Marijuana is made from the cannabis plant. It is also known as cannabis or hemp. All three words (cannabis, marijuana and hemp) are often used interchangeably. There are still more names used to refer to marijuana, especially when it is being used recreationally, such as weed, pot, grass, bhang or ganja.

(Read more: Bhang side effects)

Cannabis is one of the oldest plants known to mankind. Some historians date it back about 12,000 years—it is said to have been cultivated for domestic use over the centuries. There are several known species of the cannabis plant; they are all divided into three distinct categories:

  • Cannabis sativa
  • Cannabis indica
  • Cannabis ruderalis

Cannabis affects the brain or the central nervous system, stimulating varied responses. Although it was outlawed in various countries during the 20th century, medical cannabis has been in constant use in Ayurveda and various other indigenous systems of medicine.

As it is a psychotropic substance, its recreational use has been banned in many countries around the world, including India, although its medicinal properties have attracted scientific research.

Different parts of the cannabis plant have been used to treat different medical conditions such as nausea and vomiting, constipation and some chronic conditions with some reports also citing its use in the treatment of fever and malaria. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved medical marijuana, specifically the use of cannabidiol in the treatment of certain kinds of epilepsy.

(Read more: Home remedies for constipation)

Marijuana is used recreationally for the apparent "high" that it delivers when someone smokes marijuana or cooks it in food. Due to recent drives to legalise marijuana in some American states, the rate of consumption has increased. This has revived the debate around health concerns, including fear of widespread addiction to the substance.

Read on to know about the health effects of marijuana, its benefits and side effects.

  1. How marijuana affects the brain
  2. Benefits of marijuana
  3. Side effects of marijuana
  4. Takeaways for marijuana use
Doctors for Benefits and side effects of Marijuana

Hemp, a variety of cannabis and one of the fastest-growing plants, is primarily used for industrial purposes like making paper, clothing, ropes, bags, etc. This is mainly because hemp has lower amounts of the psychoactive compounds as compared to other forms of the cannabis or marijuana plant.

(Read more: Health benefits of hemp seeds)

The two main components of the cannabis plant are known as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC, the main psychotropic compound in cannabis, is responsible for stimulating the brain in a similar way to pleasurable activities such as sex or eating a hearty meal. This stimulation causes the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter which is associated with the reward system of the body. THC is also known to have pain-relieving properties.

On the other hand, CBD binds to different receptors in the brain. It is not associated with the "high" that one experiences upon consuming marijuana. Instead, CBD is known to produce calming influences in the brain and is said to help with conditions such as anxiety, depression as well as seizures.

Marijuana or cannabis is sometimes linked with popular culture—though, the recreational use of marijuana in India is illegal. The psychotropic effects of marijuana kick in sooner if someone smokes it, as the compounds can then enter the bloodstream faster than if the substance is consumed with food or in a drink. The effects of a high may last for hours before a person is able to become sober again.

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Traditional medicine systems around the world have used marijuana for centuries, though its effectiveness against various conditions has been the subject of some debate in the scientific community for some time. More recent research into the subject is showing the positive effects of cannabis in the treatment of various conditions such as:

  • Chronic pain: Among the many chemical compounds present in the cannabis plant are cannabinoids of varying degrees of potency. Cannabinoids have long been associated with easing pain, as it alters the pain perception pathways of the brain. In fact, the use of medical marijuana is primarily advised in the treatment or management of chronic pain due to medical conditions such as arthritis, migraines, endometriosis, fibromyalgia as well as the side-effects of cancer treatment.
  • Inflammation: The compound CBD in marijuana is known for reducing inflammation caused by various inflammatory diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) as well as Crohn's disease. Research also suggests that ulcerative colitis, a kind of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), may not develop the full extent of complications in people who smoke cannabis, although there is limited evidence of this.
  • Muscle spasms: Muscle spasms in multiple sclerosis (MS), as well as nerve pain in HIV/AIDS, have been managed with the help of cannabis, as research has shown positive effects of certain cannabis extracts in relieving the symptoms of these conditions. Ask your doctor before taking any drugs.
  • Mental illnesses: A study looking at the effects of marijuana in the treatment of mental illness and conditions such as depression, anxiety, chronic stress and PTSD found that certain symptoms could be eased with the use of the substance. However, other conditions such as bipolar disorder and psychosis are not recommended to be treated with medical marijuana. 
  • Epilepsy: Certain medications that contain CBD or cannabidiol have been approved by the FDA for the treatment of certain types of epilepsy, known as the Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. A small study on this— published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2017—showed that it resulted in fewer seizures. Doctors sometimes prescribe medicinal marijuana for the management of other neurological conditions such as Parkinson's disease, Tourette syndrome and dementia.
  • Cancer: Limited research into the subject has shown that oral forms of cannabinoids have been effective in treating the various side effects of cancer treatment such as chemotherapy. Besides alleviating pain caused by the disease. Some studies have claimed that cannabinoids may also help in slowing down the growth of cancerous tumours or eliminating some forms of cancer altogether, but other studies have refuted the claims of it being able to cure cancer.
  • Diabetes and obesity: Research into the subject by the American Alliance for Medical Cannabis (AAMC) has shown that use of cannabis is able to stabilise the level of blood sugar in the body, besides lowering the levels and improving the overall blood circulation. It has also been linked with improved regulation of insulin in the body to manage conditions such as obesity and diabetes.
  • Sleep disorders: Various sleep disorders are also improved with the use of cannabis, especially in the case of insomnia. This is due to the calming effects of marijuana on the mind, and because it may alleviate pain arising from various medical conditions.

