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The Effects of Smoking Weed on Lungs

The belief that smoking weed is harmless and not addictive may be flawed. Up to 20% of people will become addicted. Read on to learn more.

Marijuana Usage

There are many ways to use weed. It can be smoked, eaten, or blended into a beverage. There are also different ways to smoke weed. Depending on the user, weed can be vaped, put in a pipe, or rolled in a blunt with weed inside. While most marijuana consumption is for pleasure or recreation, many medical professionals prescribe medical marijuana for specific conditions and symptom mitigation related to chronic diseases.

Marijuana continues to have a reputation as a relatively harmless drug, and the ongoing cigarette vs. weed battle remains more robust than ever. Therefore, there has been a significant push to legalize its use throughout the United States in recent years. As the push to legalize marijuana continues, researchers are beginning to learn more about the effects that marijuana has on the brain and body.

What is Weed? 

Weed, also called marijuana, is derived from the flowers and leaves of the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plants. 1 Weed contains more than 500 known chemicals, although a select few are responsible for producing the euphoric or mind-altering effects weed smokers seek when they use the drug.

THC Effects

THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is the primary chemical responsible for “getting you high” when smoking weed. It is important to note that weed has changed over the last 30 years. In the early 90s, the average level of THC in weed was less than 4%. Today THC levels are greater than 15% in the plant and higher in specialty products like oils and extracts. 2

When someone smokes weed, the THC in the plant goes from their lungs to the bloodstream, traveling to the brain and other vital organs. THC then connects to specific receptors on the brain’s nerve cells leading to the “high” desired from smoking weed.

Why Do People Smoke Weed?

smoking weed

People begin smoking weed for the first time (and continue to do so) for several reasons. Youth and teens start smoking weed due to peer pressure, curiosity, and the desire to "fit in" with their peers. Also, those who have previously experimented with tobacco or alcohol (or both) are at an elevated risk of experimenting with or frequently using weed.

Risk Factors for Marijuana Consumption

Other risk factors for marijuana use are untreated or poorly addressed mental health conditions and early childhood trauma. For some, including youth and adults, smoking weed begins out of boredom or as a coping mechanism to manage chronic pain, depression, and other unpleasant and complex emotional struggles.

Weed is an intoxicating substance, but unlike other drugs which produce similar effects (such as cocaine or heroin), there is limited potential for fatal side effects linked to smoking weed. Despite weed's perceived "harmless" nature, it is possible to smoke too much weed, leading to ongoing physical and psychological harm.

Effects of Smoking Weed on The Lungs

The effects of weed go far beyond temporary happiness or a feeling of "being high." Ongoing use of marijuana eventually leads to detrimental impacts on every system in the body. Because the most common method of weed consumption is smoking, the lungs or respiratory system are particularly vulnerable to the harmful side effects of smoking weed.  

Lung Complications

Like tobacco smoke, the smoke in weed comprises various toxic chemicals, including ammonia and hydrogen cyanide. Smoking weed every day or smoking too much weed frequently increases your susceptibility to various lung issues, including wheezing, coughing, and the production of excessive amounts of phlegm.

In addition, those who smoke weed every day are at a greater risk for bronchitis, frequent lung infections, and worsening symptoms related to chronic respiratory illnesses such as asthma and cystic fibrosis. Currently, there is no conclusive evidence that marijuana smoke leads to lung cancer; however, there is evidence that its use puts you at an increased risk of specific cancers. 3

Respiratory Issues

Other risks to your lungs and respiratory system associated with the effects of weed, more specifically the smoke in weed, include an increased risk of developing obstructive airway disease, restrictive airway disease, reduced immunity, malignancy (cancer-causing effects), pulmonary embolism and heart failure. Several studies show that individuals with a cannabis use disorder have a significantly higher risk of experiencing pulmonary embolism (0.97% vs. 0.62%) than non-weed smokers.

Short-Term Effects When You Smoke Weed

The smoke in weed has short and long-term effects on the body. In the short term, people smoking weed experience several side effects that do not last long but can lead to more significant challenges. Smoking weed every day or smoking too much weed can lead to physical complications such as dry mouth, bloodshot eyes, problems with coordination, memory problems, accelerated heart rate (fast pulse), loss of coordination, difficulties “thinking clearly,” inability to focus, and increased feelings of anxiety and paranoia.

Long-Term Effects When You Smoke Weed

Over time, regular weed smokers may suffer damage to their brain and other vital body systems.

Many people do not think weed has side effects that can impact you throughout your entire life, but the long-term effects of continued use can have severe and lasting impacts. Typical examples of these include increased risk of lung, head, and neck cancers, heightened risk of infections (especially in the lungs), irregular menstruation, lack of motivation, ongoing respiratory problems, and difficulties with concentration and short-term memory. Women who smoke weed while pregnant may experience detrimental effects on their unborn child in reduced fetal growth and lower birth rates. 5

Why Reactions to Weed Differ

The effects of people smoking weed differ from person to person. Similarly, how people feel before and after weed use, after smoking weed too fast, and when smoking weed when high on other substances varies from person to person. Several factors contribute to how one feels before and after weed use. Those include genetics, age, previous use, whether other drugs (including alcohol) are used simultaneously, and the strength of THC in the weed. 

Other Factors

Another factor that determines the after-effects of weed is how it's taken. There are differences between the two most common methods of using weed; edibles vs. smoking weed. Edibles typically do not produce the same effects as smoking weed. Research shows that the effects of edibles last between six and twelve hours, whereas smoking or vaping may only last between two and three hours. 6 Edibles also reduce the potential for toxic effects from smoking weed.

Get Help With Smoking Weed At Genesis Recovery

smoking weed

There is substantial evidence that long-term, chronic marijuana use can and does have detrimental effects on the human body in mind. Despite medical providers prescribing marijuana for medical use in symptom mediation, the risk of addiction from chronic use remains. Yes, it is possible to become addicted to weed, making the possibility of adverse side effects and new or worsening mental health conditions more probable.

Genesis Recovery Additional Information

Choosing to quit weed is not without its complications. An individual’s ability to voluntarily give up using without seeking professional addiction treatment at a treatment facility like Genesis Recovery often depends significantly on the duration and severity of their use. Prolonged or excessive use often makes quitting without treatment difficult and, in some cases, impossible.

We will work with you to create an addiction treatment plan that meets your specific treatment needs and goals. Our treatment plans are designed to consider your history of substance use and any pre-existing physical or mental health conditions you may struggle with. If you or a loved one have decided it's time to quit weed, contact our admissions treatment team today to learn more about how we can help.


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