Smoking up could be a very different experience for men and women, according to a 2014 study in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence. In research on rats, Washington State University psychologist Rebecca Craft found that females were more sensitive to cannabis’ painkilling qualities, but they were also more likely to develop a tolerance for the drug, which could contribute to negative side effects and dependence on marijuana.
The female rats’ higher levels of the hormone estrogen seem to play a role in these sex-specific effects. Female rats are more sensitive to the effects of cannabis at ovulation, when estrogen levels are highest, Craft said in a statement.
Most of the debate about the health effects of marijuana centers on the brain changes that may come with using the drug, such as the drug’s association with an increased risk of developing schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. But could smoking a bowl mess with your heart, too?
In an April 2014 study, researchers combed through 2,000 cases of medical complications from marijuana in France and found that 2 percent involved heart problems, including nine fatal heart attacks. The study wasn’t designed to determine why pot use might occasionally lead to heart problems, but previous research has found that marijuana can increase heart rate and blood pressure, which could tip a vulnerable individual over into heart attack territory.
“The perception is that marijuana is a magical drug, that it’s totally safe, and we can use it in medical treatment. What we don’t know about are the negative effects, the potential harms,” Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York who was not involved in the study, told Live Science at the time.
A wine lover might choose between a pinot noir, a sangiovese and a viognier to go with dinner. A pot connoisseur, on the other hand, could choose between strains with names like “purple haze,” “chocolope” and “green crack.”
Bizarre names are a time-honored tradition among pot growers, going back at least to the 1970s, when strains such as “Maui Waui” (from Hawaii, naturally) came onto the scene. Why such goofy names? Well, one reason might be the process behind the naming decisions.
“So many times, we’ve finally got to the end of a strain, and we have it right there and it’s done, and we’re like, ‘What do we call it?’” one of the co-owners of Amsterdam’s DNA Genetics, a cannabis seed bank, told the LA Times in July 2014. “And we sit there, and we call all our friends and smoke. That’s a brainstorm session.”
Pot isn’t necessarily green
Here’s a bummer for the eco-conscious: Pot isn’t all that “green.” The energy needed to produce 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) of marijuana indoors is equivalent to that needed to drive across the country five times in a car that gets 44 miles to the gallon, according to a 2011 report by a researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. All those grow lights suck up a lot of electricity.
Growing plants outdoors could lessen marijuana’s carbon footprint, but year-round demand for the drug means that industrial growers keep their plants in warehouses and greenhouses. Innovations such as greenhouses equipped with low-energy LED lights could help make pot greener, but like any large-scale agriculture, marijuana growing will require large-scale energy.
Weed is getting stronger
Marijuana’s high is getting increasingly higher. In 2016, researchers measured the levels of marijuana’s active ingredient, THC, in more than 38,600 samples of street marijuana seized by the Drug Enforcement Agency over 20 years. They found that the levels of THC rose from about 4 percent in 1995 to about 12 percent in 2014.
Meanwhile, levels of the non-psychoactive compound cannabidiol fell from 0.28 percent in 2001 to 0.15 percent in 2014, the researchers reported in the journal Biological Psychiatry. As a result, THC levels were 14 times the level of cannabidiol in 1995; in 2014, that ratio had grown to 80.
THC intensifies the effects of marijuana, the researchers said, so higher THC versions of the drug may raise the risk of nasty side effects, like panic or anxiety. More THC also means pricier pot, which is one reason growers have been cultivating higher octane strains.
Weed Can Trigger Alergies
Aaa-chooo! Like many other plants, marijuana can trigger allergic reactions in people, according to a 2015 review in the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Both the plant’s pollen and its smoke can cause allergies in some people, the researchers said. Marijuana allergies are relatively rare, they wrote, but they’re on the rise and have probably been underreported or unnoticed because the drug has long been illegal.
Most of the reported symptoms of pot allergies are similar to those of run-of-the-mill hay fever: itchy eyes, coughing, sneezing, occasional hives. However, there have been a few reported cases of people having anaphylactic reactions to hemp or marijuana. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening response to an allergen that can cause the airways to swell shut.
