New research is emerging all the time.
The past couple of years have witnessed multiple states legalizing medical marijuana. Many doctors, researchers, and patients testify that medical marijuana can have a significant impact on many different types of chronic pain and other health conditions and complications. But what about smoking weed just for fun?
According to internist Paul Knoepfelmacher, MD, more research is needed to understand how marijuana affects your health. Recreational marijuana has historically been considered a Schedule 1 drug, the same category as heroin and LSD. This label is assigned to drugs that have no medical value and can be highly addictive. However, current research suggests this label may not be accurate for recreational marijuana.
The research on long-term health effects of marijuana are limited, but some findings suggest that heavy use of recreational marijuana could affect lung function, increase heart rate, or have psychological effects. (By comparison, here’s how smoking cigarettes affects the body.)
Any time you inhale something that is burning, you introduce some type of chemical into the lungs, which can cause complications, says Dr. Knoepfelmacher. Using recreational marijuana also increases exposure to tar; in fact, research shows marijuana smoke contains more tar than cigarette smoke.
The legal system may be shifting to a more tolerant view on cannabis, but be sure to make the choice that’s right for you when it comes to your health. The lack of research—particularly of long-term health effects or marijuana—might prompt you to hold off on recreational marijuana (or at least not make it a regular habit).
Dr. Knoepflmacher is a clinical instructor of medicine at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, where he also maintains a private practice.
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We've heard a lot about the benefits
of medical marijuana, but
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what about recreational marijuana?
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We called Dr. Paul to find out more.
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Dr. Paul, can you tell us exactly
what the medical research showed?
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Is it safe?
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Marijuana has been
considered a Schedule I drug,
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which means they consider it like heroin.
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It's essentially has no medical value and
is highly addictive,
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which I think is not actually correct.
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Medical marijuana is
becoming more accepted.
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You're gonna see more research but
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that has really limited
the amount of research we have.
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Are there any side
effects we should know about?
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We really don't know about
long-term side effects.
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There's some suggestion that in chronic
heavy users who use it recreationally,
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it can affect lung function,
it increases heart rate,
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it can have some psychologic
effects on people.
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If you had a choice of recreational
use of cigarettes versus marijuana,
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what would you advise
your patients to choose?
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Well, I would probably advise my
patients to stay away from both of them,
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just because each of them is
inhaling something that's burning,
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something that's combusting.
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And we know that that's bad for your lungs
and has other cardiovascular effects.
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If you look at the smoke from marijuana,
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it actually contains
more tar than cigarettes.
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We've known for
decades how bad cigarette smoking is for
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your cardiovascular system,
for cancer risk.
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We don't really have that data for
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marijuana, but you could kind of intuit
that perhaps if people are smoking massive
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amounts of marijuana recreationally,
they too might suffer those effects.
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That's a gray area that really
needs to be looked into.
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Thank you for your insight.
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