What Are The Effects Of Cannabis?

Cannabis and its steadily rising legality across states is an increasingly ballyhooed topic in the US. 

Stigmas are being reduced, and knowledge about the storied plant is on the rise. Yet, this isn’t a black-and-white topic. The effects of cannabis are plentiful–many are healing and life-affirming. Others are detrimental. Nothing in this world is cut and dry, and cannabis is much the same. 

The roots of cannabis consumption go back 2,500 years [1]

All these years later–while still a Schedule I substance–the perception of cannabis has evolved from a pariah-like plant to an acceptable recreational product for adults to enjoy.

Understanding Cannabis’s Core Components

While the cannabis plant generates up to 100 cannabinoids and 300 non-cannabinoid chemicals, it has two primary components [2]:

  • Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the psychoactive or mind-altering component of the cannabis plant.
  • Cannabidiol (CBD) – the non-psychoactive part of the cannabis plant.

Terpenes are also crucial to the composition of a cannabis plant. These give cannabis its aromatic qualities and are part of something called the entourage effect, contributing to a more well-rounded overall experience [3].

Short-Term Effects of Cannabis

The short-term effects of cannabis are different for many–and can vary based on the consumption method (e.g., smoking or edibles). 

Generally, consuming cannabis leads to inebriation or feeling high. Many experience heightened feelings of relaxation, euphoria, sleepiness, well-being, and happiness. Food also tends to taste better, objects and textures feel more enticing, and music sounds more immersive [4].

A change in perception is another common reaction to cannabis, specifically pertaining to time and space.

Potential side effects include the following:

  • Elevated heart rate.
  • Drop in blood pressure.
  • Anxiety.
  • Paranoia.
  • Panic attacks.
  • Delusions.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Red eyes.
  • Hampered motor coordination.

Cognitive And Psychological Effects

The Scientific journal “Addiction” published a systematic review pointing out that frequent cannabis use can lead to acute cognitive impairments after intoxication [5].

A CNN article adds that cannabis usage can impede problem-solving capabilities and disrupt one’s attention span/focus, leading to poor workplace performance and causing impairment while driving/operating heavy machinery [6]. Another factor to consider is an inability to retain information, hinting at memory issues.

However, one must consider the context of these effects. Strains, dosages, and tolerance all impact short-term effects. For instance, manageable dosages of mild strain will yield far less intense results (although you still shouldn’t drive a vehicle while high, no matter how gentle the strain). 

Physical Effects

Per Medical News Today, here’s a list of physical effects you can expect from consuming cannabis [7]:

  • People typically have more phlegm and are more prone to bronchitis after smoking cannabis.
  • The related carcinogens cause lung irritation and can cause you to accidentally burn your throat or mouth.
  • THC has the potential to weaken the immune system.
  • Cannabis can also offer pain relief.
  • Nausea and vomit reduction are positive impacts of cannabis.
  • Your heart rate may elevate by 20 to 50 beats per minute.
  • The increased blood flow leads to red eyes.
  • Glaucoma symptom relief can be experienced.
  • Existing lung conditions like asthma might be briefly aggravated. 
  • It can interfere with fetal growth if smoked during pregnancy.
  • It can disrupt a teenager’s brain development.

While the following examples involve mental health and the brain, they can manifest physically, too:

  • Susceptible people taking high doses or consuming more potent strains can experience anxiety and panic attacks. 
  • Extreme paranoia is another risk. 

Long-Term Effects Of Cannabis

Referring back to Medical News Today’s write-up, multiple factors dictate the cannabis plant’s effects on long-term users. 

Specifically, the frequency and manner in which a person consumes cannabis plays a role in its big-picture impact. Furthermore, somebody’s age when they start using will dictate how they’re affected over the years. The same goes for how much cannabis they typically consume.

Memory loss is cited as one of the main effects of continued cannabis usage over a sustained period. Lung irritation is another potential long-term side effect, and–while not yet proven–some experts believe smoking cannabis for many years can lead to lung cancer.

It’s also possible to develop a cannabis addiction, leading to a physical and psychological dependency. 

Some sources estimate that ⅓ of cannabis users may have issues with addiction [8]. Signs of addiction include using cannabis before driving or skipping out on work or family functions to indulge.

Furthermore, research indicates that cannabis usage in at-risk individuals (e.g., those with a family history) can increase the chances of early-onset psychotic disorders (e.g., schizophrenia) [9].

Medical Benefits

Medical News Today cites these common medical uses of cannabis-derived products:

  • Pain reduction for specific medical conditions.
  • Offsetting inflammation.
  • Nausea reduction for those going through chemotherapy.
  • Aiding with glaucoma symptoms.

CBD–the non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant–is believed to have many medical properties.

In fact, forms of CBD are currently being prescribed for epileptic seizure disorder, general pain, Parkinson’s disease, dystonia (a muscular disorder), Crohn’s disease, and more [10].

