The opioid epidemic has continued to bogart headlines, claiming thousands of lives in the process. In the midst of this unrelenting scourge, popular substances of abuse like marijuana, escape scrutiny because a perception exists that it’s safe to use.
Marijuana has been sanctioned for medicinal use in certain states. Plus, it is not known for producing the ruinous, life-threatening effects of alcohol, fentanyl, heroin, or methamphetamine.
But that does not mean it is harmless. Marijuana in high doses can inflict dangerous physical and psychological effects, impacting cognition and motor skills and cardiovascular and reproductive systems. Long-term users can put themselves at risk for developing cancer.
It is also worth noting that the marijuana products of today are highly potent. In fact, these products possess levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) — the principal psychoactive ingredient in marijuana — that are astronomical compared to the cannabis of years past.
Plus, marijuana affects people differently, so there is no amount that can be considered too much or safe to use. Factors such as substance abuse history, mental health, environment, and lifestyle play a role in how the drug impacts people.
The bottom line is that marijuana is no laughing matter. In high enough doses, it can inflict adverse effects.
History of Marijuana
There was a time in America when certain parties viewed marijuana as an evil substance, capable of compelling people to rape and murder. This was popularly chronicled in the 1936 anti-marijuana film Reefer Madness. In it, every character who smoked marijuana suffered tremendously, including one who was committed to an asylum “for the rest of his natural life” and deemed “criminally insane” from marijuana use.
Alarmist propaganda posters from the early 20th century warned users about the dangers of smoking marijuana. For example, a poster from 1942 depicts a large burning cigarette with the word “marijuana” emblazoned across it followed by condemning statements like: “Devil’s Harvest” and “The Smoke of Hell!”
Before it was deemed a tool of deviancy, the cannabis plant was the source of a variety of products including fiber. Marijuana was first utilized around 2727 BC in Central Asia before spreading to the Western hemisphere in the mid-16th century.
It was introduced to the U.S. in the early 20th century by Mexican immigrants who fled the violence of the Mexican Revolution. Brazilian and Caribbean sailors also brought marijuana to American shores when they docked in New Orleans. As the myth behind the substance goes, local jazz musicians got a hold of it and started smoking it.
The word “marijuana” has negative connotations. Prohibitionists who railed against the drug named it that to appeal to xenophobic sentiments about its origins and who used it.
Marijuana use was banned in the U.S. beginning with Utah in 1915. Thanks to the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, cannabis was placed under the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and made illegal.
In the 21st century, however, marijuana has gained legitimacy as a medicinal substance, as more and more states legalize it for that purpose. However, the DEA still designates it as a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning it has no accepted medical use in the U.S.
Why Marijuana is Still Dangerous
Highly Potent Concentrates
It is not uncommon for the marijuana of today to have THC levels around 13 percent. A few generations ago, however, levels were much lower. In the 1970s, for example, marijuana cigarettes had levels of no more than two percent.
And that is not all. A recent wave of extremely potent marijuana concentrates has astonishing levels of THC;some are up to four times stronger than what is considered “high-grade” marijuana.
The THC levels of these concentrates, which look like honey or butter, are between 40 to 80 percent, sometimes higher.
Concentrates can be added to food and beverages, or they can be smoked through an oil or water pipe. They go by several nicknames as well, such as dabs, budder, ear wax, butane hash oil, 710 (“OIL” flipped backward), black glass, and errl.
Marijuana concentrates can yield extremely intense physical and psychological effects like:
- Panic attacks
Concentrates can increase heart rate and blood pressure. They can also produce withdrawal and addiction symptoms.
Your standard marijuana is not as dangerous as concentrates, but it is still capable of producing harmful effects in the brain and body.
How It Affects The Brain
When marijuana enters the body, the THC travels from the lungs into the blood. Eventually, the chemical goes to the brain and “other” areas of the body. The THC goes on to stimulate receptors, which causes people to experience a high. It also alters the senses, changes mood, and impairs movement. In high enough doses, marijuana is potent enough to produce hallucinations, delusions, and even psychosis.
Long-term marijuana use can affect a users ability to feel pleased or excited about things because the brain’s reward center is dulled. It can also impact the area of the brain that governs short-term memory (the hippocampus). The result is that a user may not remember events and/or find it difficult to learn new things. Marijuana can also hamper decision-making ability due to how it influences the frontal lobes.
Because marijuana impairs motor skills and decision-making, it can cause people to have vehicular accidents as well.
Marijuana is especially damaging to young people. Teens who started smoking and abusing it lost an average of eight IQ points between the ages of 13 and 38, according to one study.
How It Affects The Body
Marijuana has been employed to relieve anxiety, pain, and insomnia. It has even been used in opioid addiction treatment. Despite these benefits, smoking marijuana is still harmful. Because people who smoke marijuana tend to inhale it more deeply than cigarette smoke. Deep inhalation can expose lungs to tar and other toxins.
Use of marijuana can also suppress the body’s immune functions, increasing the risk of infections. One study has indicated a link between marijuana use and increased susceptibility to cancer.
How It Affects Fertility
Long-term marijuana use can hurt the sexual function of a man, making it difficult for him to get and maintain an erection. Why? Because marijuana can diminish levels of testosterone. It also has the ability to hamper the nervous system, which can cause premature or delayed ejaculation.
Regular marijuana smokers were also twice as likely as non-smokers to have abnormal sperm in shape and size. According to research, users who smoked marijuana at least once a week experienced a reduced sperm count.
Women who smoke marijuana are at risk for incurring fertility issues. One journal article demonstrated a connection between marijuana use and abnormalities in the ovaries.
Marijuana Abuse Statistics
- More than half of new illicit drug users begin with marijuana, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
- According to Yahoo News and Marist Poll, 52 percent of Americans, 18 years or older, have tried marijuana at some point in their lives.
- There has been a fourfold increase in emergency department visits of patients with psychiatric complaints from cannabis in the state of Colorado, where recreational marijuana use is legal