Many people new to cannabis worry about the negative long term side-effects which might occur, which is why we at Herbal Bubble aim to provide you with a two sided view on cannabis – benefits and risks. The potential harmful effects of cannabis should not be completely ignored.
This article is not intended to scare you from ever using cannabis – The long term side-effects of cannabis are not permanent (are reversible), and only a small percentage of frequent users will experience some of the negative long term effects. The medical benefits of cannabis definitely outweigh the potential risks.
To mitigate the risks of developing any of the long term side-effects discussed in this article, you should avoid frequently using cannabis until after your brain has finished developing (early-mid 20s) and take “tolerance breaks” every couple of months.
Cannabis is a drug and should be treated with respect. Believing the old propaganda and misconceptions of cannabis only creates more harm.
Short term side-effects of cannabis
The short term side-effects of cannabis use is largely dependent on the cannabinoid profile of the strain which you are consuming.
The most common short term side-effects of cannabis high in THC include:
- Dry mouth
- Red eyes
- Slow reaction times
- Hunger “Munchies”
- Memory impairment (more so in new users than seasoned users)
The short term effects listed above are only temporary and will wear off as the chemicals from cannabis are broken down by your body.
Long term side-effects of cannabis
As stated at the beginning of this article, the long term side-effects of cannabis are not permanent. I.e. When a chronic cannabis user stops consuming cannabis, the negative side-effects will wear off.
Consuming medical grade cannabis strains (cannabis containing higher percentages of CBD than normal “street weed”) are less likely to result in the negative effects below occurring – THC, the cannabinoid responsible for the “high” from weed does have medical benefits, but is also contributes to the long term side-effects.
Both THC and CBD produce feelings of relaxation and sleepiness, with the effects of THC being much stronger than that of CBD. THC has been scientifically proven to induce sleep.
Prolonged cannabis use can cause insomnia, even if you did not suffer from insomnia prior to using cannabis. You’ll only have trouble falling asleep when you stop using cannabis after an extended period of use. You may experience insomnia for up to two weeks – until the body is completely clean of THC.
Another negative effect of using cannabis in order to induce sleep, is that your body will not go through sufficient REM sleep, which is a vital part of the sleep process.
To counteract developing insomnia from cannabis use, try to avoid using cannabis 2-3 hours before going to bed.
While it is true that many people use cannabis to treat anxiety in the short term, a small percentage of cannabis users are susceptible to developing chronic anxiety – even after the cannabis has worn off, they still feel anxious.
There are various factors which can contribute to developing anxiety. The higher the percentage of THC in the cannabis used, the more likely you are to develop anxiety. Statistically, frequency of use and high doses of cannabis also mean you are more likely to develop anxiety.
To combat cannabis induced anxiety, the most logical answer would be to have a tolerance break of a few months, or until you feel back to your normal self.
In the short term, cannabis is effective in treating depression: Cannabis reacts with our bodies endocannabinoid system, which is responsible for feelings of well-being and happiness. However, excessive use of high THC cannabis can exasperate depression.
If you are self medicating with cannabis for depression, you should be cautious that you do not over-consume. There is a phenomena known as Amotivational Syndrome, where a chronic cannabis user becomes socially withdrawn and performs well below their usual/expected capacity.
While a chronic cannabis user may feel relief from the symptoms of depression, they are also likely to lose motivation for daily life, which in the long run can become detrimental to their overall health and condition.
Micro dosing is a good way to take the edge off symptoms of depression, without worsening your condition. Similar to cannabis use and anxiety, choosing a strain with a THC content as low as possible and a high CBD content is a good idea – strains high in CBD won’t make you feel a “stoned” high, which in turn will not cause you to become lethargic, lose motivation and drive for everyday life.
Statistically, around 10% of frequent cannabis users become dependent. Further to that, you are also far more likely to form a dependence on cannabis if you start consuming frequently before your brain has finished developing – your early to mid 20s.
Frequent cannabis users are more likely to become dependent when consuming high THC cannabis rather than cannabis high in CBD – CBD has been found to be effective in treating addictive behaviors.
Another factor to consider: If you are suffering from depression or anxiety and are self medicating with cannabis, you may develop a psychological dependence where you start thinking that you need cannabis to feel normal. If you start feeling like you need cannabis for any reason, you should definitely consider having a break of a few weeks to a few months.
Having a break from cannabis every few weeks is not only good for lowering your tolerance, but it also serves as a way to reduce the possibility of becoming dependent.
