Medically Reviewed by
Jason Crawford

Article Last Updated on January 6, 2023

As the recreational use of marijuana increases over the years and the cannabis market expands, a lot of marijuana smokers are wondering whether cannabis use has a negative impact on public health. And this is exactly what we’lll cover in this article.

Whether you enjoy smoking joints, vaping, using a water pipe, or inviting your friends over for a bong session, these next paragraphs will give you all the information on what the short-term and long-term effects of weed consumption are.

Finally, we’ll also talk about the mental health effects that weed can have on cannabis users, as well as how medical marijuana can help with ameliorating certain medical conditions, so let’s get to it.

Cannabinoids in Marijuana (THC vs CBD) And the Effects They Have On Your Body

Even though the cannabis plant has a lot of cannabinoids and chemical compounds, the most popular active ingredients found in weed are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). These are the cannabinoids that give users their desired psychoactive, anti-inflammatory, appetite-stimulating, pain-relieving, and therapeutic effects, to name a few.

This is all enabled with the help of the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) which consists of endocannabinoids, enzymes that degrade the cannabinoids, and cannabinoid receptors, which is also in charge of the metabolism, the immune system, appetite, short-term memory, and other essential functions.

Cannabis Use and Physical Health

Cannabis use can have consequences on key systems in the body after the initial high wears off. Below, we’ll give you the information on how weed consumption affects the following systems in the body:

  • Respiratory system;
  • Cardiovascular system;
  • Central nervous system;
  • Digestive system.

Respiratory System

Similar to tobacco smoke, cannabis smoke contains a lot of chemicals that can irritate the bronchial passages, increase the risk of developing coughs, and cause you to produce more phlegm. Furthermore, smoking cannabis can lead to a greater risk of developing bronchitis or getting a lung infection. There was even some debate that cannabis smoke contains carcinogens that can cause lung cancer, however, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), there’s no research that supports this claim to this date. 

Remember that the research on cannabis is still in its late infancy and researchers are focusing on getting to know more about certain cannabinoids present in weed and how they affect the body and cause disease, so even though current research doesn’t view marijuana as a cancer-causing plant, it’s a good idea to be responsible when using it and to use it in moderation.

Cardiovascular System

It’s a fact that cannabinoids affect the cardiovascular system simply because no matter the consumption methods, whether it is consuming brownies or smoking a joint, the active ingredients in weed such as THC, CBD, and others, eventually end up in the bloodstream. Naturally, after consumption, it’s common to have an increased heart rate ranging from 20 to 100 percent above normal in certain cases.

As a result, excessive cannabis consumption can even result in a heart attack, especially in cases where users have an underlying heart condition. Because of that, it’s probably a good idea for people who have developed a cardiovascular medical condition, or people who are at risk for developing a cardiovascular condition to limit or completely omit smoking marijuana.

Central Nervous System

The next system that’s mostly affected as a result of marijuana use is the central nervous system. In fact, the effects of marijuana primarily affect the CNS. As a result of weed consumption, many parts of the brain experience changes, and some of those include the parts that control learning, decision making, memory, attention, coordination, emotion, reaction time, and even pain. This is why marijuana use can often help patients who suffer from seizures, chronic pain, and other medical conditions due to its having pain-relieving properties, as well as heightening the senses and promoting euphoria and relaxation.

Even so, because weed affects the part of the brain which is responsible for making new memories, the hippocampus, people who are under the influence of cannabis not only find it hard to form new memories, but also have trouble with balance, coordination, and response time while they’re under the influence of weed. This makes it hard for people who are operating heavy machinery or driving to perform these tasks, which is why it’s best not to do these activities until the effects of weed have passed.

Digestive System

Cannabis use also affects the body’s digestive system and this is the system that first comes in contact with the cannabinoids after you consume edibles. The main effects that weed has on the digestive system is mainly the increased appetite that people experience after consuming weed which is why cannabis is used as a treatment option for patients who are doing chemotherapy as it improves their eating habits and causes the munchies.

Marijuana Use and Psychological Health

Cannabis can also have effects on mental health, and those are not always the feelings of euphoria and relaxation which people experience during their high. 

Firstly, cannabis can increase the symptoms in patients who suffer from depression and anxiety. Secondly, cannabis can impair your judgment, short-term memory, and cause you to have delayed reactions which isn’t very good if you’re planning to drive or operate heavy machinery. In fact, research published in the Molecular Psychiatry journal found that heavy cannabis users risk developing false memories due to consuming high doses of cannabis over a long period of time. 

Thirdly, cannabis can trigger serious mental conditions, such as schizophrenia or paranoia, especially in patients with a genetic predisposition. Next, cannabis is sometimes a gateway drug for young people who started out with smoking marijuana but later moved on to doing more serious drugs. Finally, people who smoke weed on a regular basis have a greater risk for developing an addiction to marijuana, and can also cause serious symptoms of withdrawal if you do decide to quit after using cannabis for a long period.

Medical Marijuana

Despite the side effects that we have mentioned above with regards to smoking weed, cannabis can also help medical marijuana patients who are suffering from certain medical conditions. For example, the CBD medication Epidiolex is an effective treatment option for patients who are suffering from serious medical conditions, such as Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. Moreover, weed has been used effectively as a pain-reliever, appetite-stimulator, and as an herbal remedy for insomnia, and its use is likely to increase in the future as the scope of its medical benefits increases.

Consequences of Cannabis Use

To sum up, cannabis use can have both short-term and long-term negative effects and cause health problems for marijuana users, especially if consumed in high doses. Some of the short-term effects include:

  • Increased anxiety, paranoia, depression, and hallucinations in people with a mental health condition;
  • Short-term memory problems;
  • Impaired coordination and a lower reaction time.

On the other hand, the long-term effects and health risks of using weed include:

  • Breathing problems and developing conditions that seriously affect the respiratory system which are caused by marijuana smoke;
  • Increasing the heart rate which also increases the chances of getting a heart attack;
  • Triggering mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or psychosis in people with a genetic predisposition;
  • Impairing the brain development and affecting the IQ levels in young adults and adolescents;
  • Worsening the symptoms of illnesses such as depression and anxiety.

Final Thoughts on the Consequences of Smoking Weed

As substance use and especially marijuana use increases, marijuana users need to be even more mindful of how they’re consuming cannabis, as well as how much cannabis they’re consuming. In light of the increase of current legalization policies for marijuana all over the world, cannabis drug use will likely increase in the following years. What you can do to mitigate some of these harmful consequences is to use it in moderate doses as a recreational user, or in the exact prescribed doses if you’re using it medicinally in order to avoid the more serious side effects if you do decide to use cannabis at all.

A passionate advocate for the benefits of cannabis. Fraser Horton, who has a background in botany and a strong love of nature, has spent years researching how cannabis affects the body and mind. He established Leaf Nation in 2020, where he has devoted himself to educating people about the legalisation of marijuana and its safe and responsible use. Fraser is committed to highlighting cannabis’ potential for improving wellness and working to dispel the stigma associated with its use.


The information presented on this page is provided as a public service to aid in education and is derived from sources believed to be reliable. Readers are responsible for making their own assessment of the topics discussed here. In no event shall Leaf Nation be held reliable for any injury, loss or damage that could happen if using or abusing drugs.