Long and Short-Term Effects of Cannabis
While a few states in the United States have already made the leap, like Colorado, California, and Oregon, the bill for the legalization of cannabis in Canada was tabled and will be in effect on October 17, 2018.
It’s a hot topic at the moment. The legalization of cannabis is already raising a few questions about public health and issues relating to substance abuse. Mental and physical health problems such as impaired cognitive functions (memory, concentration, psychomotor speed), the development of children born to mothers who use drugs, or the ability to drive a vehicle safely, are all points of debate regarding this substance whose effects are misunderstood (Read Effects and Harms of cannabis: Misconceptions among Youth).
The Canadian government’s willingness to legalize the sale, the use and the possession of cannabis must not trivialize its use among young people. The Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey (CTADS), commissioned in 2015 by the government, reveals some alarming numbers. Among developed nations, Canada is the country with the highest percentage of adolescents who have declared using cannabis with 28% of respondents between the ages of 11- and 15-years old affirming having done so. Furthermore, in 2012, 27% of young Canadians over the age of 15 declared using cannabis at least once a week. In light of these observations, it is necessary to compare and contrast this high consumption among young Canadians with the detrimental long and short-term effects on their bodies.
Cannabis is often regarded as a ‘soft’ or ‘recreational’ drug by users. However, several studies demonstrate the effects and harmfulness of short and long-term use.
The effects of cannabis on the brain are numerous, even in the short-term. There are significant alterations, both physical and emotional.
On a physical level, during use, there are signs of sensory alterations that start to appear: pain relief and a sense of calm and euphoria. This alteration leads to a loss of bearings: the user feels sleepy or depressed and has no notion of time. THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), the active constituent of cannabis, directly influences brain functions by blurring the connections between neurons. Therefore, the response time of the person using is slower. Even inhaling smoke from a joint increase’s cardiac pulsations and blood pressure.
The consumption of cannabis can also influence the mood and emotional state of the person using. They then find themselves in states of anxiety, depression or stress and can suffer from panic attacks, dizziness, migraines and vomiting. Using cannabis alters mood, ways of thinking, inhibition and impulsiveness. Thus, the person will be more inclined to make hasty decisions or postpone deadlines.
The long-term, repeated use of cannabis can have serious consequences on mental and physical health. By altering the brain and its functions, THC causes damage that is sometimes irreversible. Researchers have shown that with chronic users, certain zones of the brain were a lot less active during stimuli.
It has been proven that cannabis has a lasting influence on receptors in the part of the brain essential for cognitive activities: substantially reduced attention span, significant increase in reaction time compared to a person who has never used the drug and loss of memory. People using the drug also take more time to recognize emotions (joy, anger, sadness) because THC diminishes activity in the part of the brain that is necessary to identify them. Finally, cannabis leads to the progressive decline of the immune system, making people more inclined to contract common illnesses (flu, infections, colds).
Cannabis causes apathy and lack or loss of motivation. For people suffering from depression and anxiety or who are psychologically unstable, using cannabis can lead to mental health problems. In addition, the most lasting and notable effects are felt in decision- making, the capacity to create concepts and to plan them.