4 things you may not know about marijuana

Not many people make a doctor’s appointment to talk about the pros and cons of smoking joints versus vaping, the effects of edibles, or whether it is OK to mix Mary Jane with Merlot. But maybe more of us should. Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of marijuana and how to use it most safely.

Should I smoke it, eat it or vape it?

Visit a medical marijuana dispensary and you’ll find choices far beyond joints and brownies. There are vapor e-cigarettes, cannabis lotions, and edibles like cannabis lollipops and chocolate chip cookies.

Since it’s hard to know the dose in a cookie or candy, it’s important to eat a tiny amount and wait at least an hour or two to see what the full effect will be. Otherwise, it’s easy to get a more potent dose of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) than intended.

Studies are clear that smoking can cause lung problems. And though there haven’t been long-term studies, vaping is easier on the lungs than smoking an old-school joint, and it is probably the safest way to get high. Vaporizers deliver the drug without the high temperature of smoke from a pipe or joint.

Is there anyone who shouldn’t use marijuana?

The most serious side effects are for pregnant women, adolescents, and young adults because their developing brains are more susceptible to the effects of marijuana. 

Researchers theorize that having a low IQ may make it more likely that someone will experiment with marijuana at a young age. Other studies have shown that people who start using marijuana before age 15 have an increased risk of psychosis later in life and that the drug can be a trigger for people who already have a family history of schizophrenia. 

Another study found that women who use marijuana before or during pregnancy, have a higher risk of anemia and miscarriage. And when those women carried to full term, their babies were smaller and more likely to spend time in neonatal intensive care.

Why are people using marijuana?

Most people say they’re enjoying pot recreationally. But others are seeking relief from conditions including anxiety, insomnia, glaucoma, chronic pain, nausea from chemotherapy or epilepsy. 

But does it help? It depends, some people seem to benefit from it, but others don’t. Some patients who tried marijuana had more anxiety while other patients who used it for insomnia became anxious after they stopped using it.

Many people self-treat with marijuana, and there’s a lot of guesswork involved. First, you have to figure out which strains will achieve the desired effect.

What are some other side effects of using marijuana?

A 2013 study in the UK found that long-term users produce less dopamine, the brain chemical linked to motivation and reward. It explains the ‘slacker syndrome’ often associated with chronic users. Researchers found that people who started using younger had the lowest levels of dopamine.

If you’ve seen movies like Pineapple Express or Up in Smoke, you know short-term side effects include slow thinking, and difficulty with paying attention, learning and remembering.

And marijuana also gives people the munchies. And because smokers are not munching on carrot sticks and broccoli, but on pizza, fries, burgers, and popcorn, this isn't always a good side effect. Though overall, regular marijuana users are likely to weigh less than no users, according to a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology.