Experts Explain What Happens In Your Body If You Smoke Weed Daily, Weekly, Or Monthly
ItвЂ™s not as cut & dry as you learned in D.A.R.E.
Sometimes picking up a joint can seem like the best way to wind down (particularly if you live in a place where it’s legal) вЂ” but you might be wondering what cannabis does to your body over time. It’s a complex plant, and its impact on your health is still being studied, with decades of legal restrictions slowly lifting.
Pot has been found to have more health benefits over the last few years, like alleviating chronic pain and helping insomnia. But depending on how often you smoke, there could be risks, too.
“Work from my lab and others does suggest that frequency of use correlates positively with cannabis-related problems,” Mitchell Earleywine Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Albany, tells Bustle. “But the effect isn’t particularly big.” Your experience will be pretty different if you’re an occasional weed-brownie-haver as opposed to a several-times-a-day vaper.
Whether you identify as an occasional or daily user, a bong ripper, or gummy-snacker, here’s what’s happening in your body when you use weed.
Scientists are still trying to figure out how many of weed’s effects are temporary, what’s long-term, and how much dosage is required. (And then there’s the fact that men react differently to women when it comes to cannabinoids, which is often not used as a factor in studies.) “Occasional use by adults is generally safe, particularly for those who use the vaporizer,” Earleywine says.
One way a smoking session every few months may hurt your body is in immune response. There is evidence cannabinoids interferes in our resistance to infection. One study in Journal of Cannabis Research in 2020 found that heavy cannabis use вЂ” defined as seven or more hits in the past 30 days вЂ”В tended to increase white blood cells, which indicates that the immune system is under strain, but it’s not clear if occasional use will have the same effects.
A single hit will significantly impair your balance, your reaction time, and your ability to form new memories, but these effects will wear off as your high does. “The impairment from cannabis relates to impaired ability to deal with unexpected events, like avoiding a car that comes out of nowhere,” Matthew W. Johnson, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, tells Bustle. And 2015 study in Schizophrenia Bulletin has found that just one hit can cause paranoia in some people, which you probably knew.
Determining whether risks increase with use when it comes to cannabis is a bit tricky. “Monthly use has no meaningful impact,” Jonathan Caukins Ph.D., professor of operations research and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College and an expert on cannabis legalization, tells Bustle.
Having a monthly smoke may to be linked to temporary harm to cognitive skills like memory, assimilation of new information, and attention, but it’s likely to be pass pretty quickly. According to a review of studies published in Journal of Addiction Medicine in 2012, a monthly user will “spring back” from this damage over four weeks of abstinence.
One study, published in 2014 by the Society Of Prevention Research, looked at boys throughout their lives, from 7th grade to age 35. Monthly weed use was common, and it didn’t seem to make a difference to the 35-year-olds’ health issues, medications, injuries, or hospitalizations. Men who didn’t smoke weed had the same outcomes.
When you smoke weekly, health risks go up. A 2020 study of 3,400 people published in JACC Cardiovascular Imaging found that weekly users showed problems with the left ventricles of their hearts and shifts in their heart structure. Regular use has also been linked to an increased risk of heart attacks, particularly in the first few hours after a session.
A 2011 review of weekly users, published in Indian Journal of Psychiatry, found that going cold turkey for a month can restore cognitive powers, from reaction time to memory and dexterity. Other studies, though, only showed partial recovery. The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse & Addiction did a roundup of studies in 2019 that found weekly smoking was much less likely to produce permanent cognitive problems than daily smoking.
For all the fearmongering, even daily use of weed isn’t going to be that harmful, all things considered. A 2015 study published in Annals of the American Thoracic Society stated fairly definitively that, even after 20 years of daily use, weed smokers were still able to expel the same amount of air from their lungs as non-smokers.
The scientific opinion on daily smoking and lung cancer isn’t clear either. Cancer Research UK found that some studies believe there is a link, while others don’t believe the indications are strong enough. They point out that the huge variation in the strength of weed, the fact that people sometimes smoke it with tobacco, and the different ways individuals process it all make a link hard to pin down. “Although cannabis does increase symptoms of bronchitis like coughing and wheezing, it does not appear to elevate risk for lung cancer,” Earleywine says.
There’s an argument that daily, heavy spliff use may actually alter the structure of your brain. “Daily use has many dangers, including most obviously altering brain pathways,” Caukins says. A 2014 study published in PNAS found that daily users seemed to have a smaller orbitofrontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps with emotional and decision-oriented processing, but also had denser links between different parts of the brain. A 2017 study published in Pediatric Neurology also found that chronic weed use was linked to damage in the brain’s white matter.
“One effect is subtle memory deficits,” Johnson says. “These seems to disappear with about a month of abstinence.” Daily use can also result in dependence, he says, which means you start feeling irritable, sleepless and lose your appetite whenever you stop.
The Bottom Line
“The data on cannabis and altered brain structure only seem to appear in those who used the plant heavily while still very young,” Earleywine cautions. And these findings have been hard to replicate. “Plenty of daily users have literally no problems related to the plant, and some occasional users consume in unsafe ways,” he says. “Those who begin use early in life tend to show more problems with the plant than those who start when they are older.”
