The Real, Research-Backed Reasons Why (And How) Marijuana Can Hurt You

I don’t usually discuss my personal views on things such as recreational drugs on my blog, but I’ve always been anti-marijuana (and anti-drug in general) so this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me.

I have never used recreational drugs, never smoked or vaped ever, and I don’t drink (for the record, I have drank in the past but have never been drunk, and I’ve been officially sober since November 2019).

Unfortunately, it seems as though more people believe that marijuana isn’t harmful to human health (or environmental health), which is leading to an increased number of users.

That being said, I do recognize that using drugs and drinking are personal choices. I would argue that they should be informed choices, so let’s talk about how marijuana can influence the body, as well as my thoughts on cannabidiol (CBD) oil use.

Marijuana Use Can Permanently Alter Brain Function

Research published in the Journal of Neuroscience concludes that smoking as little as one to two joints can change gray matter in the brains of teenagers.

Yes, it was a small study—just 46 teens—but their brains showed more gray matter volume. The biggest changes were in the amygdala, which is involved in fear and other emotions, and in the hippocampus, which involves memory and spatial awareness.

But what does this mean?

The researchers aren’t sure, but the lead author of the study says that teenage brains undergo a process where it gets thinner as it refines synaptic connections, and they suspect that marijuana use disrupts this process.

Let’s look at a larger study.

1,037 individuals were followed from birth to 38 years old, establishing research criteria from before marijuana use started to well after a pattern of use had been established.

The research concluded that “persistent cannabis use was associated with neuropsychological decline broadly across domains of functioning, even after controlling for years of education”.

What does this mean, exactly?

It means that cannabis has a neurotoxic (meaning damage to the brain or nervous system) effect on the brain, and even after ceasing cannabis use, neuropsychological functioning (which is related to cognition and behavior) was not fully restored.

Negatively Impacts Fertility and Fetal Development

If you’re planning on having a baby, it’s best to stay away from marijuana for three reasons.

  1. Changes sperm DNA. The psychoactive component in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in marijuana alters the DNA of sperm. Again, this was a small study—24 people—but it showed that THC alters a DNA process that’s “essential to normal development”, although researchers aren’t yet clear on how this affects the children this sperm is responsible for.
  2. Problems for baby post-birth. Babies exposed to marijuana in the womb are not only more likely to have a low birth weight, but are more likely to need neonatal intensive care compared to babies whose mothers didn’t use marijuana during pregnancy.
  3. Children may be at an increased risk for behavioral issues. Women who smoked marijuana during pregnancy have been found to have children with behavioral problems, even after controlling for outside variables. Children exposed to marijuana in utero tend to be more impulsive, hyperactive, have lower IQs, and have an increased risk for memory and mental health problems.

Marijuana Use Can Also Affect Your Mental Health

Cannabis use “is likely” to increase the risk of developing disorders such as schizophrenia and social anxiety disorder, and may exacerbate symptoms of bipolar disorder. Heavy cannabis users are also more likely to report having suicidal thoughts.

In one study of 50,000 people, marijuana use during adolescence was associated with a 30 percent increased risk of developing schizophrenia. The higher the marijuana use, the higher the risk for schizophrenia.

Some research also notes an increased risk of depression with regular marijuana use, although other studies have not reached this conclusion. However, a recent study noted that people under the age of 18 who used marijuana were 37 percent more likely to experience depression in early adulthood than those that didn’t.

A small study of 43 people also noted changes in impulse control and hostility, including perceptions of hostility, for people when using marijuana.

Contains Many of the Same Carcinogens as Cigarettes (and Puts 4x More Tar in Your Lungs)

I’ve long argued that smoking marijuana is not better than smoking cigarettes by any means. People like to argue that marijuana is “natural” without having any research to back up their claims. Radon is natural too, but it’s the second-leading cause of lung cancer.

So what does research say when it comes to marijuana versus cigarettes?

More Tar in Your Lungs

Research concluded that smoking marijuana “results in a substantially greater respiratory burden of carbon monoxide and tar” than smoking a similar quantity of tobacco.

Marijuana also leads to four times the deposition of tar than cigarette smoking.

What does this mean? It means four times the amount of tar is being deposited into your lungs when you smoke marijuana than it would be if you were smoking cigarettes. Tar can take years to leave your lungs after you stop smoking, and the longer you smoke, the longer it’ll take for your body to remove the tar.

Higher Concentrations of Some Chemicals

Other research notes that marijuana and tobacco have many of the same chemicals. In fact, ammonia was up to 20 times greater in marijuana smoke than tobacco smoke (ammonia has a corrosive effect on the lungs and can lead to permanent lung damage).

Additional chemicals such as hydrogen cyanide were found at concentrations 3-5 times higher than those in tobacco smoke. Hydrogen cyanide is extremely poisonous at high levels and is used as a pesticide, and can affect the entire body.

Marijuana smoke also contains 50 percent more benzoprene (a potent cancer-causing chemical) and 75 percent more benzanthracene (also suspected to be a carcinogen) than cigarette smoke.

No, Marijuana Does Not Cure Cancer

And, surprise, marijuana (as well as CBD) does not cure cancer—in fact, with all the chemicals involved in smoking this plant, I’d say there’s a much higher chance that it actually causes cancer, although research has not yet proven this link. However, some studies have concluded that long-term cannabis use increases risk of lung cancer.

Not to Mention…

Some people argue that marijuana use helps alleviate chronic pain and reduce anxiety, among other claims.

I’m not arguing that marijuana doesn’t have these effects on people—but I would argue that there are alternatives to solving your problems than permanently damaging your brain, lungs, and body with a substance, and many of them are more “natural” than smoking marijuana.

With marijuana use, I find it hard to feel that people are actually addressing the root cause of their issue, and instead are covering it up or trying to treat it with marijuana, which, as we’ve seen, can cause even more problems in the body.

A Note on CBD

Of course, the use of isolated cannabidiol—a non-psychoactive component of marijuana—has been growing in popularity. While CBD has some promising results, I would argue that people shouldn’t be using it to the extent that they are, as research isn’t caught up enough for us to know its long-term effects.

Again, I’d argue that for many medical problems, there are healthier alternatives that we can take advantage of until further studies are done on CBD’s effect on the human body. Two of these alternatives are diet changes and herbs, which can dramatically influence chronic pain, anxiety, and even cancer.

Wrapping Up

With all this said, I would not advocate for marijuana use for anyone under any circumstances. I hate seeing how much misinformation there is out there about marijuana, and that’s not even to mention its negative effects on the environment, or how it can increase your risk for drug addiction.

Can we stop saying marijuana is harmless?

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