Long-Term Side Effects of Marijuana Usage
Cannabis has many names, like marijuana, weed, Mary Jane (MJ), herb, pot, ganja, and more. But it returns to the Cannabis Sativa plant and the trichome, terpene, and cannabinoid-laden buds.
Inside the marijuana plant are compounds, including terpenes and multiple cannabinoids. Some of these may help with different symptoms, including fatigue, anxiety or depression, appetite loss, muscle tremors, and chronic pain.
When you think of marijuana, side effects are probably the last thing you consider. There are resources online, like Weedmaps and Leafly, where you can search by strain. And learn about some of the common physiological and psychoactive responses people have experienced.
If cannabis didn’t have those effects, there would be no reason to use it. Some of those side effects can provide relief from debilitating symptoms. And help people restore activities of daily living.
But some may believe that there are no potential health risks to using marijuana regularly. Clinical studies have reported many possible risks, which include developing a marijuana addiction.
Responsible marijuana use means educating yourself about all aspects of cannabis and its positive and negative impact on your health. Then taking steps to use medical cannabis as safely as possible with the guidance of a licensed practitioner.
What Are the Side Effects of Using Cannabis?
If you are a regular marijuana user, you are already familiar with some of the physical and psychoactive substance effects of marijuana. But in some regards, you expect some of those effects to be attributes of the strain you are using.
You may be more attentive to side effects with other medicinal supplements or prescription medications. But you may not identify the side effects of marijuana or consider them to be adverse effects that could harm your health. Or reflect on any future problems you might have with marijuana addiction.
Regular marijuana use over a prolonged period can lead to short-term and long-term effects. In some cases, research suggests that cannabis use can worsen symptoms, with an increased risk of developing (or exacerbating) physical and mental disorders.
According to American addiction centers, the use of marijuana for addiction treatment and recovery from other Schedule I drugs is increasing. Particularly to help patients with clinical depression or anxiety. But there are both short-term and long-term effects of marijuana that patients should be aware of.
Short-Term Side Effects of Cannabis Use
When you use medical or recreational marijuana, you can experience several short-term side effects. Interestingly, most short-term side effects are not immediate but can occur 2-3 hours after consuming cannabis.
Common short-term side effects that are experienced after ingesting cannabis include:
- Dry mouth (cotton mouth).
- Mild to moderate headaches.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Irritated red and dry eyes.
- Mood swings.
- Increased or decreased appetite.
- Fatigue or tiredness.
- Stimulation of appetite.
- Problems with focus or concentration.
- Altered sense of time.
- Impaired body movement.
- Hallucinations and psychotic symptoms.
While some symptoms are predictable, according to comments from marijuana users, you can’t really tell, with any accuracy, how you will feel after taking THC. Many aspects can influence your experience, aside from the strain of cannabis you use.
How Long do Short-Term Symptoms of Cannabis Last?
The good thing about short-term symptoms is that they eventually go away. The effects of cannabis can still be felt up to three hours after consuming it. But what do we know about the side effects that may not go away, particularly after heavy long-term use? While helping many patients with symptoms, can marijuana lead to other mental health problems?
Potential Long-Term Side Effects of Using Marijuana
When you daily use moderate to concentrated potency, you may be at a greater risk of developing long term side effects from cannabis. That is why patients need to be aware of symptoms related to marijuana use and not only symptoms related to their diagnosed health conditions.
Cannabis is a controlled substance, and even though the side effects of marijuana may not be comparable to other Schedule I substances, there is still the potential for drug abuse. This is evident in people who experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop smoking marijuana or reduce the quantity or potency they consume.
Some of the long-term side effects of using cannabis may include the following:
After years of marijuana use, some people have developed memory impairment. That is the inability to remember things or retrieve information quickly from short or long-term memory. Clinical animal studies suggest that THC can alter how the hippocampus (brain region) processes and stores information. This can result in cognitive impairment in adulthood.
Difficulty Regulating Mood
Some clinical studies suggest that patients diagnosed with mood disorders such as major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder may experience long-term side effects that make regulating mood more difficult. In some cases, marijuana addiction can be a factor.
Withdrawal symptoms from cannabis can occur, according to the American mental health services administration. Even though many people do not find marijuana addictive, high-potency marijuana can worsen certain mental health symptoms. And in rare cases, it may cause psychotic disorders.
According to a large study conducted by Stanford Medicine, people who smoke marijuana more than once a month may experience cardiovascular problems. This includes an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart disease.
Hypertension or Hypotension
One of the common psychoactive effects of marijuana use is that it can help calm anxiety and promote relaxation. Some strains from the cannabis Indica plant may lower blood pressure (hypotension). However, as cannabis is also a stimulant, other strains (Sativa dominant marijuana) can elevate blood pressure and contribute to hypertension.
Problems with Focus and Concentration
Many strains of the cannabis plant can help you feel relaxed. But it’s common knowledge that many strains can leave you feeling spaced out. Sometimes that can be good, particularly for relieving pain, anxiety, or depression. Or if you have problems with insomnia.
Some clinical studies report that long-term side effects of marijuana may lead to the impairment of problem-solving skills and compromise learning, attention, and focus to varying degrees. Cannabis may also affect young adults and contribute to impulse control problems.
People choose to smoke weed for recreational or medicinal use because cannabis is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream when it enters the lungs. Inhalable cannabis is the fastest way to start experiencing physical and psychoactive effects.
