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The Effects of Long-Term Pot Smoking

Marijuana, or "pot," is a mixture of dried, shredded leaves, stems, seeds and flowers of the hemp plant Cannabis sativa, according to Drugs.com 12. It is usually smoked, but some users cook it into foods. The main active chemical in marijuana is called THC, which is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol 1. Marijuana remains the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States 1. It is believed to cause many effects if used long-term, including respiratory problems, heart effects, cancer and psycho-social disorders.

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Respiratory Problems

The National Institute on Drug Abuse, or NIDA, states that numerous studies have shown marijuana to be an irritant to the lungs 13. Pot smokers, like cigarette smokers, can have symptoms such as:

  • a daily cough
  • increased phlegm production
  • more frequent acute chest illnesses
  • a greater risk of lung infections

The American Academy of Family Physicians, or the AAFP, reports that chronic use of marijuana results in epithelial damage to the trachea and lung airways 14.

Heart Effects

Marijuana's Effects on Circulatory System

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Drugs.com reports of a study published in "Molecular Psychiatry," which found that “smoking marijuana increases the body’s production of a protein that raises levels of blood fats associated with heart attack[s]." Dr. Jean Lud Cadet, the lead author of the report, said that the finding helps explain the increased risk of cardiovascular problems found in previous studies of marijuana 125. However, Dr. Christopher Granger, a professor at Duke University disagrees with this study, stating that the research group was small and the findings were not definitive. Dr. Kenneth Mukamal of Harvard Medical School concurs, claiming that marijuana's effects on the heart remain uncertain 1. He says that the drug may trigger heart attacks, but in mice it was shown to prevent atherosclerosis. It is still a debate.

Cancer

Marijuana smoke contains 50 to 70 percent more carcinogenic substances than tobacco smoke, says NIDA 1. Pot smokers also inhale more deeply and hold their breath longer, which increases the lungs’ exposure to carcinogenic smoke. A study done by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and published in the online journal “Cancer” seems to have found that frequent and/or long-term users of marijuana had an increased risk of testicular cancer 1. Chronic pot exposure has multiple adverse effects on the endocrine and reproductive systems. The authors speculate that marijuana use may disrupt the natural cancer-protection responses usually present in the male reproductive system 1.

Psycho-Social

The Long Term and Short Term Effects of Marijuana Use

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Long-term use of marijuana can affect psychological and social functioning 1. The AAFP states that long-term use of pot may lead to subtle cognitive deficits. Drugs.com says that excessive, daily use of marijuana appears to affect memory, judgment and perception, and learning and attention skills might also be impaired 125. They report on a published study in “Archives of General Psychology” that showed that long-term heavy pot use causes significant brain injury, memory loss and psychotic symptoms such as delusions, paranoia and bizarre social behaviors.

The Wrap Up

Marijuana, or "pot," is a mixture of dried, shredded leaves, stems, seeds and flowers of the hemp plant Cannabis sativa, according to Drugs.com2. The American Academy of Family Physicians, or the AAFP, reports that chronic use of marijuana results in epithelial damage to the trachea and lung airways4. Dr. Jean Lud Cadet, the lead author of the report, said that the finding helps explain the increased risk of cardiovascular problems found in previous studies of marijuana25. A study done by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and published in the online journal “Cancer” seems to have found that frequent and/or long-term users of marijuana had an increased risk of testicular cancer. The AAFP states that long-term use of pot may lead to subtle cognitive deficits.

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