Research on cannabis use and social anxiety disorder (SAD) provide mixed messages. In the short term, certain cannabis strains are seen to be effective in reducing social anxiety, yet in the long term, some research suggests a negative impact on social anxiety.
From current research, it is not clear whether cannabis causes SAD or that people who suffer from SAD are more likely to use cannabis as a self-treatment – kind of a chicken and egg dilemma.
One thing is for sure: Cannabis high in THC induces feelings of anxiety and paranoia in the short term in some users. If used frequently, the feelings of anxiety and paranoia may become ingrained in the user, which could progress into SAD.
If you are susceptible to feeling high levels of anxiety and paranoia when consuming cannabis, it may be a good idea to find a strain with lower THC and higher CBD contents. CBD has been found to combat the negative effects of THC, including anxiety and paranoia.
A study conducted in Brazil found that subjects who were given CBD experienced lower levels of social anxiety compared to those who were given a placebo.
Social anxiety avoidance strategies
It is thought that some people who suffer from anxiety consume cannabis in order to avoid social situations. While they might feel relief in the short term from avoiding a certain situation or event, in the long run they will not be improving their social skills and will eventually feel too anxious to attend any event.
If you’re consuming excessive amounts of cannabis to avoid situations and escape from life, you should take a step back on cannabis use and see a therapist/councilor.
Forget the old stereotype that all users of cannabis are stoners with a terrible memory.
In the short term, it is true that cannabis affects your memory. THC is the cannabinoid responsible for the short term memory impairment and affects you in two ways:
- You will find it harder to form new memories when under the influence of cannabis
- Recalling events while under the influence of cannabis can be difficult
However, research has found that frequent use of cannabis builds a tolerance against cannabis induced memory impairments – seasoned cannabis users do not experience memory impairment as a new cannabis user would.
It has also been found that effects of cannabis on your memory are only temporary and wear off as the high wears off. This study concluded that primary and working memory is generally unaffected by THC.
CBD contains neuroprotective properties: Consuming cannabis strains high in CBD is thought to be effective in treating certain diseases that affect memory, such as Parkinson’s and dementia.
The old misconceptions that cannabis use will turn you into an extremely forgetful person are getting thrown out of the window by science. Memory impairment is predominant in the short term and in new cannabis users, however seasoned users won’t notice much memory impairment. If you are a seasoned user and are experiencing some memory issues, have an extended break from cannabis to let your brain return to normal.
Psychosis / Schizophrenia
Some people are reluctant to consume cannabis as they are worried about developing psychosis/schizophrenia.
Unless your family has a history of psychotic disorders, there is really nothing to worry about. Old studies stating cannabis caused psychosis were only correlative, meaning cannabis could cause psychosis.
Up-to-date research has concluded that:
- Cannabis use does not directly cause psychosis/schizophrenia.
- High THC cannabis can trigger symptoms of psychosis/schizophrenia if you have psychosis/schizophrenia in your genes
- People who are schizophrenic are more likely to use cannabis as they are trying to self medicate
- CBD is effective in reducing the symptoms of psychosis and schizophrenia
If your family has a history of psychotic disorders and you have not shown any symptoms of psychosis or schizophrenia, you should be cautious when consuming cannabis strains high in THC. If your family has no history of psychotic disorders, there is no reason to worry about developing a psychotic disorder.
Skunk and psychosis
Contrary to the general belief that cannabis users are lazy, deadbeat hippies; the majority of cannabis users achieve their goals without letting cannabis turn them into a lazy deadbeat.
It is true that there are people who prefer to do nothing but sit around all day smoking weed – when they fail at school, weed will be the blame. Yet many others will be consuming vast quantities of cannabis and still achieve what they set out to do.
It is only a minority of cannabis users who will end up failing. Discipline when consuming cannabis is highly important – you shouldn’t let cannabis get in the way of anything. If you start skipping school/college/university (or anything in life) just to smoke weed, then you should have a good look at where your life is going.
Since cannabis does induce memory impairments in the short term, you shouldn’t be using cannabis during an exam period, or any intensive cognitive task, as it could prove difficult to remember and regurgitate information. Further to that point – you wouldn’t revise or do an exam while intoxicated by alcohol, so why is cannabis any different. Treat it with respect.
If necessary, seek help to cut down or give up cannabis use during periods that require high brain power. Don’t let it get in the way of anything in life.
CBD and other medications
This is not really a short or long term risk, but more of a point to note.
It has been found that CBD can interact with certain medications. CBD inhibits P450 enzymes, which are responsible for breaking down certain medications. If you are on any medications listed in the above linked article, you should consult your doctor if you plan on using cannabis.
