Harmful Effects of Marijuana Include COPD, Tumors
A large-scale study review from a group of German researchers highlights the broad range of physical health problems linked to long-term, habitual intake of marijuana and other forms of cannabis.
Despite their rising popularity, marijuana and other forms of cannabis are known for their potential to produce substantial declines in physical health when consumed regularly over extended periods of time. In a study review published in April 2015 in the German Medical Association journal Deutsches Arzteblatt International, researchers from several universities and other German institutions assessed the link between habitual marijuana/cannabis intake and specific physical ailments. These researchers found evidence of increased risks for a number of ailments in consumers of the drug.
Marijuana, made from the dried flowers and leaves of the plant cannabis sativa, is the most popular cannabis product in the U.S. and throughout much of the world. Another product of the plant, hashish, is made by concentrating cannabis resin glands. A third cannabis product, hashish oil, comes from the solvent-based extraction of hashish. Compared to hashish and hashish oil, marijuana has relatively low levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the cannabis plant’s primary psychoactive ingredient. However, the THC content in marijuana and all other cannabis products has risen sharply over the last 30-plus years, and some batches of marijuana now have a THC content once only associated with hashish.
THC is largely responsible for cannabis’ standing as an addictive drug. Once it enters the bloodstream, this chemical travels to the brain and triggers euphoric feelings in an area called the pleasure center. In a person who repeatedly consumes cannabis, the pleasure center can eventually undergo long-term changes that make continued intake of the drug a requirement for “normal” daily operation. Even casual users of marijuana/cannabis can eventually develop a condition called cannabis use disorder, which encompasses both non-dependent cannabis abuse and cannabis addiction. However, rates for the disorder spike in habitual users of the drug, as well as in teens who consume the drug casually or habitually.
Short-Term Physical Effects
Consumption of marijuana/cannabis can produce a number of significant short-term changes in physical function, including elevation of the baseline heart rate, lung and throat irritation and inflammation, blood pressure increases and a form of dizziness called orthostatic hypotension, which occurs when an affected individual moves rapidly from a sitting position to a standing position. Any given user may experience a substantial, temporary jump in his or her chances of experiencing a heart attack in the aftermath of marijuana intake. Short-term lung conditions previously associated with marijuana/cannabis consumption include pneumonia and several other forms of respiratory infection.
Physical Risks of Habitual Marijuana Use
In the study review published in Deutsches Arzteblatt International, researchers from German institutions including the University of Heidelberg, the University of Gottingen and Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg used data gathered from a wide range of previously conducted studies, study reviews, clinical trials and analyses to help identify the connection between the regular, habitual, heavy or addicted consumption of marijuana/cannabis and the chances of developing specific physical health problems. The researchers looked at the risks for conditions in parts of the body that include the respiratory system, the mouth and throat, the cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) system, the gastrointestinal tract, the endocrine (hormone) system and the skin and mucous membranes.
After completing their review, the researchers concluded that habitual users of marijuana/cannabis have potentially increased risks for specific respiratory issues that include shortness of breath, chronic sore throat and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Possible mouth- and throat-related risks include chronic inflammation of the mouth’s mucous membranes and gingival disease. Possible cardiovascular risks of habitual marijuana/cannabis consumption include an accelerated heartbeat, a potentially serious form of heartbeat irregularity called atrial fibrillation and a heart attack precursor called cardiac ischemia. Possible gastrointestinal risks include increases in abnormal fat buildup inside the liver and recurring bouts of nausea and vomiting. Possible skin- and mucous membrane-related risks include itching, hives and conjunctivitis (pinkeye). Habitual users of marijuana/cannabis may also have increased chances of experiencing hormone-related abdominal weight gain.
The review’s authors note that habitual marijuana/cannabis consumers may have increased risks for developing tumors of the lung, head, neck and nasopharynx (the upper throat behind the nose). However, the risks for some of these tumors overlap to a considerable degree with a habitual pattern of cigarette consumption. Women who habitually consume marijuana/cannabis may experience damaging changes in menstruation and several other reproduction-related problems.
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