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Experts Explain What Happens In Your Body If You Smoke Weed Daily, Weekly, Or Monthly

It’s not as cut & dry as you learned in D.A.R.E.

Sometimes picking up a joint can seem like the best way to wind down (particularly if you live in a place where it’s legal) — but you might be wondering what cannabis does to your body over time. It’s a complex plant, and its impact on your health is still being studied, with decades of legal restrictions slowly lifting.

Pot has been found to have more health benefits over the last few years, like alleviating chronic pain and helping insomnia. But depending on how often you smoke, there could be risks, too.

“Work from my lab and others does suggest that frequency of use correlates positively with cannabis-related problems,” Mitchell Earleywine Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Albany, tells Bustle. “But the effect isn’t particularly big.” Your experience will be pretty different if you’re an occasional weed-brownie-haver as opposed to a several-times-a-day vaper.

Whether you identify as an occasional or daily user, a bong ripper, or gummy-snacker, here’s what’s happening in your body when you use weed.

Occasional Use

Scientists are still trying to figure out how many of weed’s effects are temporary, what’s long-term, and how much dosage is required. (And then there’s the fact that men react differently to women when it comes to cannabinoids, which is often not used as a factor in studies.) “Occasional use by adults is generally safe, particularly for those who use the vaporizer,” Earleywine says.

One way a smoking session every few months may hurt your body is in immune response. There is evidence cannabinoids interferes in our resistance to infection. One study in Journal of Cannabis Research in 2020 found that heavy cannabis use — defined as seven or more hits in the past 30 days — tended to increase white blood cells, which indicates that the immune system is under strain, but it’s not clear if occasional use will have the same effects.

A single hit will significantly impair your balance, your reaction time, and your ability to form new memories, but these effects will wear off as your high does. “The impairment from cannabis relates to impaired ability to deal with unexpected events, like avoiding a car that comes out of nowhere,” Matthew W. Johnson, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, tells Bustle. And 2015 study in Schizophrenia Bulletin has found that just one hit can cause paranoia in some people, which you probably knew.

Monthly Use

Determining whether risks increase with use when it comes to cannabis is a bit tricky. “Monthly use has no meaningful impact,” Jonathan Caukins Ph.D., professor of operations research and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College and an expert on cannabis legalization, tells Bustle.

Having a monthly smoke may to be linked to temporary harm to cognitive skills like memory, assimilation of new information, and attention, but it’s likely to be pass pretty quickly. According to a review of studies published in Journal of Addiction Medicine in 2012, a monthly user will “spring back” from this damage over four weeks of abstinence.

One study, published in 2014 by the Society Of Prevention Research, looked at boys throughout their lives, from 7th grade to age 35. Monthly weed use was common, and it didn’t seem to make a difference to the 35-year-olds’ health issues, medications, injuries, or hospitalizations. Men who didn’t smoke weed had the same outcomes.

Weekly Use

When you smoke weekly, health risks go up. A 2020 study of 3,400 people published in JACC Cardiovascular Imaging found that weekly users showed problems with the left ventricles of their hearts and shifts in their heart structure. Regular use has also been linked to an increased risk of heart attacks, particularly in the first few hours after a session.

A 2011 review of weekly users, published in Indian Journal of Psychiatry, found that going cold turkey for a month can restore cognitive powers, from reaction time to memory and dexterity. Other studies, though, only showed partial recovery. The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse & Addiction did a roundup of studies in 2019 that found weekly smoking was much less likely to produce permanent cognitive problems than daily smoking.

For all the fearmongering, even daily use of weed isn’t going to be that harmful, all things considered. A 2015 study published in Annals of the American Thoracic Society stated fairly definitively that, even after 20 years of daily use, weed smokers were still able to expel the same amount of air from their lungs as non-smokers.

The scientific opinion on daily smoking and lung cancer isn’t clear either. Cancer Research UK found that some studies believe there is a link, while others don’t believe the indications are strong enough. They point out that the huge variation in the strength of weed, the fact that people sometimes smoke it with tobacco, and the different ways individuals process it all make a link hard to pin down. “Although cannabis does increase symptoms of bronchitis like coughing and wheezing, it does not appear to elevate risk for lung cancer,” Earleywine says.

