What Happens If You Smoke Marijuana?
Reactions with pot can vary widely
Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Sean Gallup Collection / Getty Images News
The reaction you may have when trying marijuana can vary dramatically based on many factors. Some people report not feeling anything at all when they smoke marijuana. In other cases, people report feeling relaxed or “high.”
Some people who use marijuana report having sudden feelings of anxiety and paranoid thoughts and that might be caused by trying a higher potency marijuana, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Research also shows that regular use of marijuana is linked to an increased risk of depression, anxiety and a loss of motivation or drive. You may feel “dopey” on the drug, which is when you begin to lose interest in activities that you might have previously enjoyed or you may lose the ability to grasp concepts easily.
Short-Term Discomforts of Using Weed
The effects of using marijuana can be unpredictable, especially when it is mixed with other drugs, research shows. You may feel relaxed on the drug, but other things you might not be expecting with pot use can include rapid heart rate and other unpleasantries.
- Dry mouth
- Swollen eyelids
- Bloodshot eyes
- Loss of coordination
- Accelerated heart rate
As with any drug or substance that can alter perception, logic and usual behavior, there are several short-term hazards of using marijuana from impairing driving abilities to memory loss.
- Learning difficulties
- Lack of attention and focus
- Poor driving skills
- Anxiety and paranoia
- Impaired memory
- Difficulty in thinking
Any drug that is taken over a prolonged period of time can have an effect on your health. Several of the physical barriers that can occur range from infertility problems to overall brain functions.
- An increased risk of developing lung, head, and neck cancers
- Lack of motivation
- Decreased sperm count in men
- Irregular menstruation in women
- Respiratory problems
- Heightened risk of infections, especially the lungs
- Poor short-term memory recall
- Inability to shift attention normally
- Inability to understand complex information
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that marijuana can affect each person differently according to their own body chemistry and the type of pot used. Some people can use weed and never have any negative reactions while others may try it and get entirely freaked out by the experience.
- Your biology (genetic makeup)
- Marijuana’s strength (amount of active ingredient THC)
- Previous experience with the drug
- How it’s taken (smoked versus ingested)
- Whether alcohol or other drugs are taken too
Not Your Grandfather’s Pot
Studies have found that the marijuana available today is much different in terms of potency compared to what was generally available in the 1960s when the use of the drug became widespread in the United States.
Today’s strains of the plant contain much more of the active ingredient in marijuana: tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, researchers say. That makes today’s weed much more potent than that smoked by the hippies and flower children of the Woodstock generation.
How marijuana affects the individual user depends on many different factors, including body chemistry and the potency of the drug.
People Talk About the Experience That Made Them Stop Smoking Weed
(Top photo: Flickr user daddyboskeasy, via)
Smoking weed is a lot of fun, until it’s not. You might have grown up getting high and watched as all your friends slowly put down the papers, or you may well be the person out of your social group who first decided that weed wasn’t for you – whether that was because it started to make you feel weird every time you smoked it, or just because you were done with the rigmarole of waiting three hours to pick up some sub-par skunk.
Everyone has their own reasons when it comes to leaving weed behind, so for Weed Week we asked a load of people about the experience that made them want to stop getting high.
Will Smoking Weed Affect My Anxiety?
I first started smoking weed when I was around 12, and by age 15 I was getting stoned pretty much all day, every day, until one night in my room when I started to develop what I now understand to be psychosis. I could hear people calling for me in my house and would run downstairs to see what was going on, only to see there was no one home. I would hear heavy rainfall on my window, only to look outside and find a still, dry night. It started happening like clockwork: every time I started smoking I would have the same hallucinations. I knew pretty much instantly it was from the weed, but it took a long time to wean myself off it, both because I loved it so much and because it was all my social circle were interested in doing.
I stopped smoking fully until my mid-twenties, when I realised I could get stoned now and again without any of those hallucinations coming back, but now I’ve pretty much cut it out again because once I start I can’t control myself with it. I’m a stoner at heart, so getting “a bit” stoned “now and again” just doesn’t do it for me.
