can improve the performance of these tasks. The problems tend to decrease when a formerly regular smoker stops using cannabis.
Effects on Your Heart and Lungs
Several of the long-term effects of smoking marijuana focus on the impact that it has on your heart. If you already have heart disease, smoking marijuana may increase your risk of having a heart attack. When THC leaves the lungs and goes into the bloodstream, smokers can experience a heart rate increase by up to 50 beats a minute for up to three hours.
It is also possible for marijuana to cause an irregular heart rate or to increase the risk of dealing with acute coronary syndrome.
Those who regularly smoke marijuana have a higher risk of dealing with trouble breathing and persistent coughs. There is also a higher risk of producing excess mucus and phlegm from the throat. According to research published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, there are some similarities between the impact of smoking marijuana and smoking tobacco in terms of respiratory health.
Effects on Pregnant and Nursing Women and Their Fetuses or Babies
Even within the cannabis community, it is widely accepted that you should not smoke marijuana if you are pregnant or nursing, due to the effects that it may have on your fetus or baby. Experts have found an association between mothers smoking marijuana during pregnancy and the child experiencing long-lasting damage to their memory.
Once your baby is born, if you breastfeed, the toxins and other substances in cannabis may be carried by your breast milk. This means that your baby can receive them during breastfeeding. The biggest concern with this is addiction. While marijuana addiction is not typically a problem for adults, it is more common for those who start smoking in adolescence. Breastfeeding, while smoking, is essentially a different method of having a baby consume marijuana.
Unsurprisingly, there is very minimal research on the impact of marijuana on fetuses or babies who are unborn or nursing, between the ethics of such research and the Schedule I classification of marijuana.
Effects on the Reproductive System
There is also some research that indicates marijuana may have an effect on the reproductive system in the long term. This is very early research and mostly in animals. Animal studies show that males that are exposed to marijuana then produce less testosterone. Human studies have also shown that THC has a negative impact on testosterone production. A 2012 study found THC reduces sperm motility, which means its ability to swim properly.
There is also research into the effects on the female reproductive system, done in rats. Female rats exposed to marijuana produced less estrogen and progesterone, female sex hormones. Lower quantities of these hormones can cause sexual dysfunction or changes to the ovulation cycle.
Importantly, this long-term effect of marijuana still has incredibly limited research and almost no completed research in humans. As such, you should keep it in mind as a possibility but not assume that it will be the case.
Despite its popularity, smoking marijuana is associated with a range of potential long-term effects, from negative impacts on the heart and lungs to the possible effects on your reproductive system to memory problems to issues for babies and fetuses exposed to it via their mother’s pregnancy or breastmilk. Experts still need to complete much more research on the long-term effects of marijuana. Therefore, you should carefully weigh these against the positives you hope to experience from it when deciding whether to smoke and how frequently to use marijuana.