What are the negative effects of Cannabis
September 14, 2004 7:22 PM   Subscribe

Quite simply, what are the negative effects of cannabis? What are withdrawal effects from frequent use, possible health problems, etc. This sprung up from a discussion my friends and I were having and I can't find any reliable source (I'm sorry, I don't consider the government a reliable source on this issue, too many political issues). I'm paticularly interested in personal experiences, but as always more inside.

I'll be honest, drugs have always fascinated me and I've done a lot of research on them (hisotry, use, effects). I've read Erowid, Lycaeum and countless government and institutional research on everything from cocaine to all the opiate derivatives. The one I can't figure out is marijauna and a recent debate with friends has whetted my appetite.

Basically, as I'm sure everyone is aware, there are two very differing views of marijuana. One side promotes it as safe as Tums to causing mental breakdown, anguish, being a loser. I'd really not like to get into a debate as to whether marijuana is morally good or bad, but does it hurt do it everyday?

With the disclaimer of a normally healthy individual, no preexisting mental problems, steady job, and who uses marijuana much as one would use a beer or gin at the end of a work day. I also realize there are inherent dangers with smoking plant material of any nature.

I could keep going on but I believe my question and point is clear. I know this is a touchy topic but I'm having a hard time figuring this out via google and such. And no, I'm not trying to figure out if a friend has a problem or anything, this is what it is, no hidden agenda.
posted by geoff. to Health & Fitness (49 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've never used it very habitually, but certain habitual users I know (not all of them, either) manifest laziness both physical and mental. The mental laziness comes in the form of a lack of motivation to do things, namely run one's own life. Everything becomes more hassle than it's worth, and all badness is someone else's fault, man, because that's the easier explanation to believe. This increases as usage gets closer to daily, and skyrockets as the quantity used daily rises.

On the other hand, I know several people who have more nervous energy than is healthy for them (gee, do you know anyone who's wracked by stress-related ailments?) and a teensy puff a day leaves them better off mentally and, ultimately, physically too. As long as the usage is under control, and the person isn't otherwise prone to fucking one's life off entirely.

So basically, I don't think there's a one-size-fits-all answer to your question, but if I were worried, those would be the symptoms I'd be on the lookout for.
posted by scarabic at 7:32 PM on September 14, 2004

It also depends on the variety.
posted by scarabic at 7:33 PM on September 14, 2004

Quit smoking it, start vapourizing it.

The only significant physical effect I'm aware of is, for US users, the forced relocation of one's body from home to prison.

Daily use in smoked form will have effects akin to that of cigarette smoking: lots of nasty shit getting into your lungs. Vapourization avoid such.

Manic-depressives should be informed that there is a statistically significant correlation between use of marijuana and the development of schizophrenia in manic-depressives. This, aside from the tars and carcinogens, is the only negative health effect I'm aware of.

Well, that and weight-gain due to giving in to the munchies, I suppose. :-)
posted by five fresh fish at 7:39 PM on September 14, 2004

Scarabic: I've noticed the same personality traits in heavy smokers, but also a lot of counterexamples. Another plausible explanation is that people with those personality traits (laziness, blowing off daily tasks, etc.) tend to be inclined to smoke a lot of pot.
posted by nixxon at 7:57 PM on September 14, 2004

I think nixxon's on the right track.

To quote Bill Cosby: "It accentuates my personality." Yeah, but what if you're an asshole?

There was a period in my life which I would classify myself as a heavy user (i.e., I smoked 4-5 times a day, every day). So I speak with some experience here.

You do gain a tolerance to the effects over time. But (save for using a vaporizer, as mentioned above) weed is not good for your respiratory system. So, physiologically, I'd rank weed next to tobacco (the "safe and healthy" kind without all the toxins, like, say, American Spirits). It'll probably cause lung cancer if used long enough.

The psychological effects are much harder to pinpoint. I've cranked out some amazingly complicated code on 4-day weed binges -- sleeping very little, and with incredible determination and concentration. But that's what weed does: it allows some people to really focus their concentration on specific tasks or topics and see connections never before noticed -- but that is a double-edged sword, because it also facilitates jumping from one thing to another. Listen to stoned people talk and you'll know what I mean.

Long-term, however, I'd pretty much agree with the "traditional" view of the pot smoker. Over time, it can sap your motivation -- but again, this varies among users. I'm the kind of person who, even as a child, could spend hours on things I liked, but found it near-impossible to even get started on things I didn't like. Pot accentuates this.