Many cannabis advocates love to say that cannabis is not harmful on the lungs at all. While it is true that cannabis can increase your lung capacity, it should not be ignored that there are some long-term negative effects on the lungs of a frequent cannabis user.
Research has found that smoking cannabis can cause 1/5th to 1/3rd of cannabis users to develop acute bronchitis which is the reason as to why some cannabis smokers experience a chronic cough, increased phlegm production and a wheeze. It is also thought cannabis smoking can hoarsen your voice and exasperate asthma.
Further damage is caused from smoking cannabis mixed with tobacco, or certain methods of rolling, such as blunts, backwoods and swisher sweets due to the added harmful effects of tobacco.
If you are truly conscious of the health risks of smoking cannabis, you should avoid smoking with tobacco wraps and only use natural unbleached papers, or completely stop smoking cannabis and use a vaporizer instead – it’s a much healthier way to consume your greens.
How much is too much?
There’s not really an answer which suits all to this question, nor is there a limit to how much an individual can consume as it’s physically impossible to overdose from cannabis.
Some people can consume a few grams of cannabis a day without noticing any negative effects, yet others will consume minimal quantities and develop anxiety. Start small and build up to find your limit.
If you feel cannabis is affecting you negatively, it could be that you need to find a strain with a different THC to CBD ratio, or you need to have regular breaks from consuming cannabis.
Why complete legalization is necessary
- There are a vast number of people who genuinely need cannabis to survive. Cannabis is a final lifeline for some people, yet they are still being criminalized for self-medicating with a plant, which is atrocious. Our government needs to wake up and realize that the new medical cannabis laws are simply not working.
- Complete legalization would bring about a huge new variety of medical grade strains, not just stoney head high strains. This would be truly beneficial, as not everyone uses cannabis for the head high. Medical grade strains would contain higher levels of CBD, which will curb the negative side effects of THC.
- Cannabis will become safer, cleaner and healthier to consume. Currently in the black market, you cannot be sure that the cannabis which you’re buying is grown in a mold-free environment or that no pesticides or harmful chemicals are sprayed onto the product.
It is comparable to alcohol prohibition in the USA. Many people died from toxic batches of illegally produced moonshine.
- Long term negative effects such as risk of dependence, can be reduced if you do not consume cannabis frequently until after your brain has finished developing. A legalized market would not increase underage use as many believe. In the USA and Canada, since legalizing for recreational use, states have seen a decrease in underage use.
- Innocent people will not be criminalized for consuming a plant. Smoking cannabis peacefully at home should not warrant being classed as a criminal. Not only does criminalizing cannabis users completely destroy their job and career prospects, but it is a waste of taxpayer money. In the UK, it costs upwards of to £35,000 to imprison one inmate, each year.
Hopefully, legalization will end the stereotyping that all weed users are failures and deadbeats. We hope legalization allows cannabis to become more mainstream and accepted.
The majority of people who consume cannabis will be completely fine and never have to worry about most of the long term risks of frequent cannabis use.
If you feel that you may be beginning to experience any of the negative side effects listed in this article, you should definitely consider a break from cannabis. If you do start on a break from cannabis and cannot stop thinking about when you’ll next be able to smoke/use cannabis, then you need to have at least a couple of months off, or as long as it takes to get back to a normal state of mind.
You should never get to the point that you have to completely quit cannabis due to it taking over your life. If you feel that you may be beginning to experience any of the negative effects listed in this article, you should have a break from cannabis.
Taking a week or two off of cannabis every few months will not only restore your tolerance but you will reduce the risks of developing any long term adverse side effects.
Cannabis is known it interact with the natural endocannabinoid system (ECS). Tolerance breaks are beneficial in restoring your ECS back to it’s normal rythm:
You may notice that after extremely chronic use, with no break for extended periods of time, that you experience hot/cold flushes, insomnia and anxiety. This is due to the ECS being “out of rythm” and returning to it’s normal state.
Cannabis is not a substitute
Cannabis is not a substitute for a bad lifestyle. Cannabis can ease the symptoms of many health conditions, but it is not a replacement for a healthy diet or exercising.
All long term side effects listed in this article are thought to be reversible. For example, memory impairment will not be an issue if you have stopped using cannabis, even if you’ve been using for an extended period of time.
Science and healthcare is only just touching on the many health benefits that cannabis provides. Hopefully 2019 brings some well-needed changes to our outdated cannabis laws.