While there are several benefits linked to the use of cannabis or marijuana, there are many adverse effects or health risks associated with its consumption too. Although it isn't considered to have similar effects as various opioids, it may still cause an addiction. Here are some side effects everyone should know about:

  • Addiction: Cannabis has the potential to cause an addiction, which can impact various facets of life. Dependency on the substance would mean withdrawals, restlessness as well as irritability when the person tries to quit or can't access the substance for any reason.
  • Eye problems: Among the most common side effects associated with the use of cannabis are red eyes and dilated pupils.
  • Dry mouth: Marijuana use is linked to a peculiar dryness in the mouth along with an increase in appetite, which is commonly referred to as the "munchies".
  • Loss of concentration: Long-term use of cannabis has been linked with reduced levels of concentration and focus, besides affecting short-term memory and patterns of thinking. However, these symptoms can be resolved by stopping the consumption of the substance altogether. (Read more: Home remedies to improve memory)
  • Hallucinations: The consumption of marijuana may cause hallucinations and delayed motor responses, besides a general alteration in the way a person perceives things. Performing certain tasks under the influence of marijuana is not recommended at all, such as driving or operating heavy machinery.
  • Hyperactivity: While it is known to have calming effects on people, cannabis is also known to cause hyperactivity marked by rapid breathing and a sharp increase in heart rate. It is also known to increase blood pressure after consumption. Those with heart disease may also experience worsening of their symptoms after using marijuana.
  • Mental health issues: As mentioned earlier, certain mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder do not mix well with regular use of marijuana. Additionally, certain studies have suggested that regular use may increase the risk of depressive as well as suicidal thoughts in some cases, besides increasing the risk of conditions such as psychosis and schizophrenia.
  • Cancers: Regular smoking of marijuana has also been linked with the development of lung cancer; there is some evidence suggesting that the risk of developing a particular type of testicular cancer is also increased. However, research is limited on this.
  • Respiratory conditions: Regularly smoking marijuana may elevate the risk of chronic cough and wheezing, but not enough research has been done to establish whether it adversely affects the functioning of the lungs, or whether it may contribute to the development of conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • Reduced sex drive: Long-term use of marijuana has also been linked to lower sperm count in men as well as causing irregular periods in women, although the symptoms can be reversed by stopping the use of the substance.
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The topic of cannabis or marijuana use can divide a roomful of people, based on the experience they may have had using it, or due to the moral dilemma associated with its use, given that it remains an illegal substance to consume for recreation in most parts of the world.

The increased use of medical marijuana has somewhat reduced the stigma around using a psychotropic substance, with many researchers pointing towards its health benefits, not to forget its centuries-old use in traditional medicine in countries like India. However, much like any such substance, caution must be exercised in its consumption owing to the various side effects as well.

Dr Bhawna

Dr Bhawna

5 Years of Experience

Dr. Padam Dixit

Dr. Padam Dixit

10 Years of Experience

Dr Mir Suhail Bashir

Dr Mir Suhail Bashir

2 Years of Experience

Dr. Saumya Gupta

Dr. Saumya Gupta

1 Years of Experience


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  2. Walsh Z et al. Medical cannabis and mental health: A guided systematic review. Clinical Psychology Review. 2017 Feb; 51: 15-29.
  3. Devinsky O et al. Trial of Cannabidiol for Drug-Resistant Seizures in the Dravet Syndrome. The New England Journal of Medicine. 2017 May; 376(21): 2011-2020.
  4. Hill KP. Medical Marijuana for Treatment of Chronic Pain and Other Medical and Psychiatric Problems. JAMA. 2015 Jun; 313(24): 2474-2483.
  5. Koppel BS et al. Systematic review: Efficacy and safety of medical marijuana in selected neurologic disorders. Neurology. 2014 Apr; 82 (17): 1556-1563.
  6. Winters KC and Lee CY. Likelihood of developing an alcohol and cannabis use disorder during youth: Association with recent use and age. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 2008 Jan; 92(1-3): 239-247.
  7. Diabetes UK [Internet]. London, United Kingdom. Cannabis and diabetes.
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