Basically, if you're a responsible person, you clean your dishes when you're finished eating, you go to work without thinking about it, you're able to set aside time to do tasks... pot's not going to change your lifestyle that much. But if you're prone to being lackidaisical, or lazy, or disinterested... well, pot sure isn't going to help you much.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:15 PM on September 14, 2004

people i know who did a lotta weeeeed:

person A became increasingly paranoid then physically violent, and has been psychologically troubled ever since, trying every antidepressant on the market and every doc in town

person B became increasingly paranoid and depressed, and after a few years of heavy use, was diagnosed with schizophrenia

person C was responsible, organized and motivated, but she was always high and zoned-out, and i wanted to hang out with her, but she mostly wanted to stay at home and do cones, which was a big bunch of no fun

person D was very paranoid and aggressive when high but eventually he gave it up!
posted by kv at 8:25 PM on September 14, 2004

Listen to Loveline a bit. Within a few episodes it should become clear how frequently the hosts can pick out regular pot users based on vocal qualities alone. Whether or not this is a "negative effect" is for you to judge; either way, at least it makes for entertaining radio.
posted by Galvatron at 8:34 PM on September 14, 2004

This issue seems to come round every few months in some form or another, but as someone who was formerly very well-informed of the effects, I'd say the following:

1) To reiterate what everyone else says, it's murder on your ambition and motivation. I've never loved playing video games so much--hell, at that time, my job was _designing_ them--but I've never been more willing to just slide by on whatever life handed me.

2) Much more importantly, unless you literally grow it on your own in your basement, it is basically impossible to acquire a steady supply without contributing to a pretty messed-up supply chain. I don't care how "cool" your dealer is, and how much he vouches for his supplier--in all likelihood, if you smoke on a regular basis, someone has died, or gotten their lives seriously messed up, as a matter of getting that bud to your bowl. Sure, if you live in the US, it's basically we've criminalized beyond all reason, but it's still true, and it's got to register on your conscience at some point. (I know there's a lot of folks in British Columbia who feel they can indulge with impunity on this front, and that might be true, but even if it is, it's just about the only place in the world where that's really true.)

Jes' my two cents...hinnhhh..koff
posted by LairBob at 8:38 PM on September 14, 2004

I hope you've read the Lancet editorial on marijuana.

There's also this review on cannabis and psychosis.
posted by Gyan at 8:52 PM on September 14, 2004

I'm anti-drug war, donate regularly to the MPP, and see no moral difference between marijuana, alcohol, caffeine, or frosted sugar snaps. Just so you know where to put this particular grain of salt.

Physical effects = roughly, nil. Compared to a tequila hangover, or just breathing what people in manhattan call "air", marijuana is a vitamin pill followed by 30 minutes of cardio. I've never experienced anything even vaguely like withdrawal symptoms, or known anyone who has; the very idea seems ludicrous.

So that leaves psychological and social effects.

I have known a few pot smokers who use it as a substitute for actually going outside and doing something interesting. They eat a lot of snack foods and watch dumb movies.

I have known others -- the majority -- who use it as solely an enhancer or a modifer to other experiences. They paint, or write complicated software, and clean up the rough edges the next day. (On preview, it's interesting that C_D mentions software as well. It does allow an odd state of hyperfocus which can be really productive, in the right circumstances.)

There seems to be very little correlation between these two categories and total amount of use. Like nixxon, I'm inclined to believe that those who use it as a crutch or a substitute probably had inclinations in that direction in the first place.

All that said: daily use, over a long period of time, would seem to me a sign that something's not quite right. That'd mean your whole life would be either leading up to, coming down from, or actively engaging in a high... I'd feel the same way about someone who was drinking every day, or spending every night zonked out in front of the television: those people are missing out on something, they're acting as spectators in their lives, not participants.
posted by ook at 8:57 PM on September 14, 2004

I am an occasional smoker (ie maybe 5 or 6 times a year). This isn't from any real sense of restraint - I'm a heavy drinker, dak just isn't my drug of choice.

All through my 20's I never did any, for two reasons:
- with my first experience of being really stoned, I was also quite drunk, and naturally subsequently very sick. This left me with a major aversion reaction to the smell and taste of marijuana, especially cheap cabbage.
- I was in a working band with a heavy marijuana smoker, and I observed that he tended to miss cues, wander off the beat, and generally lose the tightness required for live performance. I didn't want to add to the problem by being fucked up myself. I never noticed the same problems with alcohol.

In the last few years I've had really good weed, in a pipe or bong, and found it very pleasant. Drinking at the same time is wasting both drugs (possible exception for one very cold, very bitter Pils). After-effects: a mild haziness of mind the next day, and a tickle in the throat. No noticeable effect on recall, concentration, or what have you, and certainly nothing compared to a good tobacco+red wine hangover.

(I think we get a better quality of dak in New Zealand than in most places. It's less likely to be laced, and it's very potent. So you don't need much for a good stone. You certainly wouldn't be getting a cigarette's worth of tar from a little bud in a pipe.)

My closest friend for years and years is a very heavy (ie several times daily, when he can afford it) smoker, to the point where I believe his public personality is the stoned one. It has definitely accentuated his paranoid tendencies.

Just about all the heavy smokers I have known also suffered from depression or bi-polar disorder, and I suspect self-medication partly explains their heavy usage. And to be really honest, I bet they would have been on the loser track regardless, although dak probably greased the rails somewhat.

