The way we as a society view the cannabis plant has dramatically changed over the past few decades. What was once generally only considered a recreational intoxicant has now made significant headway towards gaining recognition as a medicinal plant chock full of various potentially therapeutic compounds.
However, as cannabis continues down the path towards legitimate medicine, it’s essential that we learn more about the long term effects of daily cannabis use.
How Does Cannabis Affect The Human Brain And Body?
Inside the cannabis plant are chemical compounds known as cannabinoids. Scientists have discovered over 100 unique cannabinoids, but the two most common are ones you’ve likely heard of—THC and CBD.
When we consume the cannabis plant, either by smoking, vaping, or ingesting an edible, those cannabinoids interact with a complex cell signaling system in our bodies known as the Endocannabinoid System (ECS). This system, composed of neurotransmitters called endocannabinoids and neurotransmitter receptors called endocannabinoid receptors, plays a role in maintaining homeostasis. Basically, the ECS helps us stay balanced. Things like mood, sleep patterns, and appetite are all partially regulated by the ECS, which means they are also affected by cannabinoids.
What Are The Short Term Effects Of Cannabis?
When cannabinoids interact with the ECS, they can immediately create short term effects.
The cannabinoid THC mimics the neurotransmitters naturally produced by the ECS, and makes direct bindings to the endocannabinoid receptors located primarily in the brain and central nervous system. Researchers speculate that THC’s direct activation of these receptors may be why the cannabinoid produces the infamous “high” associated with marijuana use.
THC’s short-term effects can include a shift in perception, increased appetite, feelings of expanded creativity and euphoria, dry mouth, and loss of physical motivation.
While CBD is non-intoxicating, meaning it won’t get you high, there are some tangible short term effects CBD users can expect when consuming the cannabinoid. Most commonly, CBD users report feelings of relaxation, drowsiness, and occasionally stomach upset, depending on the administration method.
Potential Benefits Of Cannabis
Currently, the Food and Drug Administration has only approved one cannabis-derived product for medicinal use—a pharmaceutical-grade form of CBD sold under the name Epidiolex used to treat certain seizure conditions.
Despite the lack of FDA approval, many people use cannabis medicinally, and the current research we have into the plant strongly suggests that the compounds found within could have therapeutic benefits.
THC has been used since the ’80s to help combat wasting in terminally ill patients who have trouble maintaining a healthy weight. Anecdotally, in some cases, the intoxicating effects of THC can also help these patients deal with the pain from their illness or treatments.
Preliminary research indicates that CBD possesses anti-inflammatory properties which could be utilized in skincare, as well as in the management of certain chronic pain conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, CBD could also potentially treat a host of different anxiety disorders. “CBD has shown therapeutic efficacy in a range of animal models of anxiety and stress, reducing both behavioral and physiological (e.g., heart rate) measures of stress and anxiety. In addition, CBD has shown efficacy in small human laboratory and clinical trials. CBD reduced anxiety in patients with social anxiety subjected to a stressful public speaking task.In a laboratory protocol designed to model post-traumatic stress disorders, CBD improved ‘consolidation of extinction learning,’ in other words, forgetting of traumatic memories.” Dr. Nora D. Volkow, Director of the NIDA, said in a 2015 presentation to the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control.
Potential Cannabis Effects On The Body Long Term
Researching the long term effects of cannabis use can be difficult considering the plant’s designation as a schedule 1 drug, but there have been a few studies.
Research suggests that chronic marijuana use in adolescence may negatively impact brain development, resulting in decreased IQ and memory function.
While long term marijuana use isn’t associated with physical addiction in the same way we think about drugs like cocaine or heroin, but daily use can lead to a condition known as marijuana use disorder where users find themselves unable to stop using marijuana without suffering from withdrawal symptoms like irritability, headaches, and insomnia.
Studies also indicate that those with a certain genetic or environmental predisposition to mental disorders like schizophrenia may have their psychosis triggered by marijuana use.
Ultimately, we need more research into both the long and short term effects of cannabis. Hopefully, as cannabis prohibition laws continue to wither away in the United States, the best scientific minds in the country will be freer to conduct that research.