There’s an argument that daily, heavy spliff use may actually alter the structure of your brain. “Daily use has many dangers, including most obviously altering brain pathways,” Caukins says. A 2014 study published in PNAS found that daily users seemed to have a smaller orbitofrontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps with emotional and decision-oriented processing, but also had denser links between different parts of the brain. A 2017 study published in Pediatric Neurology also found that chronic weed use was linked to damage in the brain’s white matter.

“One effect is subtle memory deficits,” Johnson says. “These seems to disappear with about a month of abstinence.” Daily use can also result in dependence, he says, which means you start feeling irritable, sleepless and lose your appetite whenever you stop.

The Bottom Line

“The data on cannabis and altered brain structure only seem to appear in those who used the plant heavily while still very young,” Earleywine cautions. And these findings have been hard to replicate. “Plenty of daily users have literally no problems related to the plant, and some occasional users consume in unsafe ways,” he says. “Those who begin use early in life tend to show more problems with the plant than those who start when they are older.”

So frequency may not be the be-all and end-all for determining how weed is affecting your health; what time of day you smoke, how you do it, and how young you were when you began smoking are all factors, too.

Readers should note that laws governing cannabis, hemp and CBD are evolving, as is information about the efficacy and safety of those substances. As such, the information contained in this post should not be construed as legal or medical advice. Always consult your physician prior to trying any substance or supplement.

Jonathan Caukins Ph.D.

Mitchell Earleywine Ph.D.

Matthew W. Johnson, Ph.D.

Alshaarawy, O. (2019) Total and differential white blood cell count in cannabis users: results from the cross-sectional National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2005–2016. J Cannabis Res1, 6. https://doi.org/10.1186/s42238-019-0007-8

Crean, R. D., Crane, N. A., & Mason, B. J. (2011). An evidence based review of acute and long-term effects of cannabis use on executive cognitive functions. Journal of addiction medicine, 5(1), 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1097/ADM.0b013e31820c23fa

Hall W. (2015). What has research over the past two decades revealed about the adverse health effects of recreational cannabis use?. Addiction (Abingdon, England), 110(1), 19–35. https://doi.org/10.1111/add.12703

Filbey, F. M., Aslan, S., Calhoun, V. D., Spence, J. S., Damaraju, E., Caprihan, A., & Segall, J. (2014). Long-term effects of marijuana use on the brain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111(47), 16913–16918. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1415297111

Freeman, D., Dunn, G., Murray, R. M., Evans, N., Lister, R., Antley, A., Slater, M., Godlewska, B., Cornish, R., Williams, J., Di Simplicio, M., Igoumenou, A., Brenneisen, R., Tunbridge, E. M., Harrison, P. J., Harmer, C. J., Cowen, P., & Morrison, P. D. (2015). How cannabis causes paranoia: using the intravenous administration of ∆9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to identify key cognitive mechanisms leading to paranoia. Schizophrenia bulletin, 41(2), 391–399. https://doi.org/10.1093/schbul/sbu098

Kempker, J. A., Honig, E. G., & Martin, G. S. (2015). The effects of marijuana exposure on expiratory airflow. A study of adults who participated in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Study. Annals of the American Thoracic Society, 12(2), 135–141. https://doi.org/10.1513/AnnalsATS.201407-333OC

Khanji, M. Y., Jensen, M. T., Kenawy, A. A., Raisi-Estabragh, Z., Paiva, J. M., Aung, N., Fung, K., Lukaschuk, E., Zemrak, F., Lee, A. M., Barutcu, A., Maclean, E., Cooper, J., Piechnik, S. K., Neubauer, S., & Petersen, S. E. (2020). Association Between Recreational Cannabis Use and Cardiac Structure and Function. JACC. Cardiovascular imaging, 13(3), 886–888. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcmg.2019.10.012

Mandelbaum, D. E., & de la Monte, S. M. (2017). Adverse Structural and Functional Effects of Marijuana on the Brain: Evidence Reviewed. Pediatric neurology, 66, 12–20. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pediatrneurol.2016.09.004

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Struik, D., Sanna, F., & Fattore, L. (2018). The Modulating Role of Sex and Anabolic-Androgenic Steroid Hormones in Cannabinoid Sensitivity. Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience, 12, 249. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnbeh.2018.00249

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division; Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice; Committee on the Health Effects of Marijuana: An Evidence Review and Research Agenda. The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2017 Jan 12. 8, Immunity.

