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Marijuana: Effects of Weed on Brain and Body

Marijuana is a combination of shredded leaves, stems and flower buds of the Cannabis sativa plant. Marijuana can be smoked, eaten, vaporized, brewed and even taken topically, but most people smoke it.

The intoxicating chemical in marijuana is tetrahydracannabinol, or THC. According to research from the Potency Monitoring Project, the average THC content of marijuana has soared from less than 1 percent in 1972, to 3 to 4 percent in the 1990s, to nearly 13 percent in 2010. Today, some retail marijuana has 30 percent THC or more. The increased potency makes it difficult to determine the short- and long-term effects of marijuana

In a 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 17.4 million people in the United States said they had used marijuana in the past month. Since then, many states have made it legal to use marijuana recreationally or medically. As of early 2017, 26 states and the District of Columbia have made the use of pot legal in one form or another.

A 2016 Gallup poll found that one in eight people smoke marijuana and 43 percent of U.S. adults admit to trying it.

Marijuana is usually smoked, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The Cannabis (called “pot,” “weed,” “grass,” etc.) is typically spread on rolling papers and formed into a cigarette, often referred to as a joint, or a cigar-like blunt. Smoking releases the THC, which is absorbed into the blood stream through the lungs. Glass pipes, bubblers and bongs are other ways to smoke marijuana.

Marijuana can also be ingested in food, often a choice of those who are using medical marijuana. Aside from the popular “pot brownie,” edible marijuana can be added to a number of foods, including candy, ice cream and butter. Some states that have legalized marijuana have issued rules for packaging and labeling “marijuana edibles.”

Cannabis can be taken in liquid form, by brewing it as a tea. It can also be added to other beverages, including soda, milk and alcohol. Hashish is a resin made of the concentrated plant material. Other forms include capsules, oral sprays and topical oils.

A relatively new method of inhaling marijuana is vaporization, a “smokeless” delivery system using devices such as e-cigarettes. By heating the Cannabis at lower temperatures, the plant’s oils or extracts are released. Several studies suggest that “vaping” is better for health than smoking pot. Vaporized marijuana contains little other than cannabinoids, according to a 2004 study in the Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics. Users inhaled fewer toxic compounds and carbon monoxide when vaping compared with smoking marijuana, according to a 2007 study in the journal Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics. According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, there hasn’t been enough research to conclude how much healthier vaping is than smoking unfiltered marijuana.

How marijuana affects the mind

Marijuana reaches the same pleasure centers in the brain that are targeted by heroin, cocaine and alcohol.

Depending on the quantity, quality and method of consumption, marijuana can produce a feeling of euphoria — or high — by stimulating brain cells to release the chemical dopamine. When smoked or otherwise inhaled, the feeling of euphoria is almost immediate. When ingested in food, it takes much longer, even hours, for the drug to signal the brain to release the dopamine, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Other changes in mood can occur, with relaxation frequently being reported. Some users experience heightened sensory perception, with colors appearing more vivid and noises being louder. For some, marijuana can cause an altered perception of time and increased appetite, known as the “munchies.”

The impact can vary by person, how often they have used the drug, the strength of the drug and how often it has been since they have gotten high, among other factors.

“In some cases, reported side effects of THC include elation, anxiety, tachycardia, short-term memory recall issues, sedation, relaxation, pain-relief and many more,” said A.J. Fabrizio, a marijuana chemistry expert at Terra Tech Corp, a California agricultural company focused on local farming and medical cannabis.

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Other effects, according to the NIH, include:

  • Feelings of panic and fear (paranoia)
  • Hallucinations
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Decreased ability to perform tasks that require coordination
  • Decreased interest in completing tasks

When coming down from the high, users may feel depressed or extremely tired. While marijuana use produces a mellow experience (users are sometimes referred to as “stoners”) for some, it can heighten agitation, anxiety, insomnia and irritability, according to the NIH.

Marijuana and teens

When marijuana use begins in the teen years, it can have a significant impact on brain development, including decreased brain activity, fewer neural fibers in certain areas and a smaller than average hippocampus, which controls learning and memory functions.

