Marijuana is listed as being among the most abused psychoactive drugs in the US today. Cannabis shares that distinction with the “designer drug” called Ecstasy and the easily-produced variant of cocaine known as “Crack.” However, cannabis differs from most other abused narcotics and drugs in that it has a sizable number of people who are pushing for it to be legalized. Theoretically, “weed” has a number of medical uses that serve as the main reason for it to be made legal. However, for every study dedicated to finding a medical use for marijuana, there is also a study that has managed to find detrimental side effects to the use of it. In most cases, researchers have found the effects to have ties to mental health and cognitive abilities.
The first of the many side effects listed would be poorer attention span and loss of memory retention skills. According to studies conducted by the American Medical Association, long-term users of cannabis had shorter attention spans than both short-term users and non-users. According to the results published by the AMA, people who are long-term users gradually lose the ability to maintain focus on a single thing and inevitably find ways to be distracted faster than others. Memory also seems to have been affected, particularly for long-term users. According to reports, short-term memory is severely affected by long-term marijuana use, with subjects being unable to accurately recall objects shown to them mere minutes before. However, these results are still being held in dispute by mental health experts.
Cannabis also reduces the overall flow of blood to the brain, which can lead to a number of mental health issues. The most obvious of the side effects of this is the relative drop in IQ scores for long-term users. Studies conducted by the Canadian Medical Journal indicate that long-term users drop several IQ points over prolonged use. In the same vein, short-term users also experienced a loss of IQ points, with a small difference in the points lost between long-term and short-term users. One long-term test conducted showed that people who were users but had quit managed to recover their IQ scores from before using marijuana for an extended period.
The decreased blood flow, as already stated, could have disastrous side effects to a person’s central nervous system. One of these side effects is an effect on the appetite of users, both long-term and short-term. Users tend to consume more sodium, fats, and salty foods, while cutting down on fruits at the same time. This dietary change causes changes in the level of carotenoids in the body, which can increase the risk of cancer. The effect is seen as being less of a problem directly related to the marijuana use and more associated with the sort of lifestyle that marijuana users tend to develop.
Finally, the respiratory system can suffer numerous side effects due to extensive use of marijuana. People who have engaged in long-term use of cannabis tend to have an increased risk of developing lung cancer and various other respiratory conditions. Pulmonary infection is also a major problem, as prolonged cannabis use causes damage to the alveolar macrophages and alters certain aspects of the respiratory system. While the risk of lung cancer is considerably lower than that of a smoker, the compromised system is more susceptible to other respiratory ailments than the average smoker.