As far as I could tell, if they stopped, resulting jumpiness was more from being unable to use dak as a crutch rather than actual physical withdrawal. Ie, it wasn't the bone-deep irritation of nicotine withdrawal, more a frustration with the world that was there all along but no longer masked.

As FFF observed, daily use increases your intake of carcinogens. I would say it also greatly increases your chances of an unpleasant encounter with the underworld, the law or both, since of necessity you will be purchasing and holding regularly.

I would have to say that the biggest negative effect that I have personally observed is legal and financial, rather than health-related. I tend to agree with LairBob about the supply chain, and my guilty conscience in that regard might be another reason I don't indulge much.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:02 PM on September 14, 2004

I've never noticed (or heard of) any withdrawal symptoms, other than bitching about why your connection won't return your calls anymore. I know several successful, motivated, responsible people who are still regular users, so I don't think that losers can really blame the pot.

Although weed smokers typically smoke much less than tobacco smokers, it's still not good for your lungs- but neither is civilization.

This might shed some light on why weed has been so demonized in our culture.
posted by ulotrichous at 9:06 PM on September 14, 2004

Don't forget the possible positive health effects of mild cannabis use. A study just out today shows that THC has anti-viral properties and may be used for treating herpes and Epstein-Barr. It's already a prescribed treatment for some types of glaucoma (it reduces intraocular pressure). It also shows promise as a treatment for brain cancer, specifically. And of course, it's well known for its use as a pain killer and appetite stimulant for patients undergoing chemo, or who have MS, or HIV/AIDS.

And compared to some of the newer legal drugs like Paxil and Wellbutrin--whose actions and effects we don't fully understand yet, use of which creates permanent brain chemistry changes, and which can have nasty withdrawal symptoms for users (including "the zaps")--just taking a hit of pot every once in a while to deal with anxiety issues seems like a safer alternative than sticking not-very-well-studied pharmaceuticals down your throat twice a day. I have a good friend who chomps Paxil daily to deal with his anxiety, and I think a tiny bit of pot, mixed with his usual psychotherapy, could honestly do him a lot more good. But then, I'm not a doctor, nor do I play one on MetaFilter.
posted by Asparagirl at 9:17 PM on September 14, 2004

...see no moral difference between marijuana, alcohol, caffeine, or frosted sugar snaps

That is horrific.
posted by davidmsc at 9:23 PM on September 14, 2004

that's what weed does: it allows some people to really focus their concentration

This is where I'd emphasize the importance of which variety you're smoking. I've experienced quite a range in my time, from near-black, hashlike Asian strains that turn you into jelly to purple-haired hydroponic whose effects were similar to speedy acid. As with any recreational mind-altering substance, you're going to have better results if you're in good health, but there's also a huge difference between the downward spiral of a mind-destroying indica habit and the occasional upshot of sativa joy.

As Lairbob points out, you can't find a consistent source over time, so you have little control over this. With any luck, you can avoid PCP-laced oregano balls, but don't hope for more consistency than that. I'm a little surprised by the conscience-pangs you describe, though, LairBob. If someone has gone to jail or had their life fucked up, that's their karma, not mine. They took a calculated risk, probably for profit, and met with the consequences. It's a shame our laws are so draconian, but I don't take the moral responsibility for that onto myself. Besides, people (and animals) toil, sweat, weep, and die to bring us most of the products we enjoy. Own any diamonds?

nixxon - I think you're right about the pre-existing inclination. People buy mind-numbing indica-strain marijuana because they want to avoid feeling anything, be it pain, anxiety, or just the mere feeling of being alive. The marijuana use is a component of a larger pattern of behavior, yes, but I still think it would be naive to ignore the numbing effect the marijuana use itself will have over time. People lose themselves in a marijuana haze because they're inclined to, but the marijuana haze is what does the trick for them.
posted by scarabic at 9:26 PM on September 14, 2004

davidmsc - Why? On what basis are you drawing a distinction between the four? Because if you're going by negative effects on health, or going by potential for addiction, or going by propensity to make you violent, or going by toxicity, cannabis scores very low on all counts. Especially when compared with alcohol.
posted by Asparagirl at 9:31 PM on September 14, 2004

I smoke fairly little (once or twice a month at most, unless I'm out of school) and my experiences vary with my suppliers/strain, as was previously pointed out, and quantity smoked. Often, though, marijuana motivates me to go out and get exercise I otherwise wouldn't bother with. I'd usually rather bike laps around my neighbourhood than just sit on my ass watching movies because it's an exhilarating experience, especially when high. This may be an unusual reaction, and it isn't always the case with me. I also experience the typical lazy, numb mood and the next day I sometimes feel a little disconnected from my surroundings.

I'm a teenager still, and I've read that there may be a link between marijuana and schizophrenia during developmental stages, or with depressed individuals. It's for this reason, and because I'm already incredibly lazy, that I limit myself to 1 joint a month on average plus special occasions.

