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Surprising Side Effects of Marijuana, Say Experts

The good and the bad.

Marijuana, also referred to as weed, pot, dope, or cannabis, is the dried flowers and leaves of the cannabis plant. "It contains mind-altering (e.g., psychoactive) compounds like tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, as well as other active compounds like cannabidiol, or CBD, that are not mind-altering," explains the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Marijuana is used for many reasons, some recreational and others medicinal. However, no matter what you are using it for, there can be side effects, explains Niket Sonpal, MD, NYC Internist and Gastroenterologist, Faculty Member Touro College of Medicine. Read on to learn about the surprising side effects of marijuana. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


There May Be a Lowered Reaction Time

Mature man with bad headache at home

One potential short-term negative effect of marijuana is a lowered reaction time. "Slower reaction times may occur due to the THC, the main psychoactive in marijuana. It's believed that the thalamo-cortico-striatal circuit network in the brain (portion related to the perception of time) contains many receptors that bind with THC," explains Dr. Sonpal. "When this binding happens, your internal clock speeds us, thus leading you to feel as if everything has slowed down around you." 

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It May Promote Severe Anxiety

Woman suffering an anxiety attack alone in the night

While marijuana has a calming effect on some people, others experience severe anxiety. "Someone may experience increased feelings of anxiety because high THC levels cause the brain to receive more cannabinoids than usual. This over-stimulates the amygdala, which causes some people to feel anxious," says Dr. Sonpal. 

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It May Negatively Impact Your Heart

Man suffering chest pain, sitting outdoors, heart arrhythmia, ischemic disease

Using marijuana not only makes the heart beat faster, but could also lead to increased risk of stroke and heart disease, says the CDC. However, they do point out that most of the scientific studies linking marijuana to heart attacks and strokes are based on reports from people who smoked it. "Smoked marijuana delivers THC and other cannabinoids to the body, but it also delivers harmful substances to users and those close by, including many of the same substances found in tobacco smoke, which are harmful to the lungs and cardiovascular system."

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It Might Result in Long-Term Brain Damage

Doctor attentively examines the MRI scan of the patient.

Per the CDC, marijuana affects brain development. "When marijuana users begin using as teenagers, the drug may reduce attention, memory, and learning functions and affect how the brain builds connections between the areas necessary for these functions," they explain. "Marijuana's effects on these abilities may last a long time or even be permanent. This means that someone who uses marijuana may not do as well in school and may have trouble remembering things."

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It May Help You Sleep Better

woman smiling while sleeping

A potential short-term positive effect? Marijuana may help you sleep better. "Marijuana acts as a sleep aid because the THC's sedative effects lengthen the time spent in deep sleep and shorten the amount of time it takes to fall asleep," explains Dr. Sonpal.

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Risk of Prescription Opioid Use

White prescription pills spilled onto a table with many prescription bottles in the background

A potential long- term negative effect is increased risk of prescription opioid abuse, states Dr. Sonpal. "Research has suggested that individuals who use marijuana may be more likely to misuse opioids than nonusers," he explains. 

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It May Help Treat Chronic Pain 

Side view of a frowned young man suffering from pain in loin while sitting on white bedding

Dr. Sonpal also reveals that s potential long-term positive effect of marijuana is that it can treat chronic pain. "THC in marijuana reduces pain perception and pain signaling by interacting with the body's cannabinoid receptors, thus relieving pain," he says. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Leah Groth
Leah Groth has decades of experience covering all things health, wellness and fitness related. Read more about Leah