Dangers of smoking marijuana continue to emerge

Legalized marijuana continues to make headway in many parts of the country. But this growing culture of acceptance ignores the actual science. And the science tells us smoking marijuana is just plain dangerous. