What Marijuana Does to Your Body and Your Brain

Reviewed Nov 28, 2016

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Summary

Marijuana:

  • Can give you a pleasant high for a short time
  • Affects memory, motivation and motor coordination
  • Can lead to birth defects in a user’s children

Some people say smoking a joint of marijuana is not harmful because it is a natural substance.

What happens when you smoke a joint?

  1. THC, the ingredient in marijuana that makes you feel high, goes through your lungs (or stomach, if you eat it in food) into your bloodstream and to the part of your brain that lights up when you do or ingest something pleasurable, like have sex or eat chocolate. THC overstimulates the brain to get it to release dopamine, a chemical that makes you feel good. The same process is at work when you use other recreational drugs, alcohol or do some physical exercise.
  2. You begin to feel high and very relaxed. You might laugh for no reason or do something silly because you feel good and your inhibitions are low.
  3. Colors, flavors and smells might seem unusually strong.
  4. Time may seem to slow down or speed up. Details of things you have done in the recent past may slip away. You lose coordination, which impairs your ability to drive.
  5. You could feel hungry and want to eat.
  6. Eventually, the effect of THC wears off, leaving you sleepy or maybe depressed.

Not everyone enjoys the experience. Some people have bad reactions to the drug. They get fearful or go into a panic. If you have depression, anxiety or another serious health condition, using pot can make that condition worse.

THC works on the parts of the brain that control memory, motor coordination and ability to learn. Long after your high wears off, those areas may not work properly. This means you could have trouble following directions or doing schoolwork. According to research, people who smoke pot daily for a long period of time may have limited thinking ability whether they are high or not, and whether they realize it or not.

Those who start using the drug when they are teens have the most to lose. If they use it regularly, they lose their ability to learn and may stay like that for years. In fact, research shows that the brains of teens who are heavy pot users do not develop or function the way they should, long after adolescence.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, long-term marijuana use can lead to addiction; that is, people have difficulty controlling their drug use and cannot stop even though it interferes with many aspects of their lives.

Here is what happens in the rest of your body:

  1. Bronchial tubes leading to your lungs relax and let more smoke into your lungs. Smoke irritates the inside of your nose, throat and lungs, whether you cool it through a bong or not, because it is filled with harsh, scratchy unburned material. Injured tissue is a choice spot for bacteria to take root and give you an infection. The more you smoke, the more likely you are to get bronchitis, or a chronic condition such as emphysema or bronchial asthma. If you keep smoking pot for years, you may develop lung cancer. Your risk of getting it is higher than if you smoke cigarettes for a long time.
  2. Your heart beats faster, maybe even twice as fast as usual. Your rapid pulse raises your blood pressure, putting you at high risk of a heart attack or stroke, even if you are young. If you have a weakness somewhere in your cardiovascular system, high blood pressure could cause problems.
  3. The blood vessels in your eyes expand, making your eyes look red.
  4. THC only stays in the blood a few hours, but then it is stored in your fat cells. Little by little, your body gets rid of it through urine. If you only smoke a small amount once in a long while, signs of marijuana may stay in your system for about 13 days. But if you are a heavy user or a long-time user, your urine may show it 30-45 days after you stop.
  5. If you smoke marijuana while you are pregnant, you can harm your unborn child. Studies have linked a mother’s pot use with her child’s hyperactivity and learning disabilities. At least one study shows that, if a woman smokes marijuana before or during a pregnancy, she is at risk for pre-term labor, premature delivery, a low-weight baby or one with birth defects serious enough to require intensive care.

What happens if you mix alcohol and marijuana?

  1. Both alcohol and marijuana depress your central nervous system. When you use them at the same time, you get a walloping depressant going into your brain. It is hard to predict how much that combo will interfere with the way your brain works.
  2. You may handle alcohol differently than people you know. The same is true for pot. No one can predict in advance how you will handle the two together. You might vomit, or get so dizzy you cannot stand up. Or, you might pass out.
  3. Word of caution: Alcohol does not mix well with many drugs—legal, illegal, recreational or prescribed by your doctor. It is best not to take a chance on having a bad reaction, or worse.
  4. If you already use insulin, a painkiller or medicine prescribed to treat a mental illness, do not add alcohol or marijuana to the mix. The best thing is to err on the side of caution. Do not take a chance on having a bad reaction, or worse.
  5. If you drink too much alcohol, your body will force you to vomit to avoid alcohol poisoning. It is not a pretty remedy, but it could save your life. Marijuana, on the other hand, settles the stomach and reduces the urge to vomit. That is why doctors sometimes prescribe pot for people undergoing chemotherapy. If you put pot and alcohol together, you may miss the very important signal your body sends to tell you not to drink more alcohol.

Using marijuana with other drugs or medicines

Marijuana increases the strength of some drugs, and lessens the power of others. No matter what the drug, having marijuana in your system will alter whatever else you use.

Best advice: Do not mix drugs. You may be playing with fire.

By Paula Hartman Cohen
Source: Jenny Karstad, MA, LADC, LCMHC, clinical supervisor, Brattleboro Retreat Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Center, Brattleboro, VT; Joseph Lee, MD, psychiatrist, medical director for youth services and national advocate for adolescent addiction and mental health issues, Hazelden Addiction Treatment Centers, Minneapolis, MN; William Shryer, DCSW, LCSW, clinical director, Diablo Behavioral Healthcare Centers, Danville, CA; Tina B. Tessina, PhD, psychotherapist and author of The Real 13th Step: Discovering Confidence, Self-Reliance, and Independence Beyond the 12-Step Programs, Long Beach, CA
Reviewed by Arkady Bilenko, MD, Vice President, Regional Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

Summary

Marijuana:

  • Can give you a pleasant high for a short time
  • Affects memory, motivation and motor coordination
  • Can lead to birth defects in a user’s children

Some people say smoking a joint of marijuana is not harmful because it is a natural substance.

What happens when you smoke a joint?

  1. THC, the ingredient in marijuana that makes you feel high, goes through your lungs (or stomach, if you eat it in food) into your bloodstream and to the part of your brain that lights up when you do or ingest something pleasurable, like have sex or eat chocolate. THC overstimulates the brain to get it to release dopamine, a chemical that makes you feel good. The same process is at work when you use other recreational drugs, alcohol or do some physical exercise.
  2. You begin to feel high and very relaxed. You might laugh for no reason or do something silly because you feel good and your inhibitions are low.
  3. Colors, flavors and smells might seem unusually strong.
  4. Time may seem to slow down or speed up. Details of things you have done in the recent past may slip away. You lose coordination, which impairs your ability to drive.
  5. You could feel hungry and want to eat.
  6. Eventually, the effect of THC wears off, leaving you sleepy or maybe depressed.

Not everyone enjoys the experience. Some people have bad reactions to the drug. They get fearful or go into a panic. If you have depression, anxiety or another serious health condition, using pot can make that condition worse.

THC works on the parts of the brain that control memory, motor coordination and ability to learn. Long after your high wears off, those areas may not work properly. This means you could have trouble following directions or doing schoolwork. According to research, people who smoke pot daily for a long period of time may have limited thinking ability whether they are high or not, and whether they realize it or not.

Those who start using the drug when they are teens have the most to lose. If they use it regularly, they lose their ability to learn and may stay like that for years. In fact, research shows that the brains of teens who are heavy pot users do not develop or function the way they should, long after adolescence.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, long-term marijuana use can lead to addiction; that is, people have difficulty controlling their drug use and cannot stop even though it interferes with many aspects of their lives.

Here is what happens in the rest of your body:

  1. Bronchial tubes leading to your lungs relax and let more smoke into your lungs. Smoke irritates the inside of your nose, throat and lungs, whether you cool it through a bong or not, because it is filled with harsh, scratchy unburned material. Injured tissue is a choice spot for bacteria to take root and give you an infection. The more you smoke, the more likely you are to get bronchitis, or a chronic condition such as emphysema or bronchial asthma. If you keep smoking pot for years, you may develop lung cancer. Your risk of getting it is higher than if you smoke cigarettes for a long time.
  2. Your heart beats faster, maybe even twice as fast as usual. Your rapid pulse raises your blood pressure, putting you at high risk of a heart attack or stroke, even if you are young. If you have a weakness somewhere in your cardiovascular system, high blood pressure could cause problems.
  3. The blood vessels in your eyes expand, making your eyes look red.
  4. THC only stays in the blood a few hours, but then it is stored in your fat cells. Little by little, your body gets rid of it through urine. If you only smoke a small amount once in a long while, signs of marijuana may stay in your system for about 13 days. But if you are a heavy user or a long-time user, your urine may show it 30-45 days after you stop.
  5. If you smoke marijuana while you are pregnant, you can harm your unborn child. Studies have linked a mother’s pot use with her child’s hyperactivity and learning disabilities. At least one study shows that, if a woman smokes marijuana before or during a pregnancy, she is at risk for pre-term labor, premature delivery, a low-weight baby or one with birth defects serious enough to require intensive care.

