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You Are Here >> UA Tests (Urine Drug Test Home Page) >> Drug Information Home Page >>Marijuana Information >> Effects of Marijuana Use On The Body

Effects of Marijuana Use On The Body

The use of marijuana can produce adverse physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral changes. Marijuana can be addictive. Marijuana smoke, like cigarette smoke, can harm the lungs. The use of marijuana can impair short-term memory, verbal skills, judgment, and distort perception. Marijuana use can weaken the immune system and possibly increase a user’s likelihood of developing cancer. Profound negative effects upon development can be seen in very young teen users. Marijuana home drug test kits provide extremely accurate results and easily detect marihuana use.

When someone smokes marijuana, THC rapidly passes from the lungs into the bloodstream, which carries the chemical to organs throughout the body, including the brain. Within a few minutes after inhaling marijuana smoke, an individual’s heart begins beating more rapidly, the bronchial passages relax and become enlarged, and blood vessels in the eyes expand, making the eyes look red. The heart rate, normally 70 to 80 beats per minute, may increase by 20 to 50 beats per minutes, or in some cases, even double. Once in the brain, the THC connects to specific sites called cannabinoid receptors on nerve cells and thereby influences the activity of those cells. Some brain areas have many cannabinoid receptors; others have few or none. Many cannabinoid receptors are found in the parts of the brain that influence pleasure, memory, thought, concentration, sensory and time perception, and coordinated movement. The effects begin immediately after the drug enters the brain and can last from 1 to 3 hours. The THC in the brain causes the user to fell euphoric – or “high” – by acting in the brain’s reward system. These areas of the brain respond to stimuli such as food and drinks as well as most drugs of abuse. THC activates this system by stimulating brain cells to release the chemical dopamine.

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If marijuana is consumed in food or drink, the short-term effects begin more slowly, usually in a half to one hour. These effects can last longer however, up to four hours. Smoking marijuana deposits several times more THC into the blood than does eating or drinking the drug.

A marijuana user may experience pleasant sensations, colors and sounds may appear to be more intense, and time seems to pass very slowly. The user’s mouth feels dry, and he or she may suddenly become very hungry and thirsty. The hands may tremble and grow cold. The euphoria passes after awhile and then the user may feel sleepy or depressed. Occasionally, marijuana use produces anxiety, fear, distrust, or panic.

Heavy marijuana use impairs a person’s ability to form memories, recall events, or shift attention from one thing to another. THC also disrupts coordination and balance by binding to receptors in the cerebellum and basal ganglia – the parts of the brain that regulate balance, posture, coordination of movement, and reaction time.

Marijuana users who have taken high doses of the drug may experience acute toxic psychosis, which includes hallucinations, delusions, and depersonalization (a loss of the sense of personal identity or self-recognition). Although the specific causes of these symptoms is still unknown, they appear to occur more frequently when a high dose of cannabis is consumed in food or drink rather than smoked.

Even infrequent marijuana use can cause burning and stinging of the mouth and throat, often accompanied by a heavy cough. Someone who smokes marijuana regularly may have many of the same respiratory problems that tobacco smokers do, such as a daily cough and phlegm production, more frequent acute chest illnesses, a heightened risk of lung infections, and a greater tendency toward obstructed airways. A study of 450 individuals found that people who smoke marijuana frequently but do not smoke tobacco have more health problems and miss more days of work than nonsmokers do. Many of the extra sick days used by the marijuana smokers in the study were for respiratory illnesses.

Marijuana has the potential to promote cancer of the lungs and other parts of the respiratory tract because it contains irritants and carcinogens. The enzymes produced during the smoking of marijuana convert certain hydrocarbons into their carcinogenic form, frequently at levels that may accelerate the changes that ultimately produce malignant cells. Marijuana users usually inhale more deeply and hold their breath longer than tobacco smokers do, which increases the lungs’ exposure to carcinogenic smoke.

THC impairs the immune system’s ability to fight off infectious diseases and cancers. In laboratory experiments that exposed animal and human cells to THC or other marijuana ingredients, the normal disease-preventing reactions of many key types of immune cells were inhibited. In other studies, mice exposed to THC or related substances were more likely than unexposed mice to develop bacterial infections and tumors.

One study indicated that a person’s risk for heart attack during the first hour after smoking marijuana is four times his or her usual risk. The researchers suggest that a heart attack might occur, in part, because marijuana raises blood pressure and heart rate and reduces the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood.

Through the effects of THC on the brain and body, marijuana intoxication can cause accidents. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), a system for monitoring the health impact of drugs, estimated that in 2002, marijuana was a contributing factor in over 119,000 emergency department visits; with about 15 percent of the patients being between 12 and 17 years of age, and approximately two-thirds of which were male. Further studies show that approximately 6 to 11 percent of fatal accident victims test positive for THC. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducted a study and showed that a moderate dose of marijuana alone impaired driving performance. The effects of even a low dose of marijuana combined with alcohol were markedly greater than either drug alone. Driving indices measured included reaction time, visual search frequency (driver checking side streets), and the ability to perceive and or respond to changes in the relative velocity of other vehicles.

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