According to a 2014 Northwestern Medicine study of teen marijuana users, memory-related structures in the brain appeared to shrink, a possible signs of a decrease in neurons. These abnormalities remained two years after the teen stopped using marijuana, indicating that the drug has long-term effects and look similar to brains of schizophrenics. Those who started using marijuana after 21 generally do not experience the same type of brain abnormalities as those who started using the drug earlier.

Long-term users report that they sometimes have trouble thinking clearly, organizing their thoughts, multitasking and remembering things. Sustained marijuana use can also slow reaction times in some individuals.

Another study by the University of Montreal published in the journal Development and Psychopathology in 2016 found similar results after researching almost 300 students. Those that started smoking around age 14 did worse on some cognitive tests than non-smokers. The study found that pot smokers also have a higher school dropout rate. Those that waited to start around age 17 did not seem to have the same impairments.

How marijuana affects the body

Marijuana smoke can cause many of the same respiratory problems experienced by tobacco smokers, such as increased daily cough and phlegm production, more frequent acute chest illnesses such as bronchitis, and a greater instance of lung infections, according to NIDA.

While it had been thought that there was a connection between marijuana smoking and increased risk of lung cancer, even those who are heavy marijuana users do not appear to be at greater risk for lung cancer, according to a 2013 study by Dr. Donald Tashkin, UCLA professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine.

A 2017 study by the Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia found that those who used marijuana were 26 percent more likely to have a stroke than those who did not use marijuana. Those studied were also 10 percent more likely to have developed heart failure.

Marijuana can also raise heart rate by 20 percent to 100 percent shortly after smoking and the effect can last up to three hours, according to NIDA. Marijuana also can reduce sperm production in men and disrupts a woman’s menstrual cycle, according to NIDA.

While it is widely thought that marijuana is not addictive, about 30 percent users may have some degree of marijuana use disorder, according to NIDA. Long-term marijuana users who try to quit experience cravings, irritability, sleeplessness, decreased appetite and anxiety — some of the same physical symptoms of those trying to quit other types of drugs or alcohol.

A 2016 study found a link between certain genetic markers and symptoms of marijuana addiction, suggesting that some people may have a genetic predisposition to marijuana addiction. That same study showed some overlap between the genetic risk factors for marijuana dependence and the genetic risk factors for depression, suggesting a possible reason why these two conditions often occur together, the researchers said.

You might not think marijuana and quizzes go together, but on the assumption that you arrived at this quiz sober, we pose some serious questions that will require your utmost attention and critical thinking skills. Good luck.

Pot Quiz: Test Your Marijuana Knowledge, Dude!

Additional reporting by Alina Bradford, Live Science contributor.

This article is for informational purposes only, and is not meant to offer medical advice.

Everything that you need to know about smoking seedy weed

It can happen to the best of us, especially when it comes to outdoor crops, as it really doesn’t take much for one lonely male to pollinate hundreds of females within a several mile-wide radius. Cannabis seeds can appear when we least expect them to, and that’s why it’s so extremely common to get a crop or a bag from your local dispensary that has these annoying pieces scattered throughout the flower.

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This is one of the reasons why so many cultivators take such strict steps to avoid contamination by wearing full-body gear and even PPE that is completely sanitary and disposable, but once you’re past the point of no return, and left with a pile of weed seeds in your buds, there are only so many options. You can toss it, and lose out on all of that hard work, or you could process the plant materials along with the marijuana seeds into oil or some other concentrate, but for those who have invested their last few dollars, or prefer the enjoyment that pure flowers can offer, one question remains.

Many people wonder if cannabis is safe to smoke when it’s full of a bunch of seeds, and if it is, in fact, safe as far as the lungs are concerned, whether or not there are any other potentially adverse effects that they should be privy to. Since this is such a common problem, we feel the need to answer these questions in-depth, so that consumers know what they’re getting into when they’re inevitably faced with this scenario.

Is it risky for your health to smoke cannabis seeds?

Marijuana seeds consist of completely non-toxic plant matter, so they are entirely safe, as far as we can tell, to smoke along with flower, which means that if you find them in a bag, they aren’t going to make you sick, but unfortunately that doesn’t necessarily translate to a truly enjoyable experience, as you will soon find out.