What happens if you mix alcohol and marijuana?

  1. Both alcohol and marijuana depress your central nervous system. When you use them at the same time, you get a walloping depressant going into your brain. It is hard to predict how much that combo will interfere with the way your brain works.
  2. You may handle alcohol differently than people you know. The same is true for pot. No one can predict in advance how you will handle the two together. You might vomit, or get so dizzy you cannot stand up. Or, you might pass out.
  3. Word of caution: Alcohol does not mix well with many drugs—legal, illegal, recreational or prescribed by your doctor. It is best not to take a chance on having a bad reaction, or worse.
  4. If you already use insulin, a painkiller or medicine prescribed to treat a mental illness, do not add alcohol or marijuana to the mix. The best thing is to err on the side of caution. Do not take a chance on having a bad reaction, or worse.
  5. If you drink too much alcohol, your body will force you to vomit to avoid alcohol poisoning. It is not a pretty remedy, but it could save your life. Marijuana, on the other hand, settles the stomach and reduces the urge to vomit. That is why doctors sometimes prescribe pot for people undergoing chemotherapy. If you put pot and alcohol together, you may miss the very important signal your body sends to tell you not to drink more alcohol.

Using marijuana with other drugs or medicines

Marijuana increases the strength of some drugs, and lessens the power of others. No matter what the drug, having marijuana in your system will alter whatever else you use.

Best advice: Do not mix drugs. You may be playing with fire.

By Paula Hartman Cohen
Source: Jenny Karstad, MA, LADC, LCMHC, clinical supervisor, Brattleboro Retreat Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Center, Brattleboro, VT; Joseph Lee, MD, psychiatrist, medical director for youth services and national advocate for adolescent addiction and mental health issues, Hazelden Addiction Treatment Centers, Minneapolis, MN; William Shryer, DCSW, LCSW, clinical director, Diablo Behavioral Healthcare Centers, Danville, CA; Tina B. Tessina, PhD, psychotherapist and author of The Real 13th Step: Discovering Confidence, Self-Reliance, and Independence Beyond the 12-Step Programs, Long Beach, CA
Reviewed by Arkady Bilenko, MD, Vice President, Regional Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

Summary

Marijuana:

  • Can give you a pleasant high for a short time
  • Affects memory, motivation and motor coordination
  • Can lead to birth defects in a user’s children

Some people say smoking a joint of marijuana is not harmful because it is a natural substance.

What happens when you smoke a joint?

  1. THC, the ingredient in marijuana that makes you feel high, goes through your lungs (or stomach, if you eat it in food) into your bloodstream and to the part of your brain that lights up when you do or ingest something pleasurable, like have sex or eat chocolate. THC overstimulates the brain to get it to release dopamine, a chemical that makes you feel good. The same process is at work when you use other recreational drugs, alcohol or do some physical exercise.
  2. You begin to feel high and very relaxed. You might laugh for no reason or do something silly because you feel good and your inhibitions are low.
  3. Colors, flavors and smells might seem unusually strong.
  4. Time may seem to slow down or speed up. Details of things you have done in the recent past may slip away. You lose coordination, which impairs your ability to drive.
  5. You could feel hungry and want to eat.
  6. Eventually, the effect of THC wears off, leaving you sleepy or maybe depressed.

Not everyone enjoys the experience. Some people have bad reactions to the drug. They get fearful or go into a panic. If you have depression, anxiety or another serious health condition, using pot can make that condition worse.

