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What Happens If You Smoke Marijuana?

Reactions with pot can vary widely

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Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Sean Gallup Collection / Getty Images News

The reaction you may have when trying marijuana can vary dramatically based on many factors.   Some people report not feeling anything at all when they smoke marijuana. In other cases, people report feeling relaxed or “high.”

Some people who use marijuana report having sudden feelings of anxiety and paranoid thoughts and that might be caused by trying a higher potency marijuana, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.  

Research also shows that regular use of marijuana is linked to an increased risk of depression, anxiety and a loss of motivation or drive.   You may feel “dopey” on the drug, which is when you begin to lose interest in activities that you might have previously enjoyed or you may lose the ability to grasp concepts easily.

Short-Term Discomforts of Using Weed

The effects of using marijuana can be unpredictable, especially when it is mixed with other drugs, research shows. You may feel relaxed on the drug, but other things you might not be expecting with pot use can include rapid heart rate and other unpleasantries.  

  • Dry mouth
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Loss of coordination
  • Accelerated heart rate

Short-Term Hazards

As with any drug or substance that can alter perception, logic and usual behavior, there are several short-term hazards of using marijuana from impairing driving abilities to memory loss.  

  • Learning difficulties
  • Lack of attention and focus
  • Poor driving skills
  • Anxiety and paranoia
  • Impaired memory
  • Difficulty in thinking

Long-Term Hazards

Any drug that is taken over a prolonged period of time can have an effect on your health. Several of the physical barriers that can occur range from infertility problems to overall brain functions.  

  • An increased risk of developing lung, head, and neck cancers
  • Lack of motivation
  • Decreased sperm count in men
  • Irregular menstruation in women
  • Respiratory problems
  • Heightened risk of infections, especially the lungs
  • Poor short-term memory recall
  • Inability to shift attention normally
  • Inability to understand complex information​

Unpredictable Reactions

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that marijuana can affect each person differently according to their own body chemistry and the type of pot used.   Some people can use weed and never have any negative reactions while others may try it and get entirely freaked out by the experience.

  • Your biology (genetic makeup)
  • Marijuana’s strength (amount of active ingredient THC)
  • Previous experience with the drug
  • How it’s taken (smoked versus ingested)
  • Whether alcohol or other drugs are taken too​

Not Your Grandfather’s Pot

Studies have found that the marijuana available today is much different in terms of potency compared to what was generally available in the 1960s when the use of the drug became widespread in the United States.  

Today’s strains of the plant contain much more of the active ingredient in marijuana: tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, researchers say.   That makes today’s weed much more potent than that smoked by the hippies and flower children of the Woodstock generation.

How marijuana affects the individual user depends on many different factors, including body chemistry and the potency of the drug.

9 Things Smoking Weed Does to Your Body

When it comes to polarizing health topics, few subjects spark more debate than weed (except maybe CrossFit or the Paleo Diet). Can it improve your health? Lower stress? Make you more forgetful? Even make you thinner?

The science is still, well, hazy—but some research is starting to give us an idea of what exactly weed does to the human body.

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For instance: Toking up regularly could dull your emotional response and cause addiction, according to a marijuana study from the University of Michigan Health System. Researchers analyzed 108 people in their early 20s (69 men and 39 women), all of whom were taking part in a larger study of substance use. In the study, participants sat in an MRI while they played a game, in which they pressed a button when they saw a target on a computer screen cross in front of them. Before each round, they were told they could win 20 cents or $5—or they might lose that amount, or have no reward or loss. Scientists assessed the moment of anticipation (a.k.a. when volunteers knew they could get a few dollars richer).

Now, you’d think getting free money would be cause for excitement, but scientists found the more marijuana use volunteers reported, the less their reward centers were activated.

“Over time, marijuana use was associated with a lower response to a monetary reward,” study author and neuroscientist Mary Heitzeg, Ph.D, said in a press release. “This means that something that would be rewarding to most people was no longer rewarding to them, suggesting but not proving that their reward system has been ‘hijacked’ by the drug, and that they need the drug to feel reward—or that their emotional response has been dampened.”

That’s not all. Smoking weed might also be more addicting than you think.

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“Some people may believe that marijuana is not addictive or that it’s ‘better’ than other drugs that can cause dependence,” Heitzeg said. “But this study provides evidence that it’s affecting the brain in a way that may make it more difficult to stop using it. It changes your brain in a way that may change your behavior, and where you get your sense of reward from.”

To be fair: Even if one scientific study suggests that marijuana might help your bones grow or hurt your short-term memory, that doesn’t necessarily make it true. All this research is still developing, and it’ll be a long time before we know anything for sure about weed’s effects on the human body. Still, it’s good to know where the science is heading.

Find out all the other ways—good and bad—marijuana could be influencing your health.

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Find out 9 ways marijuana could be influencing your health. The science is still hazy—but research is giving us an idea of what weed does to the body. ]]>