Cannabis is also gaining traction as an alternative to damaging opioids to manage chronic pain [11]

Potential Risks And Precautions

Cannabis usage can be a boon to many responsible adult users–but it can also be highly damaging. It all depends on how you choose to consume the product, your mental health, and many other factors.

Like most things in this world, moderation wins the day. Controlled, manageable doses taken in appropriate scenarios will ensure you reap the benefits while avoiding the pitfalls of the plant. Also, being transparent with healthcare professionals about cannabis usage will yield the most beneficial results.

Realistically, the more you know about cannabis and how it affects you, the better your relationship will be with it.

Furthermore, it’s important to note how cannabis can be extremely harmful to certain individuals. For instance, it interferes with adolescent brain development, as our brains are only fully formed by 25. Teenaged cannabis use can cause impaired learning, thinking, and memory. It can even trigger severe and adverse mental health responses [12]

Also, note that cannabis can be highly harmful to unborn children, causing issues with fetal development. So pregnant women should avoid it [13].

Legal And Regulatory Considerations

Cannabis is not federally legal and is classified as a Schedule I substance, in line with heroin. That said, states can decide whether to legalize the plant, and many have. Currently, recreational adult cannabis usage is legal in 23 states, and 38 states have legalized medical cannabis. 

The tide is changing as far as legal usage goes. President Biden is working toward a less severe federal classification for cannabis. He wants it moved from Schedule I to Schedule III, which would do wonders for reducing the stigma [13]

Knowing state regulations is crucial for those who wish to enjoy cannabis freely and without trouble. States where it’s illegal could throw the book at you for purchasing and consuming cannabis. Conversely, other places won’t bat an eyelid at cannabis consumption.

Conclusion: The Cannabis Stigma Is Dying, But Proceed With Caution

Cannabis enthusiasts (and beginners dipping their toes into the water) will be happy to know that the stigma surrounding the plant is dying. However, there are risks and side effects like any mind-altering substance. Plus, it’s not legal everywhere in the US, so you need to be aware of state laws before purchasing and consuming.

Gather as much knowledge as you can about cannabis if you’re going to partake, and maintain awareness of the complexities behind the plant. 

Staying informed will keep you one step ahead and help you reap the benefits of the plant.

Additional Resources

Industry thought leaders like Leafly and Weedmaps will give you a connoisseur’s lens into cannabis products. 

If you seek a more scholarly lean, we suggest checking out the Journal of Cannabis Research. They publish thought-provoking articles that will vastly enhance your knowledge base. 



  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6561734/#:~:text=This%20suggests%20cannabis%20was%20smoked,high%20levels%20of%20psychoactive%20compounds
  2. https://adf.org.au/drug-facts/cannabinoids/#:~:text=Research%20has%20found%20that%20the,about%20300%20non%2Dcannabinoid%20chemicals.&text=The%20two%20main%20cannabinoids%20are,)%20and%20cannabidiol%20(CBD). 
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7763918/#:~:text=Terpenes%20are%20the%20primary%20constituents,for%20the%20last%20few%20decades
  4. https://www.simcoemuskokahealth.org/Topics/Drugs/Cannabis/how-marijuana-effects-health/Short-term-effects 
  5. https://www.addictionjournal.org/posts/cannabis-use-produces-persistent-cognitive-impairments#:~:text=A%20systematic%20review%20published%20today,beyond%20the%20period%20of%20intoxication
  6. https://www.cnn.com/2022/01/20/health/marijuana-brain-cognition-wellness/index.html#:~:text=Weed%20can%20affect%20your%20ability,cognitive%20functions%2C%20a%20study%20found.&text=%E2%80%9CCannabis%20use%20in%20youth%20may,work%20performance%20and%20dangerous%20driving
  7. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324948 
  8. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-medication/cannabis/health-effects/addiction.html 
  9. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/there-link-between-marijuana-use-psychiatric-disorders#:~:text=Research%20has%20shown%20that%20cannabis,factors%2C%20such%20as%20family%20history.&text=Cannabis%20intoxication%20can%20also%20induce,individuals%2C%20especially%20at%20high%20doses
  10. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-1439/cannabidiol-cbd#:~:text=CBD%20can%20cause%20some%20side,form%20of%20CBD%2C%20called%20Epidiolex.
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK574562/ 
  12. https://www.cuimc.columbia.edu/news/everything-you-and-your-teenager-should-know-about-cannabis#:~:text=Why%20cannabis%20is%20bad%20for,functioning%20(problem%2Dsolving)
  13. https://www.cdc.gov/marijuana/health-effects/pregnancy.html 
  14. https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/us-health-agency-recommends-easing-federal-marijuana-restrictions-rcna102642#:~:text=The%20move%20comes%2011%20months,under%20the%20Controlled%20Substances%20Act

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