More than 20 million Americans on average use marijuana each month, making it the most popular street drug in the country. Eleven states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Washington — and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana. Many other states are considering laws to make it legal.
The number of Americans who are in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana has risen. More than 60% of people surveyed now support the idea. Most Americans don’t think marijuana is harmful. Yet despite the increasing acceptance, marijuana use does have some risks.
Here’s a look at how marijuana can affect your health.
How does marijuana work on the brain?
When you smoke or eat marijuana, chemicals called cannabinoids are released into your body. One main cannabinoid is THC.
Cannabinoids move from your lungs or stomach into your blood. From there, they travel to your brain and the rest of your body. THC acts on certain receptors in your brain. This creates the “high” some people feel.
What effects can marijuana have?
“Marijuana has a range of effects that vary based on the person and the potency,” says Christian Hopfer, MD, associate professor of psychiatry in the division of substance dependence at the University of Colorado. The more marijuana you use, the longer you use it, and the more THC it contains, the more effects you’ll feel.
Recreational marijuana use involves using cannabis for personal enjoyment rather than for health purposes. The recreational use of marijuana can be contrasted with medical marijuana use, which involves the prescribed use of cannabis to manage the symptoms of some medical conditions.
Characteristics of recreational marijuana use include:
- Infrequent use: Use is very occasional, and is not a regular or frequent way of spending one’s time; more time is spent on other activities that are considered more important.
- No compulsion to use: The person is easily able to decide to use or not use marijuana when it is available and freely offered; there is no particular compulsion to use.
- Using small amounts: The person is easily able to use only a small amount of marijuana with a mild effect, with no particular desire to “get stoned.”
- Using in social settings: The use of marijuana is purely recreational, and only happens in social situations; it is not “needed” to help the person relax or to get through their day, and they don’t need to use marijuana to do things like stimulate their appetite, get in the mood for sex, or have a bowel movement.
- Low investment: Excessive amounts of money are not spent on marijuana, and other essential purchases, such as food, household bills, and clothing, are not sacrificed in favor of marijuana.