I started smoking weed when I was 12, cobbling together £5 in change between four of us and changing it up at the shop for a note to buy a jax with. I gradually got more and more into it as I went through my teens, which was loads of fun at the time. Then, when I was about 22, 23, I started feeling like weed was making me really anxious for about the first hour or so after smoking. I realised after a while that I was spending crazy money on smoking spliffs for a high that I hoped would wear off as quickly as possible.
Still, I carried on smoking for about another two years because it was a central part of my routine, and the addled love a routine. I eventually quit in January of 2015 after a particularly anxious episode where I was convinced I was gonna have a heart attack. I don’t want to sound high and mighty: I’d still smoke weed daily if I enjoyed it as much as I used to, but something changed in my brain, I guess, and now I’m better off without.
WATCH: High Society – The UK’s Drone-Operating Weed Thieves, Granny Growers and Pot-Friendly Politicians
I started smoking weed because of a stoner ex-boyfriend: I would only really smoke it when we were together, but then he dumped me and I just started smoking on my own all the time. After about three or four months I started to get really paranoid: I was super vigilant about everything and would get delusions. I’m still not sure if it was just the fallout of being dumped and the anxiety and depression that came with that which caused the paranoia, or the weed, but I stopped. I miss getting high, and I’ve been thinking about trying it out again because I read a lot about how much it helps anxiety. But then in turn I’m anxious about the paranoia coming back, and having to accept that maybe it just isn’t for me.
I never used to smoke weed as much as most people my age; for me it was more of a “once a fortnight” thing to take the edge off of hangovers and comedowns. In 2012 I visited Amsterdam with some seasoned stoners, and on the first day we all went to a cafe and decided to go in on some “vaporised isolate”, which you inhale from a bag. Sadly, I completely lost it. Like full on lost the plot: lost track of where I was, what was happening, didn’t recognise anything around me. To this day, the only way I can describe what happened to me in words is that I got locked inside my own mind. It was like I was thrown all of the world’s most challenging philosophical conundrums to deal with all at once, and I couldn’t even word to my friend what was happening as he walked me around the area to calm me down.
I still look back on that holiday and get little flashbacks once every six months or so, which leave me feeling very confused and anxious for about an hour. It’s really odd, because I never suffered from anxiety, but for about an hour every six months I relive the experience – although it’s becoming less frequent now. I properly decided to build on life after that, though, and I can honestly say it’s helped turn my life into an amazing experience. In a way, I appreciate that it happened.
LINK TO REALITY
I smoked weed every day for a few years from the age of 18 onwards. Blazing opened up to me a whole new social stratum of mates – people who chose to live life on their terms a bit more. Its mind-expanding, introspective properties undeniably contributed to some vitally important existential realisations and helped me to figure out my frantic brain and learn about myself a fair bit.
After suffering from drug-induced psychosis triggered mostly by a heavy diet of psychedelics at 23, I had to rethink my attitude towards all mind-altering substances, and there were times during my recovery that I would have a toke and feel my brain turning towards overly meta realms divorced from the cushiony comfortable reality weed use to give me before. Four years on, my roots to reality are more solid, but I’m still cautious with how much I smoke, because I’ve felt first-hand in my brain that unsettling link between getting high and losing touch with everything tangible and real.
I’ve been smoking since I was about 13, but mostly in a social capacity and rarely on my own. It would be in between classes at college, before and after parties or the club, and always scraping that last zoot out the grinder kind of flex. About two or three years ago I was at a festival out in the South West – I’d planned to have a fairly chilled one and just drink most of the weekend, but I had a bad stomach for some reason and I could barely drink an alcoholic beverage without being doubled over and burping constantly.
Luckily I had a nice 20 bag, but by the end of the weekend I was sick of it. I was sitting there with a big spliff in my mouth and a metallic taste on my tongue, just thinking, What is this? I don’t even enjoy it any more.’ I finished the spliff and that was it: I just decided I was done. Since then I’ve had the odd toke and it just sends my head spinning. I’m getting old, clearly. I thought I’d be smoking for life, but clearly not. Maybe edibles is the way? British Bake Off, come at me.
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Getting high day in, day out isn't for everyone.