Whether youâre an evening bowl-smoker or swear by CBDâs healing powers, marijuana is becoming ever-more available (and de-stigmatized) in the United States. As of now, 33 states plus D.C. have legalized marijuana in one way or another; Trumpâs down for a bill; hell, everyone from grandmas to athletes are toking.
So the question on everyoneâs minds: Is weed bad for you? âIt depends,â says Gary L. Wenk, Ph.D., a professor at The Ohio State University who has written extensively about the effects of medical marijuana and teaches psychopharmacology.
Marijuanaâs a complicated topic. First, itâs filled with hundreds of different cannabinoids, chemical compounds in the marijuana plant. Two biggies: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), marijuanaâs main psychoactive, mind-altering ingredient makes you high and CBD, a.k.a. Cannabidiol, the plantâs buzzy non-psychoactive ingredient, touted for its healing health benefits.
Both THC and CBD have been shown to preliminary health benefits, says Wenk. But different mechanisms for delivery â smoking, vaping, edibles, skincare products, coffees â only complicate the issue.
Case in point: Smokingâs not great for your lungs â period. And while CBD shows promise when it comes to treating pain (a much-needed pick-me-up in the midst of the opioid epidemic?), Wenk notes that its powers have been overstated.
Plus, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance, which means itâs been hard to study.
In the coming years, more quality research will (hopefully) start filling in the gaps of what we donât know about marijuana. For now? Hereâs the good and the bad about what we do know.
If you feel like youâve got a 24/7 loogie to hock, toking could be to blame. The semi-good news? It isnât clear whether this leads to more serious issues, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); lung, head, and neck cancer; asthma; or reduced lung function.
Sometimes Momâs right â including when it comes to horrors of teenage smoking. âYoung brains are much more likely to respond badly to repeated exposure to moderate to high daily levels of marijuana,â says Wenk. âThe young brain appears to develop inappropriately and places the user, independent of genetics, at risk of psychiatric disorders later in life.â Puberty seems to be an especially horrible sweet-spot for the negative side effects of weed.
Hereâs a myth you probably heard from your high school guidance counselor: Weed makes you psychotic. The reality? If you carry a genetic risk for psychosis, daily use of high doses of marijuana will likely unmask symptoms, Wenk explains. âEveryone who decides to use marijuana has to ask themselves: Do they feel lucky? Do they carry the risky genes? The answer is almost always âI donât know,ââ says Wenk.
And it gets worse: If you have bipolar disorder, near-daily smoking could worsen mania-like symptoms, some research finds, and heavy users may also have more thoughts of suicide more often than non-users, another study indicated.
Itâs not reefer madness: Chronic smoking (three to five times daily for several years) can, in some cases, lead to a rare condition called cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS). The symptoms? Horrific bouts of days-long vomiting and abdominal pain, followed by the uncontrollable urge to take a hot shower or bath, which seems to reduce nausea. Doctors still donât know exactly what causes CHS â it may be cannabinoid receptors gone haywire or autonomic nervous system issues.
Ninety-four percent of Coloradian medical marijuana ID card holders indicate âsevere painâ as their reason for seeking the drug. And even though a script for chronic pain doesnât always, well, indicate chronic pain, itâs still the number one reason patients ask for marijuana.
Even more: People with chronic pain who took cannabis or cannabinoids saw reductions in their pain, according to a 2017 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. CBD and other cannabinoids act through a unique pain pathway called the endocannabinoid system, which is why weâre excited about CBD cream for post-workout recovery.
Cannabinoid creams may help treat skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and atopic and contact dermatitis, according to a review from the University of Colorado. Researchers attribute these results to the compoundâs anti-inflammatory properties, which could soothe itchy, irritated skin.
People with MS often suffer from muscle spasticity, stiffness which causes involuntary muscle spasms. Sativex (nabiximols), an oral spray derived from cannabis, is marketed to reduce this problem and the drug is available in other countries. Itâs currently in Phase 3 testing in the United States.
This past June, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also approved Epidiolex, an oral CBD solution for the treatment of seizures linked to two rare, severe forms of epilepsy.
Add THC and CBD to chemotherapy drugs and what do you get? Possibly, an even more effective cancer treatment, according to research out of the University of London. Chemotherapy with cannabinoids was more effective than chemotherapy alone, which meant patients could take a lower dose and faced fewer side effects in the study.
Beyond this, cannabinoids are already at work fighting chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting. Marinol (dronabinol) and Cesamet (nabilone), synthetic cannabinoids, are FDA-approved options for relief from chemotherapy-related nausea when conventional drugs fail, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Take a look at the National Institute on Drug Abuseâs (NIDA) overdose death rates. Each year, opioids, cocaine, benzos, and meth take tens of thousands of lives. Marijuana? Not even a mention. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) even says that âa fatal overdose is unlikely.â But donât hit the bong just yet. Excess of anything is never a good idea. Signs of overuse include extreme confusion, anxiety, paranoia, delusions and hallucinations, severe nausea and vomiting, and unintentional injury, CDC warns. Marijuana use also increases your risk of being involved in a car accident, research finds.