I hope you find this helpful.
posted by Evstar at 10:11 PM on September 14, 2004

I think it's like anything else: used responsibly, it's not a big deal (assuming you don't react badly to it), used irresponsibly, it can cause problems (although likely far fewer problems than irresponsible alcohol use can, since it's pretty rare for high people to want to get in the car and drive really fast). I think it's also, as others have said, highly individual. I see no distinction at all between a few tokes at the end of the day and a beer or a martini at the end of the day, depending on how the drugs affect you, aside from the fact that marijuana tends to make tense people a bit more likely to become relaxed and happy, and alcohol can tend to make some people unpleasant.

I, too, have known people who smoked every single evening while holding down responsible jobs (they were never stoned while at work) and suffered no ill effects whatsoever (and some positive ones) - no different from people who have a drink to unwind. I've known programmers who did far better, faster work when stoned, musicians who played far better music when stoned, and writers who found that cannabis opened up the connection between their mind and the page to the point where some of their best work was done under the influence. I've also known a couple of slackers, but they'd have been slackers regardless of whether or not they smoked up. People tend to have different experiences on different drugs, but the long-term effects of cannabis seem to be extremely minor, and more related to the delivery system (i.e. smoke) and/or its legal status than the drug itself.
Anti-(some) drug people seem to really want to place the blame for all kinds of problems squarely at the doorstep of the drug, rather than the user, which isn't at all supported by the evidence.
posted by biscotti at 10:12 PM on September 14, 2004

That is horrific.

Yeah, you're right. Frosted sugar snaps are targeted at children; I probably should've downgraded them.
posted by ook at 10:30 PM on September 14, 2004

On the other hand, i do want to be fair: I wouldn't go as far as biscotti does in extolling pot's virtues, and I don't see it as purely harmless fun. (Nor do I see either alcohol or caffeine as pure harmless fun.) For each musician who's getting a real creative boost from the drug, there's another who's just noodling endless crap arpeggios between tokes. It can be a useful tool, but as with many useful tools, you can wind up hurting yourself with it if you're not careful.

The question was expressly not about politics, so I'll keep this brief: many drugs, in my opinion, should be illegal for recreational use, because the risks of physical addiction (heroin, coke) or dangerous behavior while under the influence (LSD, PCP) are unacceptably high. The risks involved in marijuana use -- while not nonexistent -- just don't reach anywhere near that level, and the social and political costs of banning it are far too high, for a wide variety of reasons. If you want to draw a hard line and say all mind-altering substances should be illegal, I can respect (though disagree with) that opinion; but -- as asparagirl points out -- only if you include prozac, paxil, your morning coffee, your after-work beer, and your post-exercise endorphins in the banned list. Not to mention your frosted sugar snaps.
posted by ook at 11:08 PM on September 14, 2004

I'll second the recommendation for Loveline, and if you are really interested you may even consider calling in. Dr. Drew is an addiction medicine specialist, and would be able to handle specific, detailed, hard questioning about it. He could probably also point you to good, serious research on the topic that doesn't fall into either the "legalize it!" or "Just say No!" extremes of disinformation. Failing that, try going to your local library (even better would be a med-school library) and searching through their collection of medical journals for studies on the subject.
posted by rorycberger at 11:12 PM on September 14, 2004

ook: dangerous behavior while under the influence (LSD, PCP) are unacceptably high.

This is a joke, right? You're equating LSD with PCP, in terms of "dangerous behaviour"? Any studies?
posted by Gyan at 11:16 PM on September 14, 2004

Sometimes a person needs a crutch.

A "friend" who went through a really shitty year while working a shitty, mind-numbing job smoked several times a day and was in a constant haze, including before work and during the lunch break. Why be sober to do a job that doesn't require agility, quick thinking, higher reasoning or the operation of heavy equipment? Then she got a job interview. She abrupty stopped smoking, did a few detox products to pass the inevitable piss test and got on with her life.

Now she smokes after a long and difficult day, or before going to see an especially bad movie (to make it bearable), but spends most of her time sharp, ambitious and active.

This friend buys her stuff direct from the farm, so she doesn't really feel like she's funding gangsters or supporting terrorists, either.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 11:22 PM on September 14, 2004

I'll also recommend listening to, if not calling, Loveline for some information on marijuana for reasons already mentioned.

For what it's worth, if it were up to me, marijuana use would be legal so while part of this might seem negative, I'm not trying to be negative because I have any moral hangup with the drug. On preview, I've written a bit more than I expected. My comment can be divided into three parts from here on out. The first paragraph after this one is about people I know who smoke marijuana every once in a while. The second through seventh paragraphs are about people I knew who smoke it all the time. The last paragraphs is about my experiences with it. Hopefully this is helpful:

I know some people who smoke weed every once in a while and they don't seem that much different to me than anyone else (that is, if they didn't smoke weed once in a while, I wouldn't expect any particularly noteable change in them). Aside from the hazard of putting the smoke in your lungs, I don't think occasional use (provided you don't have some rare extreme reaction to marijuana) will be bad for you.

