Psychology, Science, Smoke/Vice

What The Science Says: The Dangers of Marijuana

Marijuana is quickly going mainstream. Pot has become a billion dollar industry, growing by leaps and bounds. More states are looking to legalize marijuana medically, with several others leaning toward recreational legalization as well. While the nation once ran on hooch, these days it’s sativa in the spotlight. This increased availability can cause some health concerns, as the risks or marijuana are relatively unknown. They would be better known had the government allowed for greater scientific inquiry, but it seems legality trumps actual knowledge.

What is known in the small window of study devoted to cannabis, is that the overall benefits generally outweigh the potential harm. That’s speaking on a grand, social scale. Individuals will find a wide range of variance in their experience. Here’s a breakdown of what cannabis claims are supported by data.

Chronic vs. Casual Use

Before discussing the potential pitfalls of pot, it’s imperative to know the difference between casual and chronic use. This can also be the line between use and abuse of marijuana.

Casual Use is defined as smoking on occasion, usually once a week or less. This is based on circumstance, naturally. The more smoking sessions per week, the closer someone comes to chronic use.

At the Chronic Use stage, you’re often dependent on marijuana for moods. Usually the aptly-named chronic users smoke every day, or multiple times during the week.

The closer you come to smoking like a chronic user, the more problems marijuana causes. While casual use is beneficial, chronic use quickly declines into abuse, addiction, increased mental illness, harmful lung issues, and exacerbation of existing conditions.

Marijuana and Mental Health

As a psychedelic, marijuana seems to have the most profound effect on a person’s mental state. Marijuana use has been tied to suicide, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. The trouble is, it’s not clear whether the diseases led to use, or the use is caused by the disease. Phrased another way, it’s unknown if people who are more likely to suffer from mental illness smoke marijuana, or if marijuana smoking can exacerbate mental illness.

Several study participants claimed they smoked marijuana to ease the emotional discomfort that comes from suffering with depression, anxiety, or other common mental ailments. When used to treat acute, short-term symptoms, cannabis is effective in this way. It is far less effective – and even damaging – to treat these conditions over an extended period of time.

When used on a repeated basis to alleviate mood and/or stress, marijuana showed a decline in effectiveness. This decline ultimately led to greater issues with mental health commensurate with the level of marijuana being consumed. In small doses, it works well to combat common mood afflictions. When those problems are deeper seated illness, marijuana acted as a catalyst to make the problems worse, often adding painful substance dependency to the mix.

Ongoing conditions such as anxiety or depression do not respond well to cannabis as a long-term method of treatment. Bipolarity and schizophrenia are likewise symptomatically increased by cannabis overuse. Sufferers of these conditions should generally avoid cannabis as a means of treatment.

If you feel you might be smoking to cope with mental illness, seek a physician’s assistance immediately. You’re likely to be digging a deeper hole by ‘medicating’ with maryjane.

Lung Disease

The quickest comparison in the world is between tobacco and marijuana. Though they are both smokable herbs, they’re hugely different. Which means their effects on the lungs are widely different.

While tobacco – particularly commercially processed tobacco as found in cigarettes – has tar in it, marijuana does not. This alone accounts for a major difference in the hazards that come from smoking.

Casual marijuana smoking was actually found to increase the lung function of smokers for a span of days to weeks after smoking. The stimulation from the smoking experience helped relieve mild congestion and facilitate deeper breathing. These effects seem to be wide-reaching, so casual smokers will find better breathing ability than those who do not smoke.

As is the case with marijuana, chronic smoking shows the opposite effect. Though cannabis leaves few carcinogens in the lungs compared to cigarettes, there are still airborne impurities that need to be purged periodically from the lungs. Casual smokers purge these between smoke sessions – usually within a day or two. Chronic smokers do not, and end up with increased phlegm, more lung irritation, and greater scarring of lung tissue from use.

Inhaling smoke is still an irritant, and chronic smokers do not allot sufficient time for their lugs to heal. This leads to scarring in the lungs, trachea, esophagus, and larynx. It can lead to lung disease, increased risk of lung cancer, lowered lung function, decreased breathing over time, and facilitates the development of other respiratory issues.


As with lung disease, cancer didn’t show the same link with cannabis as is found in other forms of smoking, particularly cigarette smoking. Though there’s many types of cancer, it is certain that cancer of the esophagus, prostate, cervix, penis, bladder, or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are not tied to smoking marijuana.

There is no direct evidence linking any type of cancer to cannabis consumption. There is a small chance of increased risk to testicular cancer, but even that is statistically unlikely, and affected by other factors outside of marijuana more heavily than smoking itself.

Heart Disease

Per usual, heart disease risks seemed lower in casual smokers than the average population. There’s absolutely no evidence that marijuana affects the heart, though some studies suggest that in the hour immediately after smoking, heart attack risks may increase slightly. It has also been found that long-term abuse or heavy smoking can lead to a higher resting heart rate and potential cardiac issues.

Driving While Impaired

True Cannabis, not CBD marijuana, has intoxicating effects, even to those acclimated to its effects. It is never safe to operate a vehicle while under this kind of intoxication. Risks of being involved in a car accident rose by 20 to 30 percent among people who smoked marijuana prior to operating an automobile. Though this is less significant than alcohol by a wide margin, there is still increased risk of mixing commuter transportation and that sweet weed, brother.

Toking While Pregnant

A few direct links have been shown to appear when studying mothers who smoke cannabis with a fetus in utero. Babies are more likely to be born early, and underweight if the mother smokes marijuana while pregnant. Beyond that, the babies seem to be healthy, with normal mental and physical function.

The potential risks and harm that can come to a child being born prematurely are wide and varied, and can lead to death of the infant. So smoke smart if you’re big with child.


The simple answer, judging by what studies can actually conclude, is that marijuana is largely safe so long as you don’t drive, don’t smoke every day, and aren’t cooking a bun in your lady oven.


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