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Marijuana has a long history in politics and pop culture, and is a topic that is often revisited on a regular basis. SAMHSA lists it as the most used illicit drug, with a study stating that 22.2 million people were current users in 2014.
Despite its prevalent usage and the constant discussion surrounding marijuana, few are aware of what kind of damage can be caused from long-term marijuana usage.
Most drugs will affect the chemical balances in the brain, usually resulting in permanent changes. Due to the THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, found in marijuana, memory problems have been known to develop in long-term users. According to a study sponsored by the NIDA, THC was shown to alter the way that the brain processes information by affecting the hippocampus.
As people lose neurons in their hippocampus as they age, their ability to make memories is already affected without the presence of marijuana, which only accelerated the process in the study.
Due to marijuana’s popularity with teenagers and young adults, the drug’s effects on the brain while it is still developing is very well documented. The brain is not considered to be fully developed until a person’s early- to mid-twenties. With the introduction of marijuana into the person’s system, the development process is interrupted and delayed. Most users who began in their teens have reported a lessening in brain functions related to learning and thinking.
As marijuana is often smoked, it does pose some risk of damage for the lungs. Many individuals who frequently smoke marijuana have reported respiratory problems like chronic coughing, excess sputum, difficulty breathing, and wheezing. Often, their symptoms are misidentified or are found to be similar to those of chronic bronchitis.
Changes in the lungs on a cellular level have also been noted in regular marijuana users, and have been identified as being similar to the cellular changes that tobacco smokers exhibit before the development of lung cancer. However, while studies have made that connection, there is little research to suggest that marijuana usage leads to lung cancer.
Tests and studies conducted on pregnant women who are marijuana users have noted that the drug contributes negatively to the development of the fetus. In many cases, cognitive deficits have been identified after the child has been born, leading to delays in the development of language and behavior skills during childhood.
Monitoring of the child in and out of utero have shown that marijuana usage restricts the normal progression of growth, resulting in low weight and size. There have also been instances of miscarriage with marijuana usage, possibly due to the effect that it has on the endocrine system. It is also not uncommon of marijuana usage to affect the development of the placenta, which is the main source of life for the fetus.