I know-- well, knew-- some people who smoke it all the time. Almost always at least twice a day, if not more. Days where none was smoked were usually due to the combination of not having any money and not being able to find someone who would smoke them out for free (or a return of the favour later) or being in circumstances where smoking out wasn't possible for an extended period of time. I say 'knew' because I don't hang around these people anymore because they're fucking boring because they never do anything and even if they could be convinced to do something aside from going to this one guy's house to smoke up, they can't because they never have any money. While, as others have already mentioned, these people would probably be unmotivated whether they were stoners or not, they would probably be able to actually hold a job for a decent amount of time and these jobs would probably pay more. As it is, the money from their low-paying and unsteady work goes primarily to buying more weed.

One of these people has ADD. The weed has calmed him down a hell of a lot. Unfortunately, he only needed to mellow out a bit to stop irritating so many people. He's gone way past that, and has stopped really thinking about much beyond basics, and I really don't like being around him anymore because of the stupid things he says in addition to him being generally boring. He was somewhat prone to not-well-thought-out conclusions before but now it's quite extreme. In addition, he's continued to stay in a living situation that has resulted in him getting an ulcer. Rather than moving away from this person who has been emotionally shitting on him for the majority of his life, he's stayed there and continued to do so long past the time she's now clearly physically hurt him as well.

His brother recently moved out but seems to spend half his time in that house anyway. His brother is prone to the same sort of not-well-thought-out conclusions but to a much lesser extent. Strangely enough, although there are some major differences in the way his brother and I view things (things I would expect to make a friendship next to impossible), we actually get along fairly well. His brother can be pretty funny when he's stoned and claims he actually drives better. I am absolutely not advocating driving while under the influence but I think this might be an example of someone who is more able to concentrate on a specific task while stoned. His brother, unlike him, is also able to maintain a stable romantic relationship much more often.

Another of these people used to be, by far, one of the funnest and funniest people I knew. I used to love hanging out with this guy. He was a stoner before I met him but quit before we knew each other. After a few years he starting doing it every once in a while and now all the time. He's neither one of the funnest nor funniest people I know anymore. In fact, he's boring as fuck. He's almost always in debt to at least one other person and frequently borrows things (such as computer parts) from relatives with no intention of returning them.

All of these people seem to get itchy for it if they don't smoke out for a while. There have been a couple times I've hosted LAN parties they were invited to and, while they didn't complain constantly, it was clearly bothering them that they weren't stoned every few hours for the couple days they would be at my place. I don't think there's much in the way of physiological side effects so much as stopping habitual use would just cause irritability because something that was there regularly for so long suddenly isn't. Your mind gets used to it so when it's not there, you get agitated not because you need the crutch marijuana provided but because the crutch that was so regularly there suddenly isn't. It's not that you wouldn't be able to walk without it, you're just not used to walking without it anymore.

These people don't seem too paranoid but when they are paranoid, it's in somewhat contradictory ways. They'll have no problem getting stoned in someone's backyard, talking loudly, basically making it clear to the neighbours what they're up to, but if there's a siren in the distance they'll start getting worried and want everyone to be quiet. I'm no expert in police procedure but I'm pretty sure if you're a cop and you're going to bust a bunch of potheads in the middle of doing their thing, you don't blare your siren from blocks away as you approach.

I, personally, have been stoned a handful of times but was never too into it simply because I was never fond of the effects. My mind never calmed down, although my body did. It was really hard to bring myself to do anything physically while stoned but I would be frustratingly bored the whole time because my mind wasn't anywhere near as mellowed out as my body ("stoned" seems like the perfect term here, as my body may as well have been a large rock). The exception has been when I've been really drunk and decided to take a few hits (this has only happened twice - the first time I smoked a hell of a lot of weed, the second I only took a few hits off a pipe). Neither time was I sick and the added effect of the weed mostly just made me light-headed and act rather loopy (after a period of just sitting there focusing on the light-headedness). Some people have mentioned feeling disconnected the next day. Most of the time, I've felt that the next day as well.
posted by DyRE at 11:40 PM on September 14, 2004

I too know someone who, because of smoking spliff ... "became increasingly paranoid and depressed, and after a few years of heavy use, was diagnosed with schizophrenia", so it's not as uncommon as all that. There's no definite link, but this is my suspicion.

Myself personally, I smoked quite regularly for a while in my late twenties until it started to play havoc with my short term memory. An example of this would be I'd have huge trouble at work with telephone calls. At the end of the conversation, I'd have completely forgotten the beginning of the conversation. I stopped the spliff, and within a week my memory returned to its natural state.

There was no problem with "coming off" it. I just stopped getting stoned, and although I now have a low tolerance to the stuff I still smoke a little now and again to no bad effect.
posted by seanyboy at 11:42 PM on September 14, 2004

To quote Bill Cosby: "It accentuates my personality." Yeah, but what if you're an asshole?