Adverse effects on taste

Cannabis seeds are incredibly annoying when they get lodged in a joint roll or stuck in your grinder, but the absolute worst thing about them is that they taste terrible when they’re smoked, which can completely ruin the normally delicious flavors of your weed. This might sound strange at first, after all, the materials all come from the very same plant, but those yummy trichomes and terpenes that you’d normally bask in simply don’t exist in weed seeds.

Unfortunately, what they do have is a whole lot of fibrous material, so when these bits of the cannabis plant are burnt, they leave behind a distinctive and shocking level of taste that many compare to charred popcorn. It’s certainly not going to be enough to hurt you, but they could leave you coughing or with a burnt tongue feeling, and both of those things can significantly impact the flavor of your herb in a bad way.

Reduced potency

If you’re one of the truly unlucky ones that have a crop that gets hit really hard with a foreign dose of pollen, then the weed seeds that develop could seriously reduce the quality of your cannabis, and it’s not just the taste that is impacted. Since cannabis seeds are a fair-sized, they take up a whole lot of room and add weight that otherwise wouldn’t be there, which results in a double whammy as far as potency is concerned because they also don’t contribute any cannabinoids to the harvest.

That’s right, those heavy, irritating cannabis seeds might look pretty and be attached to a fully matured plant, but they have absolutely nothing in common with the flower materials that surround them. To put it more simply, if you had one gram of two identical plants, with one that had been pollinated, the bud would weigh more, but it would have far less for cannabinoids like THC or CBD, which are the elements that influence how you feel right after taking a bit hit off of a joint.

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In their absence, your buds won’t be nearly as strong or effective, which means that you will need to smoke way more to get the same results, so you’re also going to find that you go through a whole lot more weed than you’re probably used to with better quality product, and you still might not be satisfied once all is said and done. Now, of course, this isn’t the case with all seedy cannabis as there are various levels of seed production to consider, but it will greatly reduce the potency of what could have been a stellar harvest.

Dangers

So now that you know what smoking seedy weed can do, it’s time to highlight one of the only real dangers of applying heat to cannabis seeds. These little balls seem nearly indestructible, and carry a wood-like texture that might have you believe that they’d burn away slowly just like a chunk of wood, but the way it works is much more like popcorn kernels which explode to produce the light and fluffy snack.

Sadly, marijuana seeds aren’t nearly as fun to watch heat up, especially when they’re in a joint or well-packed bowl, because they can and often will explode, and that can result in flying hot coals and joints that get ripped wide open due to the incredible amount of pressure. These things might not be overly dangerous, but they are something that every cannabis consumer should be aware of, as they tend to hit sensitive areas like the eyes or mouth, which can be quite painful.

The best ways to deal with weed seeds in your flower

Now that you know everything there is to know about smoking seedy cannabis, it’s time for us to discuss some of the different ways that you can choose to deal with the problem. Some are certainly more effective than others. However, all three of these solutions will work to at least reduce the effects that cannabis seeds can have on the experience of getting high.

1. Remove them manually
If you have a really bad case of seedy weed, then this might not be the best option, as it can be time-consuming to do, and even if you do manage to remove every single one, they will leave behind dried up shells that will still produce that lingering taste we talked about earlier. The best way to use this is by hand, using your fingers to gently shuffle through the bud and pinch any seed casings which should make them fall right out.

2. Make the flowers into a cannabis concentrate
If removing the marijuana seeds sounds like way too much work, and you’re open to trying or using other more potent cannabis concentrates like cannabis oil or cannabutter, then the best choice might be to toss the whole pile into the solution. Cannabis seeds might taste awful when they’re smoked, but that quality doesn’t carry over when they’re included in plant materials that are used to make concentrates. They strain right out, and you’re left with only the best element, which is why this is a preferred method of dealing with seedy weed for many cannabis consumers.

3. Use an electric grinder to break them down
If you aren’t willing to budge on the idea of a freshly packed bowl, and you’re really not interested in dedicating a whole bunch of time to the removal of the cannabis seeds, then you are left with only one option other than tossing it out, which would be a waste. Using an electric grinder will help you to avoid clogged or broken manual grinder, and it will reduce the cannabis seeds into dust so that you won’t see any sparks flying that may cause burns when you smoke them, but unfortunately, this method isn’t typically ideal, because it still leaves the strong taste that can ruin the natural flavors of your buds.