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How does cannabis work in the body ?

Some cannabinoids are naturally made by the human body via the endocannabinoid system. They act similarly as the neurotransmitters which send messages throughout the nervous system. 

Neurotransmitters play a major role in thinking, concentration, movement, sensory, time perception, pleasure and memory. The receptors that respond to cannabinoids also react to THC and other cannabinoids.

An external source of cannabinoids can disrupt the nervous system activity affecting areas of brain that control: 

  • Time perception 
  • Balance, posture and coordination 
  • Memory and attention 

Hence, a person should not drive a car, operate machinery or engage in high risk physical activities after using cannabis. 

The pleasure effect of cannabis was produced due to the increased release of dopamine stimulated by THC on the specific cannabinoids receptors in the body.

Effect of Cannabis 

Short term effect – onset started around after 30 mins to one hour of ingestion 

  • Altered sense of time 
  • Altered sense (perceive colours as brighter) 
  • Mood changes 
  • Impaired body movements 
  • Impaired memory 
  • Hallucinations and delusions (high doses) 
  • Psychosis (especially with regular use of high potency marijuana) 

Long term effects 

  • According to researchers at Duke University, ongoing cannabis use in teenage years can result in a loss of 8 IQ points on average between ages of 13 – 38. 
  • It may result in mental illness or worsening of pre-existed mental illness with effects such as temporary paranoia, temporary hallucinations and disorganized thinking. 
  • Cannabis addiction which leads to cannabis use disorder. This is when a long term cannabis user will experience withdrawal symptoms when stopped taking cannabis. 

Cannabis withdrawal:

The withdrawal symptoms come at peak during the first week of stopping it. It can last up to 2 weeks long. 

Symptoms include: 

  • Mood changes 
  • Irritability 
  • Cravings 
  • Restlessness 
  • Insomnia 
  • Decreased appetite 
  • General discomfort 

Risks and Health effects:

  1. Lungs 

Smoking cannabis irritates the entire respiratory tracts including the lungs.  Cannabis smoke contains the same respiratory carcinogens and irritants as tobacco smoke. It can cause acute respiratory symptoms which includes cough and excessive phlegm. 

  1. Heart 

Cannabis enhances the sympathetic activity of the body causing increase of heart rate, cardiac output and myocardial oxygen consumption. It increased the risk of getting heart attack, stroke and atrial fibrillation. 

  1. Cancer 

Cannabis used has been associated with increased risk of getting lung cancer and  testicular cancer. 

  1. Dental 

Cannabis smoking can cause dry mouth and irritates the oral mucosa. It can also cause increased risk of periodontal disease, oral candidiasis and inflamed oral mucosa. Long term used can result in leukoplakia which is a white, grayish patches form on the surface of your oral cavity (gums and tongue)

  1. Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome 

Long term cannabis users can experience regular cycles of severe nausea, vomiting, dehydration which sometimes require emergency medical attention. 

Onset and duration of effects 

It varies according to the type of methods used to ingest the cannabis. 

Smoking or inhalation:  Typically results in rapid onset (within minutes) and short duration of action (2-4 hours)

Oral ingestion: Slower onset of action (30mins to 1 hour) but longer duration of action in the body (4-12 hours)

Topical: Transdermal patches allow cannabis to give effect to the body over a prolonged period. The steady infusion benefits people that use cannabis for pain and inflammation the most. 

Take home messages

In conclusion, those who are considering using cannabis should always check the legality of cannabis usage in the relative states or country. It is best to consult a doctor before using as it may impact your mental and physical health.