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A Look Inside the High: The Effects of Marijuana

April 14, 2017


Let's be honest, everybody likes to get high. Your friends, your parents, the vegan Buddhist yoga instructor next door that prefers a "natural euphoria": they all like getting high. Odds are, they're probably smoking right now and you didn't even know it. Better hurry dude, it's almost 4:20.


But seriously, many people in America are using marijuana to get high. In fact, the latest Gallup poll says 13% of adults are currently using marijuana, which is up from the 7% that reported current use in 2013. Though that number may seem a little low, the numbers are only increasing, particularly among young people. 43% of adults says they've at least tried it, which is crazy to think about when you discover that just 4% of people said the same thing in 1969. 


But what does getting high actually do? Now that people are reporting use more than ever before, shouldn't we first know what the effects of the drug are?


Let's uncover what's actually making you reach for that tenth bag of Takis and outline what's going on behind your bloodshot eyes every time you light up.


The Short-Term Effects


After smoking, vaping, or dabbing marijuana, the effects of the drug occur almost instantaneously as the plant's compounds pass through the lungs and reach the bloodstream. Ingesting weed edibles takes a little longer, with affects percolating within 30 minutes to an hour. 


Unlike other drugs, marijuana has multiple active ingredients that combine to produce the effects that we've come to analyze. These active ingredients are called cannabinoids and they already exist in small quantities in parts of your brain involved with cognitive function, movement control, and coordination memory and learning.  Using marijuana increases your brain's cannabinoid level to put your neurons in overdrive, preventing them from the break periods they usually experience after firing. The negative short-term affects of cannabinoid overload can include impaired memory, difficulty with thinking and problem solving, and impaired body movement. These symptoms subside within 3 to 4 hours after initial use. 


Cannabinoids have also been found to increase dopamine and norepinephrine levels, which are responsible for the feelings of euphoria, pain modulation, and general enhancement of experience. The only downside to increasing these neurotransmitter levels is that they can cause anxiety. Again, these symptoms last 3-4 hours after initial use. 


Long-Term Effects


This is where it gets a little tricky. The thing is, we don't know for sure what the long-term effects of marijuana are. There is a lot of conflicting data and since the drug has been illegal in much of the world, there hasn't been much research on what it's long term effects are.


Many who oppose marijuana and fear it's long term effects turn to the infamous 2012 New Zealand study that linked early adolescent use with an 8 point drop in IQ. Though the cognitive decline only occurred in 5% of teens who started heavy marijuana use before the age of 18, this study sparked great paranoia in the public perception of the drug. The same study found no IQ drop if the adolescents began smoking after the age of 18.


A study published just last year by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, however, contradicts the New Zealand study. By comparing marijuana use between adolescent twins, they found "no evidence of a dose-response relationship between frequency of use and intelligence quotient (IQ) change." This study suggests that observed declines in IQ may be the result of genetic factors that underlie marijuana initiation and lack of intellectual drive.


The same group of researchers from the New Zealand study put out a later study just last year in JAMA Psychiatry and found that teeth health was the only significant physical health consequence of prolonged marijuana use. Dr. Kevin Hill admitted, "There are definitely health risks associated with heavy marijuana use, but there just aren’t as many as we previously thought."


These findings have been contradicted, again, after a study involving THC exposure to rate before, during, and after adolescents show "notable problems with specific learning and memory tasks later in life." Some studies, too, have found links between prolonged marijuana use and the pathology of mental disorders like psychosis and schizophrenia. Again, these findings are still disputed


What we know for sure is that the effects of marijuana are complex and far reaching. We won't know exactly what the long-term effects of marijuana are until we have enough time to study them. I'd suggest waiting to smoke your first joint until after adolescence but other than that, it's all up in the air. It's up to you to decide.




Now read about why weed gives you the munchies!

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