Marijuana has increased in potency dramatically over the last decades. With an increase in potency have come great increases in the numbers of people addicted to the drug, who smoke every day or more than once a day, and through their heavy consumption are at risk for a number of serious health conditions.
Marijuana is not as harmful as certain other drugs, and you would be far worse off with an addiction to heroin, to crystal meth, or even as an alcoholic, but simply because other drugs are more harmful does not lessen the impact of frequent smoking, and you do put your health at risk with this type of abuse.
Some of the health risks of marijuana include.
Risks to the heart
Studies have shown that for the first hour after smoking marijuana you are at 4 times the risk to experience a heart attack (*1). It elevates blood pressure and heart rate and decreases the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen to and from the heart, putting strain on the muscle. A heart attack in healthy individuals is unlikely, but for those already at risk for cardiac problems, smoking marijuana can be deadly.
Risks to the lungs
Marijuana smoke contains 50% to 100% more carcinogens than does cigarette smoke, putting these smokers at risk for a lot of the same types of cancers as for tobacco smokers. Additionally, because marijuana smokers tend to inhale more deeply and hold the smoke in their lungs for longer, they may increase their harmful exposure to these carcinogens.
Studies have shown that frequent marijuana smokers are at greater risk for acute lung infections, cough, increased phlegm production and blocked airways (2). Marijuana smokers also require more sick days from work and endure more frequent health problems than non marijuana or tobacco smokers.
Effects on the immune system
Clinical studies show that marijuana, and particularly the THC in marijuana, reduces the effectiveness of the immune system (3). It seems to reduce the disease fighting action of the white blood cells, and in animal studies, mice exposed to THC were more likely to develop tumors and infections.
Recent research has also shown that medical marijuana used for AIDS patients to stimulate appetite may be causing problematic decreases in already weakened immune functioning.
If you smoke it very occasionally, you are at low risk for any serious health complications from your use; but if you smoke with frequency, and particularly if you smoke daily or more, you should be concerned about the chronic health effects of your habit.
Marijuana is addictive, and if you cannot stop on your own, you may want to consider getting some professional help to assist you in breaking your dependency.
1 Mittleman MA, Lewis RA, Maclure M, et al. Triggering myocardial infarction by marijuana. Circulation 103(23):2805-2809, 2001.)
2 Tashkin DP. Pulmonary complications of smoked substance abuse. West J Med 152(5):525-530, 1990.
3 Adams IB, Martin BR: Cannabis: pharmacology and toxicology in animals and humans. Addiction 91(11):1585-1614, 1996.