There are many reasons why cannabis can improve the quality of life of people: particularly for cancer patients or people with neurodegenerative diseases, or those who suffer from epilepsy, chronic pain, depression, PTSD or anxiety. But as it can happen with any powerful chemical substance, it should be handled carefully if we do not want to experience unwanted side effects or develop a chronic condition. In this article we will take a look at the possible side effects that can be caused by cannabis: the short and the long term, the positives and the negatives.
Short term effects
The psychotropic nature of cannabis is one issue that needs careful study. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC - the cannabinoid responsible for the "high" sensation -can cause momentary changes in perception, emotion, and cognition. Feelings of exhilaration, relaxation, or enhanced sensory perception may result from these effects, and as a consequence, a better understanding of any nonverbal communication between two people, and thus a greater sense of empathy. But in large doses it can also lead to some individuals experiencing heightened levels of anxiety, restlessness, or feelings of unease after consuming cannabis. The psychoactive effects of THC can also produce difficulty to concentrate, reduce our attention span, and the ability to retain new information.
Lack of research
It is worth mentioning that because the legality of marijuana has been severely discussed for the past decades, research in the field hasn't been extensive: no one wants to put the money in researching a substance that can't be sold in the legal market. And the little scientific testing that has been done was mostly funded by grants and universities, and personal funds from individuals. This means that the long term effects produced by the use of cannabis is unknown in certain areas and still needs further research to be completely determined.
Thankfully, there is a wind of change that has been hitting the regulations on cannabis consumption at a world level. More countries every year legalize or decriminalize the usage of different derivatives of the marijuana plant for medicinal or recreational purposes. For example in Spain, we have the possibility to access government approved institutions, called "asociaciones" or weed clubs, where we can consume cannabis legally. Particularly here, in Barcelona, there is a thriving cannabis scene: the city is famous for its weed dispensaries and for having one of the best menus of high quality marijuana due to its ideal weather for the growth of the plant.
Long term effects
Now thanks to this changed perspective, the budget invested in scientific research regarding marijuana has increased considerably this past decade, and there are many things that we do know about the long term implications of cannabis.
The positive side of the long term effects of cannabis can be seen the most in people who are struggling with a health condition, perhaps anxiety, depression or chronic pain, since it has been proved that the cannabinoids can help a lot in those situations. It can also improve the quality of life of cancer patients, by alleviating the symptoms of chemotherapy, decreasing inflammation, nausea and vomit, and it also reduces the frequency of seizures in patients with epilepsy.
It is believed that an irresponsible use of cannabis, particularly during adolescence, may have a future impact on cognitive functions such as memory, attention, and learning. It is worth mentioning that the extent and reversibility of these effects are still a topic of debate among researchers.
There is also the risk associated with any smoking activity, regardless of the substance: respiratory issues. Our body is not designed to inhale smoke with frequency and a long term or intense use of this way of administering cannabis can lead to chronic problems such as bronchitis and lung irritation.
Finally, while the addiction potential of cannabis is generally lower compared to substances like alcohol or opioids, long-term use can lead to cannabis use disorder (CUD) in susceptible individuals. And, in some extreme cases, physical dependence can occur when our brain receptors become accustomed to receiving cannabinoids from external sources periodically, and decrease the production of the body's own endocannabinoids.
Overall, we can say there are many benefits to the use of cannabis as long as it is done responsibly. This means being careful with the frequency and the dosage of our consumption, and being alert to any signs of possible side effects or psychological dependence that we may start to experience. If you have any doubts about the effects that marijuana may be having on your body don't hesitate to consult your healthcare provider, or if you feel you have developed a strong tolerance to it, it is never a bad idea to take a small break.