However, inhaling anything into the lungs can mean increased risks. Smoking pot daily may contribute to chronic bronchitis, asthma, and other respiratory problems. Cannabis smoke can cause harm to lung tissues and contribute to scarring. It can also damage small blood vessels in the lungs.
While cannabis does not have the same harmful chemicals and carcinogens as tobacco or cigarettes, smoking marijuana can cause respiratory problems, which is why some states have banned smokable medical marijuana.
Patients who are marijuana users alternate between routes. Opting to smoke cannabis marijuana sometimes but switching to other methods periodically, including edibles, capsules, or tinctures, may help reduce some respiratory risks.
Long-Term Side Effects of Marijuana for Minors
One of the concerns about the pediatric use of medical cannabis is how it will impact minors as they reach adulthood. During the early years of brain development, cannabis exposure has been linked to impaired thinking, memory, and learning functions.
Some clinical studies have suggested that cannabis consumption in early development years can impair the way brain connections are established. Research has shown that marijuana use by pregnant mothers can result in health problems. Infants from mothers with frequent marijuana use during pregnancy have a lower birth weight and disrupted neurological development.
One study from researchers at Duke University reported that minors who heavily smoked marijuana during their teenage years displayed a higher-than-average rate of marijuana use disorder as adults—sometimes requiring medical treatment for cannabis addiction.
Consequently, some children lost an average of 8 IQ points between the ages of 12-38. The cognitive impairment did not improve for some children, even after cessation of marijuana use. However, adults who commenced chronic marijuana use in adulthood did not show the same decline in IQ.
How Can You Reduce Your Risks of Long-Term Marijuana Side Effects?
Because there are not many long-term studies about chronic marijuana use, it is not possible to calculate risk factors with accuracy. But it is essential to be aware of marijuana use disorders and the potential for long-term or permanent side effects associated with marijuana use disorder.
Patients who have a medical card can rely on the advice of their primary care provider for complementary therapy suggestions that can help with symptom management. Medical marijuana can be part of an effective treatment plan when combined with lifestyle changes like a healthy diet, exercise, heat or cold therapy, and more.
Can You Overdose on THC?
Although there has been no evidence of death from THC overdose, it is essential to remember that high levels of THC can affect cognitive function and may increase the risk of psychosis. Several side effects of marijuana use are related to its use in humans, including increased heart rate or heart attack.
Consulting with a physician regularly about your symptoms is one way to reduce your risks. And for every patient with a medical card, learning more about potential side effects and when to report them to your doctor is essential.
How Many Americans Have Cannabis Use Disorder?
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), just over 18% of Americans used cannabis at least once in 2019. That was about 48.2 million Americans before the Covid-19 pandemic when cannabis use escalated.
Today, the CDC estimates that 3 in 10 Americans have marijuana use disorder. That is the diagnosis when an individual cannot stop using marijuana, even if it is causing problems for their health or in other areas of their lives.
Can You Develop an Allergy to Cannabis?
While there are no public health records of a fatal cannabis overdose, that does not mean that long-term use of cannabis is entirely safe. The truth is that there are no longitudinal studies of cannabis use. So there is no certainty about the impact of lifetime use of cannabis.
Researchers were unable to conduct studies on human health. Even today, severe restrictions exist to the types of clinical research that can be achieved, as cannabis remains federally illegal.
If you use highly potent cannabis (or concentrates) and consume large quantities, you risk developing hyperemesis. It is a very rare condition that occurs when the body develops a toxic reaction to cannabis.
Symptoms of cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS) include:
- Severe nausea and vomiting.
- Weight loss.
- Abdominal pain.
- Chronic dehydration.
Educators and health officials are trying to increase awareness. Because the body can develop a tolerance to cannabis, requiring higher potencies or quantities over time. Unchecked, the increased use and potency can lead to cannabis hyperemesis.
If an individual develops hyperemesis, there is no cure except abstaining from cannabis. Not just for a period to recover but indefinitely. Ask your doctor about leveling down the potency of your medical marijuana to reduce your risk.
Why Do Dispensaries Limit the Amount of Cannabis I Buy?
When you are a registered patient and have a medical cannabis card, there are limits to how much cannabis you can purchase. In most states, the limit is also determined by volume, specific to intake routes.
For example, some patients can buy a maximum of four ounces of cannabis flower. But if the patient preferred to use cannabis concentrates, the limit would be established by milligrams of THC content.
While this limit can frustrate patients who rely on medical marijuana for conditions like epilepsy, cancer, or chronic pain, they are established for patient safety. Because there are no long-term studies of patients who have used medical marijuana for twenty years or longer, it is a safety precaution.
Requesting an Exception to Limits on Medical Cannabis Doses
In circumstances where medical cannabis limits are causing debilitating problems for a patient, a written exception may be provided. But only when the patient can prove that the quantity supplied by their medical cannabis recommendation is insufficient.
Patients can ask a physician to review their symptoms and increase the amount of THC they can access monthly. However, exceptions are not granted for everyone; they are at the provider or practitioner’s discretion.
How DocMJ Helps Patients
As a multistate operator (MSO) cannabis healthcare provider, DocMJ provides telemedicine and in-office clinical consultations with certified marijuana doctors. In Florida, DocMJ has thirty (30) conveniently located clinic locations, such as our Sarasota office, to help patients start the medical card application process.