For what it's worth, he was talking about cocaine in that bit.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:08 AM on September 15, 2004

You're equating LSD with PCP, in terms of "dangerous behaviour"?

No, of course not; I was just saying that I wouldn't much like to see someone high on either of them wandering through traffic.
posted by ook at 12:26 AM on September 15, 2004

I tend to agree with LairBob about the supply chain

Funny, I don't. Probably because I actually know some suppliers, and understand how it works.

People who grow and sell weed do it near-exclusively. Hell, in NYC there was a 800-number* service, and none of the delivery guys ever carried guns (* "toll-free" number for those of you outside the states). Weed is simply not a violent drug. Not only does it not cause violent behavior in its users, the sorts of people that produce and sell it also disdain the violence of its harder-drug constituants (and the examples people have been mentioning of "friends turning psychotic" are either gross outwires or indicitive of previously existing neurological problems).

Most of the weed I've smoked came from Canada, but that's because I avoid shwag weed that just gets you "stupid high" in preference to kind bud. If you'd like a slightly better understanding of what it's like to be a major dealer, I recommend reading Mr. Nice, an autobiography of Great Britain's largest marijuana seller.

Hell, if you're that worried about the nefarious drug lords with their AK's and their UZI's battling it out for a piece of the weed action, you should just grow your own. It's easier than growing petunias.

And while we're debunking myths, the kind of weed you're gonna get doesn't come laced with PCP. Know why? Because no dealer in their right mind is going to mix a friggin' quarter-bag of weed ($50 street) with another drug that also costs them money. It would cut into their profits to do so, and garner them an awful reputation (which would inhibit future sales).

And on preview: True, stav, but I thought the observation worked with weed as well.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:26 AM on September 15, 2004 [1 favorite]

ook: I was just saying that I wouldn't much like to see someone high on either of them wandering through traffic.

Funny you should bring up this example. A friend got arrested last summer because he was so drunk that he was meandering on the streets outside the bars. Nothing else happened to him solely because it was a)late at night b)the cops passed by pretty quickly after he left the bar.

Public intoxication is already an offense. I don't see that as a blanket reason to prohibit all recreational use of LSD-like substances.

Of course, this thread isn't about politics of the drug trade. Although the politics is why geoff needed to ask it over here.

posted by Gyan at 12:44 AM on September 15, 2004

There's not much more I an add here, except agree (and emphasise) that there's generally a world of difference between weed (gets you high) and hash (gets you stoned).

The regular hash smokers I've known have ranged from normal-but-mellow to can't-be-bothered-to-cook/clean/live, while the range of regular weed-smokers has gone from normal-but-smiley to utterly-manic.

In terms of cannabis as a "gateway drug", weed people seem to go on to ecstasy, speed and coke while hash people edge towards opiates. All purely anecdotal, obviously.
posted by cell at 1:06 AM on September 15, 2004

Another thing to grow out of.
posted by johnny7 at 2:09 AM on September 15, 2004

"They lie about marijuana. Tell you pot-smoking makes you unmotivated. Lie! When you're high, you can do everything you normally do, just as well. You just realize that it's not worth the fucking effort."
- Bill Hicks
posted by mr.marx at 3:37 AM on September 15, 2004

I'm surprised no one mentioned the "how come most of my friends quit smoking pot in their thirties" thread which is full of good information and first-hand experiences. In reference to your "does it hurt to do it every day?" question, my personal experience was "only if I had plans to do something else" I'm always surprised by people who won't smoke cigarettes around their children but will smoke pot near them [hippies mainly, but it's something I've noticed or been privy to more than a few times].

I feel like more of the negative health effects of smoking pot have more to do with the smoking aspect as opposed to the THC aspect. That said, people who were already on the unhinged side may get moreso, this would be true with too much beer, or too much coke, or too much Metafilter.

Socially however, once you hit a certain age I've found that people who smoke daily and people who don't smoke daily don't intermingle as much as they used to. I used to smoke occasionally, often before bed, but it would turn me into a staring drooling gargoyle [not in a bad way necessarily] or a fidgety agitated twitch, so I didn't like to do it around other people much. As a result, since I like people, I was smoking less. The people who were still smoking daily became less interesting because the things they liked to do when they were high weren't the things I liked to do when not high. Plus they didn't like to go out much. Upshot? In my life I've known more people whose lives and health were destroyed by alcohol. I know a lot of people who "maintain" pretty easily as regular pot smokers and they are also a lot happier than the regular drinkers.
posted by jessamyn at 6:56 AM on September 15, 2004

One author, comparing drugs to meditation, wrote that hallucinogenic drugs can lead to higher states of consciousness, like meditation can, but without the effort. And that that was the limitation of drugs -- they can produce higher states without the effort, while the worth of meditation was directly due to the effort that you put into it, the mental structures that the efforts resulted in. They give you the destination without the journey, when the journey is the important part.

