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Wellness and Prevention Education

Is smoking pot more dangerous than smoking cigarettes?

The answer to this question depends on the amount of each substance used. It’s also hard to give a straight answer because marijuana contains varying amounts of THC – anywhere from 1% to 8%. When used in equal amounts, marijuana seems to be more harmful than cigarettes, but most pot smokers claim not to smoke as often as cigarette addicts. Here’s some information for you to weigh the risks of each substance:

THC is the active chemical in marijuana. Higher concentrations of THC will cause a greater hallucinogenic effect, and because reproductive cells bind to THC more than other cells, smoking will jeopardize your fertility. THC is fat-soluble, staying in your body (including brain tissue) for up to 3 weeks, though it is not clear what effects it has while it remains.

In lab experiments, THC has been shown to block the immune system’s ability to function properly. This leads to greater risk of illness, infection, and cancer among heavy users. It would be hard to say pot is less dangerous than cigarette smoking because marijuana has 3 times the amount of tar as tobacco, and its carbon monoxide levels are 3-5 times that of cigarettes. Be aware that pot has 50% more cancer-causing hydrocarbons than a tobacco cigarette. Every time you inhale, you’re accepting all of that poison into your body because joints do not have filters. Also, most pot smokers inhale the smoke and hold it in their lungs longer than they would for cigarette smoke.

More research is necessary to learn the true addictive effects of marijuana, but current studies show heavy users will likely experience psychological dependence. Marijuana addiction is not likely to be as intense as the dependence experienced by cigarette smokers. Chronic users build up a tolerance to pot, and they need more and more to get high. Daily users find that their learning, memory, and cognitive skills are weaker than normal; they find it hard to function at their usual level. Experiments on animals that had been chronically exposed to THC resulted in withdrawal symptoms and changes in nerve cells.

Other negative results of smoking pot are that it…

  • Changes the chemical balance in your brain, altering your mood, appetite, ability to concentrate, and energy levels.
  • Lowers testosterone levels in men and upsets the balance of hormones in women that control menstrual cycles.
  • Decreases sperm count and increases sperm abnormalities.
  • Jeopardizes the eggs in women’s ovaries (remember, you are born with the total number of eggs you will have for your lifetime – they are irreplaceable!).
  • Threatens your ability to learn and remember things, leading to forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating.
  • Increases your risk for the same lung problems as cigarette smoking, including emphysema, cancer, frequent chest colds, coughing, and more phlegm production.
  • Leads to anxiety problems, depression, and paranoia.
  • Increases risk for cancer of the throat, lungs, head, and neck.

What are the immediate effects of smoking pot?

  • Relaxation
  • Altered sense of hearing, time, and vision
  • Euphoria
  • Increased heart rate and appetite
  • Dilated pupils
  • Memory impairment
  • Red eyes and swollen eyelids
  • Dry eyes and mouth
  • Loss of coordination, slower reaction time (never drive after smoking pot)
  • Impaired judgment

How addictive is marijuana?

There has been conflicting research linking marijuana and addiction. Although pot has not shown signs of causing severe physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms, associated with drugs like cocaine and heroin, marijuana often causes psychological dependence. This means that the user experiences a psychological need for the drug and its effects in order to function on a daily basis.

If I quit marijuana, will I experience withdrawal symptoms?

The severity of withdrawal symptoms depends on the level of your habit, but if you smoke heavily, you are likely to experience psychological withdrawal, such as feeling sick. You may also experience chronic fatigue, headaches, mood changes, and feel depressed or anxious. Other withdrawal symptoms include nervousness, insomnia, loss of appetite, chills, and tremors. Impaired brain functioning can include short-term memory loss and inability to think abstractly.