This article was originally published on April 20, 2016

Cannabis’ impact on your health is still being studied, with decades of legal restrictions slowly lifting.

Is It Better To Take Big Or Small Hits When Smoking Weed?

There are still plenty of cannabis smokers who believe that gigantic hits from a bong or blunt are a one-way ticket to getting higher than high. But is it true that more smoke means more THC? Let’s take a look at what separates the huge hits from the small.

It’s likely that you’ve heard the old myth about how you’re supposed to smoke weed the “right” way. How exactly is that done? Well, some say that you must take extra-large hits and hold them in the lungs for as long as possible to achieve maximum effects. If you’re in this camp, we hate to break it to you, but this is not doing what you think it is. Here’s why you don’t need to take huge hits to enjoy your weed.

WHY YOU DON’T NEED TO TAKE BIG HITS

To get a better perspective on things, let’s take a look at how our lungs function. When we breathe, we are actually not very efficient at absorbing oxygen and expelling carbon dioxide. Although our lungs can hold about 6 litres of air with one large breath, we’re expelling a good portion of that oxygen when we exhale. If our lungs absorbed oxygen super-efficiently, we could potentially take in these 6 litres in one go and wouldn’t need another breath for a while. Instead, we breathe more often and with shorter breaths.

The fact is, your lungs can only absorb 5–6ml of oxygen per minute, and the same principle is true when you smoke weed. Or said differently, it’s not possible for you to force more THC into your system when you’re holding smoke in your lungs.

“TAKING BIG HITS MAKES ME HIGHER!”

You may indeed “feel higher” when taking larger hits and holding them in, but this is because you’re depriving your brain of oxygen. The lightheadedness or dizziness that you feel will be compounded further by carbon monoxide in the smoke. Simply by inhaling a larger hit of smoke, it may trick you into feeling as though the quantity of THC being received is also higher. Point blank, this is not the case.

OUR BODY ABSORBS THC INSTANTLY

Our lungs transfer oxygen from the air (or THC from smoke) almost instantly. As soon as you have taken a hit, almost all the THC from your weed (95%) has already entered your body. This means there is no point in holding your smoke for an extended period, or at all for that matter.

HOLDING IN YOUR SMOKE IS UNHEALTHY

The active compounds in cannabis (THC, CBD, terpenes, flavonoids) only comprise a small portion of what is contained in weed smoke. The rest of its contents is made up different substances, many of which are harmful. The longer you hold the smoke in, the more toxic byproducts settle in your body. If you think this sounds unhealthy, you’re spot on.

WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO GET AS HIGH AS POSSIBLE?

Simple answer here: smoke more. Or, if you think that your current weed might not cut it for your desired effect, consider stronger strains. You can also consider dabbing concentrates or taking edibles, both of which result in much more potent experiences.

Now that you realise taking smaller hits is healthier, it might make sense to try vaping. Vaporizers don’t combust the pant material or concentrates, but simply heat them to the desired range for cannabinoids to become active. This results in a healthier consumption experience that some people believe is more intense. The smooth draws should also make your lungs feel better after becoming acquainted with your vape.

OTHER BENEFITS OF SMALLER DOSES OF CANNABIS

Not everyone who smokes weed does so because they want to get as high as possible. Different folks have different reasons, and that’s okay. Microdosing has recently become quite popular among medicinal users, and it’s even gaining traction amongst recreational consumers.

WHAT IS MICRODOSING?

Microdosing involves taking a small, “sub-perceptual” dose of a substance (in this case THC), so you can experience its benefits without feeling high. A normal THC microdose is around 2–3mg. So, rather than smoking your entire joint or bowl, you’d just take a small puff or two. Some users microdose this way throughout the day to enjoy cannabis without the negative side effects that come with high doses of THC.

KEEP IT EASY AND HEALTHY

Fortunately, smoking cannabis isn’t some type of competition where you need to strain your body to get the most out of it. However you choose to do it, keep it easy with small puffs. If you smoke a lot, look into switching to a vaporizer instead. A decent vape can last a while and reduce harm to your lungs. It’s a win-win!

We dispel the old myth that you need to take huge hits to get higher. Learn why smaller hits hits of cannabis are smarter. ]]>