That said, realizing that the destination does exist is worth something in itself.
posted by goethean at 7:44 AM on September 15, 2004

Bear in mind that individual reactions to any drug can vary considerably. With alchohol, for example, studies show that one glass of wine a day can have health benefits. Nevertheless, people who are wired to become alchoholics cannot safely have that one glass a day.

I've known people who seem to use pot occasionally and responsibly. I've also known people who seem to mess themselves up pretty badly with it. I don't know that it's fair to assume that those latter folks would have been "losers/slackers" regardless. In some cases that might be true, but I suspect other people are like alchoholics - moderate use is just not really an option.
posted by tdismukes at 7:47 AM on September 15, 2004 [2 favorites]

it can contribute to male infertility.

as for psychological/social effects of long term habitual or occasionaly use, i have no idea.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:54 AM on September 15, 2004

Memory loss in my case - I smoked heavily for a year nearly a decade ago and it seriously impaired my long term memory. Even now I have occasional difficulty recalling information. Otherwise I'd also say laziness (though there were times that I walked 5 miles to a 24 hr gas station for a snickers bar).
posted by longbaugh at 7:59 AM on September 15, 2004

In terms of cannabis as a "gateway drug"

Which remind me of the only maaaybe-serious knock against weed in my book:

I've had plenty of friends who started with the occasional joint, got comfortable with smoking, and ended up as multiple pack per day (tobacco) cigarette smokers, which is a really expensive and unhealthy way to be. Yes, I'm aware of the irony of weed serving as a gateway drug to one that's legal.

But this was in the late 80s and early 90s, before everyone started smoking again. Now it might be hard to tell. And I suppose you could get around that by sticking to brownies or whatever.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:56 AM on September 15, 2004

Here's a perspective from an epidemiologist/neurologist who has never used cannabis, likely never will, and thinks it should probably be legalized and regulated (for the reasons of safety, reproducability of dose, and that messed-up supply chain earlier referred to).

Cannabis smoke, like other smoke inhalation, is not good for your lungs, and can lead to asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and lung cancer. I don't think anyone would seriously try to dispute this.

The major issue with trying to answer questions related to drug ingestion and behavioral health, I think, is that people who choose to ingest cannabis may be different from people who choose not to ingest it with regard to their pre-existing behavioral health conditions.

If you'll let me handwave for a minute, cannabis users may be more likely to have been: already depressed or anxious, possessed of an "addictive personality", novelty seekers, "criminal personalities" or having a different brain chemistry not otherwise specified. Not all the foregoing are things that necessarily even exist, and if they do they may not apply, but we are trying to figure out the reasons for the confusions in the literature, so we should consider them. In particular I've had enjoyable arguments with colleagues over the 'addictive personality' and whether there is some sort of biological substrate for such a concept.

One of the more interesting findings to come out of epilepsy epidemiology is the fact that current cannabis users are only 36% as likely to suffer a first seizure as never-users, when adjusted for many other factors (using a Cox proportional hazards model, if you care.) Oddly, inactive cannabis users (last use > 1 year prior) are still protected, being only 54% as likely to suffer a first seizure.

Now trying to riddle out the reason for this dramatic finding (bearing in mind that 5-10% risk reduction is a big deal for epidemiologists; 64% is practically unheard of): there are two possibilities that come to mind. The first is that cannabis use somehow alters cerebral chemistry in such a way as to prevent seizures from happening. The other is that people who use cannabis do so because of something that also prevents seizures; probably this would be some peculiarity of their brain chemistry, which presumably they were born with (i.e. a genetic influence.)

Heavy cannabis users have been observed by neurologists as being 'dull', abulic (lack of will/initiative/motivatin), slow, and with memory and cognitive deficits. But we also see people like this who don't smoke cannabis. My general sense, though, - and here you're getting that 'anecdotal evidence' you asked for - is that cannabis alters neurochemistry, it does so in such a way as to lower synaptic plasticity, and some proportion of the effects are permanent.

Hope this was interesting.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:17 AM on September 15, 2004 [1 favorite]

A lot of the paranoia reactions are very likely due to the illegality of the drug, especially in the USA where you can get a longer prison sentence for having a single personal dose of banned drug than for pushing grandma down the stairs. IMO the paranoia is a result of environment, not product.

I strongly recommend A Primer of Drug Action. It's probably the ultimate no-bullshit reference for all street and a few medical/herbal drugs.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:23 AM on September 15, 2004

My experience (pretty limited) is that for some people it makes them dumb as a sack of hammers up to a day later. I used to work with a guy who was an occasional weekend user, about once every four or five weeks. He wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed normally but you could tell within minutes on Monday morning when he had been smoking over the weekend. At which point he'd be assigned to outside maintence (sweeping, washing windows, garbage pick up, etc.) because he couldn't handle much else.