THC works on the parts of the brain that control memory, motor coordination and ability to learn. Long after your high wears off, those areas may not work properly. This means you could have trouble following directions or doing schoolwork. According to research, people who smoke pot daily for a long period of time may have limited thinking ability whether they are high or not, and whether they realize it or not.

Those who start using the drug when they are teens have the most to lose. If they use it regularly, they lose their ability to learn and may stay like that for years. In fact, research shows that the brains of teens who are heavy pot users do not develop or function the way they should, long after adolescence.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, long-term marijuana use can lead to addiction; that is, people have difficulty controlling their drug use and cannot stop even though it interferes with many aspects of their lives.

Here is what happens in the rest of your body:

  1. Bronchial tubes leading to your lungs relax and let more smoke into your lungs. Smoke irritates the inside of your nose, throat and lungs, whether you cool it through a bong or not, because it is filled with harsh, scratchy unburned material. Injured tissue is a choice spot for bacteria to take root and give you an infection. The more you smoke, the more likely you are to get bronchitis, or a chronic condition such as emphysema or bronchial asthma. If you keep smoking pot for years, you may develop lung cancer. Your risk of getting it is higher than if you smoke cigarettes for a long time.
  2. Your heart beats faster, maybe even twice as fast as usual. Your rapid pulse raises your blood pressure, putting you at high risk of a heart attack or stroke, even if you are young. If you have a weakness somewhere in your cardiovascular system, high blood pressure could cause problems.
  3. The blood vessels in your eyes expand, making your eyes look red.
  4. THC only stays in the blood a few hours, but then it is stored in your fat cells. Little by little, your body gets rid of it through urine. If you only smoke a small amount once in a long while, signs of marijuana may stay in your system for about 13 days. But if you are a heavy user or a long-time user, your urine may show it 30-45 days after you stop.
  5. If you smoke marijuana while you are pregnant, you can harm your unborn child. Studies have linked a mother’s pot use with her child’s hyperactivity and learning disabilities. At least one study shows that, if a woman smokes marijuana before or during a pregnancy, she is at risk for pre-term labor, premature delivery, a low-weight baby or one with birth defects serious enough to require intensive care.

What happens if you mix alcohol and marijuana?

  1. Both alcohol and marijuana depress your central nervous system. When you use them at the same time, you get a walloping depressant going into your brain. It is hard to predict how much that combo will interfere with the way your brain works.
  2. You may handle alcohol differently than people you know. The same is true for pot. No one can predict in advance how you will handle the two together. You might vomit, or get so dizzy you cannot stand up. Or, you might pass out.
  3. Word of caution: Alcohol does not mix well with many drugs—legal, illegal, recreational or prescribed by your doctor. It is best not to take a chance on having a bad reaction, or worse.
  4. If you already use insulin, a painkiller or medicine prescribed to treat a mental illness, do not add alcohol or marijuana to the mix. The best thing is to err on the side of caution. Do not take a chance on having a bad reaction, or worse.
  5. If you drink too much alcohol, your body will force you to vomit to avoid alcohol poisoning. It is not a pretty remedy, but it could save your life. Marijuana, on the other hand, settles the stomach and reduces the urge to vomit. That is why doctors sometimes prescribe pot for people undergoing chemotherapy. If you put pot and alcohol together, you may miss the very important signal your body sends to tell you not to drink more alcohol.

Using marijuana with other drugs or medicines

Marijuana increases the strength of some drugs, and lessens the power of others. No matter what the drug, having marijuana in your system will alter whatever else you use.

Best advice: Do not mix drugs. You may be playing with fire.

By Paula Hartman Cohen
Source: Jenny Karstad, MA, LADC, LCMHC, clinical supervisor, Brattleboro Retreat Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Center, Brattleboro, VT; Joseph Lee, MD, psychiatrist, medical director for youth services and national advocate for adolescent addiction and mental health issues, Hazelden Addiction Treatment Centers, Minneapolis, MN; William Shryer, DCSW, LCSW, clinical director, Diablo Behavioral Healthcare Centers, Danville, CA; Tina B. Tessina, PhD, psychotherapist and author of The Real 13th Step: Discovering Confidence, Self-Reliance, and Independence Beyond the 12-Step Programs, Long Beach, CA
Reviewed by Arkady Bilenko, MD, Vice President, Regional Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

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