Is Weed addictive? Ask your genes
For a subset of pot users, marijuana becomes a substance of dependence. This means that they experience symptoms of withdrawal, such as irritability and restlessness, when they attempt to stop using the drug. There is academic debate over how many people should be considered dependent on marijuana, but national epidemiological studies put the rate at about 9 percent of users, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Marijuana dependence may have genetic underpinnings. A 2016 study uncovered three genetic variants associated with dependence. One variant is involved in regulating calcium in the blood and has been linked with opioid dependence; another is involved with the growth of the central nervous system, the researchers reported in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. The genetic variations were simply associated with dependence, and the study couldn’t prove that having one of these variants caused dependence. Nevertheless, the researchers found that the genetic variations they’d discovered also tend to occur in people with depression, which could explain why dependence and depression often go hand-in-hand.
It’s well-known that pot can sometimes cause paranoia. But in 2011, doctors reported another possible negative side effect of marijuana: cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome. Here’s a hint as to what that might be — “emesis” is the Latin for “vomiting.”
Yes, marijuana use can sometimes lead to episodes of uncontrollable vomiting. The cycle usually has three phases, researchers wrote in the journal Current Drug Abuse Reviews. First, patients (usually chronic marijuana users) develop morning nausea and general abdominal discomfort. But they often increase their marijuana use, hoping for the drug’s anti-nausea effects to kick in. Then comes the hyperemesis part. Patients vomit repeatedly, up to five times an hour, for one or two days. The only help is hot showers. It can take days, weeks or even months before the patients recover and get back to normal. Stopping cannabis use can prevent relapse.
But cannabinoid hyperemesis remains otherwise largely mysterious. There’s no data on how many people experience it, or why it seems to be a small proportion of pot users, the researchers wrote. There’s also no explanation of why marijuana, known for its anti-emetic properties, should have the opposite effect in some people. THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, has an anti-nausea effect on the central nervous system, the researchers wrote. However, some cannabinoid compounds slow the gut, preventing it from emptying as quickly in the usual way. For some people, this slowdown might override the anti-emetic effect of THC and cause vomiting, the researchers speculated.
Weed bust record
The Guinness Book of World Records apparently does not keep any records for the amounts of marijuana grown, smoked or otherwise consumed. But the drug does show up in the record books. The “bulkiest drug seizure” of marijuana ever was 2,903 metric tons, or 6.4 million pounds, that came from a Colombian drug operation. That was one-fifth of the entire illegal import of marijuana into the United States per year at the time, according to a1982 New York Times article.
This seizure, code-named “Operation Tiburon,” also led to the arrests of 495 people and the seizure of 95 boats thought to be used in drug smuggling.
First transcontinental Weed trade
The world’s first-known pot dealers were the nomads of the Eastern European Steppe, according to a 2016 study.
The Yamnaya, traders from what is now Russia and Ukraine, may have traded cannabisthroughout Europe and East Asia around 5,000 years ago, the researchers found. The plant itself was in use in both Europe and Asia at least 10,200 years ago and grew naturally across both continents. But the archaeological record shows a spike in cannabis use in East Asia around 5,000 years ago, right around the time when the nomadic Yamnaya established a trade route across the steppes. Yamnaya sites show signs of cannabis burning, suggesting they may have brought the habit of smoking marijuana with them as they moved about.
Getting high might affect how you seen winning and losing. In a 2016 study, participants played a game in which they could win a few cents or lose a few dollars, depending how well they did. As they played, researchers scanned their brains, focusing on a small area called the nucleus accumbens that’s responsible for processing rewards.
The study found that people who had used marijuana more showed weaker nucleus accumbens responses to the prospect of winning than people who’d used the drug less. Of course, the study couldn’t prove that marijuana use directly caused the brain changes — it could be that there is some third cause of both, or an underlying reason why someone with a lessened reward response might gravitate toward marijuana use, the researchers said.