So frequency may not be the be-all and end-all for determining how weed is affecting your health; what time of day you smoke, how you do it, and how young you were when you began smoking are all factors, too.
Readers should note that laws governing cannabis, hemp and CBD are evolving, as is information about the efficacy and safety of those substances. As such, the information contained in this post should not be construed as legal or medical advice. Always consult your physician prior to trying any substance or supplement.
Jonathan Caukins Ph.D.
Mitchell Earleywine Ph.D.
Matthew W. Johnson, Ph.D.
Alshaarawy, O. (2019) Total and differential white blood cell count in cannabis users: results from the cross-sectional National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2005вЂ“2016. J Cannabis Res1, 6. https://doi.org/10.1186/s42238-019-0007-8
Crean, R. D., Crane, N. A., & Mason, B. J. (2011). An evidence based review of acute and long-term effects of cannabis use on executive cognitive functions. Journal of addiction medicine, 5(1), 1вЂ“8. https://doi.org/10.1097/ADM.0b013e31820c23fa
Hall W. (2015). What has research over the past two decades revealed about the adverse health effects of recreational cannabis use?. Addiction (Abingdon, England), 110(1), 19вЂ“35. https://doi.org/10.1111/add.12703
Filbey, F. M., Aslan, S., Calhoun, V. D., Spence, J. S., Damaraju, E., Caprihan, A., & Segall, J. (2014). Long-term effects of marijuana use on the brain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111(47), 16913вЂ“16918. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1415297111
Freeman, D., Dunn, G., Murray, R. M., Evans, N., Lister, R., Antley, A., Slater, M., Godlewska, B., Cornish, R., Williams, J., Di Simplicio, M., Igoumenou, A., Brenneisen, R., Tunbridge, E. M., Harrison, P. J., Harmer, C. J., Cowen, P., & Morrison, P. D. (2015). How cannabis causes paranoia: using the intravenous administration of в€†9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to identify key cognitive mechanisms leading to paranoia. Schizophrenia bulletin, 41(2), 391вЂ“399. https://doi.org/10.1093/schbul/sbu098
Kempker, J. A., Honig, E. G., & Martin, G. S. (2015). The effects of marijuana exposure on expiratory airflow. A study of adults who participated in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Study. Annals of the American Thoracic Society, 12(2), 135вЂ“141. https://doi.org/10.1513/AnnalsATS.201407-333OC
Khanji, M. Y., Jensen, M. T., Kenawy, A. A., Raisi-Estabragh, Z., Paiva, J. M., Aung, N., Fung, K., Lukaschuk, E., Zemrak, F., Lee, A. M., Barutcu, A., Maclean, E., Cooper, J., Piechnik, S. K., Neubauer, S., & Petersen, S. E. (2020). Association Between Recreational Cannabis Use and Cardiac Structure and Function. JACC. Cardiovascular imaging, 13(3), 886вЂ“888. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcmg.2019.10.012
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This article was originally published on April 20, 2016
Cannabis’ impact on your health is still being studied, with decades of legal restrictions slowly lifting.
9 Things Smoking Weed Does to Your Body
When it comes to polarizing health topics, few subjects spark more debate than weed (except maybe CrossFit or the Paleo Diet). Can it improve your health? Lower stress? Make you more forgetful? Even make you thinner?
The science is still, well, hazy—but some research is starting to give us an idea of what exactly weed does to the human body.
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For instance: Toking up regularly could dull your emotional response and cause addiction, according to a marijuana study from the University of Michigan Health System. Researchers analyzed 108 people in their early 20s (69 men and 39 women), all of whom were taking part in a larger study of substance use. In the study, participants sat in an MRI while they played a game, in which they pressed a button when they saw a target on a computer screen cross in front of them. Before each round, they were told they could win 20 cents or $5—or they might lose that amount, or have no reward or loss. Scientists assessed the moment of anticipation (a.k.a. when volunteers knew they could get a few dollars richer).
Now, you’d think getting free money would be cause for excitement, but scientists found the more marijuana use volunteers reported, the less their reward centers were activated.
“Over time, marijuana use was associated with a lower response to a monetary reward,” study author and neuroscientist Mary Heitzeg, Ph.D, said in a press release. “This means that something that would be rewarding to most people was no longer rewarding to them, suggesting but not proving that their reward system has been ‘hijacked’ by the drug, and that they need the drug to feel reward—or that their emotional response has been dampened.”
That’s not all. Smoking weed might also be more addicting than you think.
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“Some people may believe that marijuana is not addictive or that it’s ‘better’ than other drugs that can cause dependence,” Heitzeg said. “But this study provides evidence that it’s affecting the brain in a way that may make it more difficult to stop using it. It changes your brain in a way that may change your behavior, and where you get your sense of reward from.”
To be fair: Even if one scientific study suggests that marijuana might help your bones grow or hurt your short-term memory, that doesn’t necessarily make it true. All this research is still developing, and it’ll be a long time before we know anything for sure about weed’s effects on the human body. Still, it’s good to know where the science is heading.
Find out all the other ways—good and bad—marijuana could be influencing your health.
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Find out 9 ways marijuana could be influencing your health. The science is still hazy—but research is giving us an idea of what weed does to the body.