And what FFF said about the paranoia. It's not really paranoia if someone is actually out to get you.
posted by Mitheral at 10:11 AM on September 15, 2004

I wouldn't go as far as biscotti does in extolling pot's virtues, and I don't see it as purely harmless fun. (Nor do I see either alcohol or caffeine as pure harmless fun.)

I certainly didn't mean to imply that it was "purely harmless fun", but I do think it's on par with, or less harmful than, alcohol and tobacco. I also didn't mean to "extoll its virtues" to any large extent, it's just been my experience with people I know who smoke it that for the most part, it's at best beneficial to them and at worst not harmful, which is certainly not the case with my experiences with people who drink. The long-term drinkers I know are generally more likely to have experienced negative lifestyle effects, the long-term stoners I know generally have not (with one exception, an ADD-afflicted slacker, who has always been that way, and who is somewhat more functional with cannabis, than without,and about whom it's hard to decide if his issues are related more to his cannabis use than his general ADD-ness) - not scientific, but there you go. My general impression is that pot is overall less likely to be harmful and more likely to be beneficial than alcohol and tobacco, but I in no way intend to imply that it's absolutely harmless and magically delicious and something that everyone needs to start using right this second.
posted by biscotti at 11:12 AM on September 15, 2004

I spent a couple of years as a daily marijuana smoker during college. For me, it was stress relief - I honestly don't think I could have graduated as quickly as I did without marijuana, though I could probably have gotten by with less of it. Throughout that period, I smoked almost every night, and often more than once a day on the weekends. I maintained my grades (Dean's List, even), took care of things at my job, and was able to do whatever I needed to do. I had no problems with motivation, that's for sure. Looking back, I can't be all that surprised, since I knew a lot of people who did the same.

That said, all that smoking did have some negative effects. I gained 20 pounds ("the munchies" are certainly no lie), though it only took me 6 months to work them off once I wasn't smoking daily anymore. Five years later, I also have a bit of memory loss from that time. Nothing horrendously serious, but sometimes people will mention things that happened during that period, and I find that I've forgotten about them. I can almost always recall the details once someone has reminded me, though, and I don't have problems remembering things that happened before or after that period of frequent smoking.

I still smoke, though not more than once every one or two weeks. This seems to be the best balance between frequency and severity of effects: at this level, the worst "day after" effect I get is a run-down feeling that lasts until lunch, and I'm not having any memory or motivational effects.

All in all, not a bad price to pay for two years of indulgence. I shudder to think of where I might be today if I'd been drinking that much instead of smoking, for example. I think my experience with marijuana has been a positive one, even with the negative effects I mentioned above. I think it's important to be honest about the possible negatives, and I would not return to smoking that often today, but I don't regret having done it.
posted by vorfeed at 12:39 PM on September 15, 2004

Deviating a bit from the question, but - personally, my question with Marijuana and other drugs is whether they have permanent neurological effects.

The brain is more or less a closed system, with a ton of cause and effect going on, so most any neuroactive chemical intuitively would cause a cascade of results, no?

Then again, I'm ADD, epileptic and on Trileptal so my brain is already plenty imbalanced.
posted by abcde at 12:56 PM on September 15, 2004

lower synaptic plasticity

what does that mean, please?
posted by andrew cooke at 2:18 PM on September 15, 2004

>synaptic plasticity

Neurons pretty much can do one thing: they can 'fire'. This means that the electric charge inside their cell bodies rapidly changes from around -70 mV to +55 mV and back again.

Neurons contact each other at synapses. When a "pre-synaptic" neuron fires, various types of signaling mechanisms at the synapse activates, and if there is enough signal (transmitter release, usually), the "post-synaptic neuron" fires too.

Now it turns out that neurons make lots of connections and are so designed as to be sensitive to their environmental conditions in this way: a set of conditions, that was adequate to cause a neuron to fire, slightly lowers the threshold of firing for a similar set of conditions in the future. This is called 'Hebb's rule' and is one of the bases of plasticity (and, presumably, memory, learning, and epileptogenesis). In short, frequently-activated connections strengthen; rarely-activated connections weaken. Use it or lose it. Etc.

This is what I'm talking about when I mention plasticity.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:31 PM on September 15, 2004

I just wanted to say slightly off-topic that I really appreciated your explanations, ikkyu2.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:44 PM on September 15, 2004

ikkyu2: So how does weed/other drugs affect LTP?
posted by Gyan at 5:33 PM on September 15, 2004

>So how does weed/other drugs affect LTP?

LTP - long-term potentiation, the ability of some neuronal cells to 'remember' past states and behave differently - is something that individual cells do that we think provides part of the substrate for the network phenomenon we call 'plasticity'.

It's been many years since I studied up on this - I now study large populations of humans in aggregate - so I hope you'll permit me to duck this very pertinent question on the grounds of having very little clue!

Thanks for your compliment, Civil_Disobedient!
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:11 PM on September 16, 2004

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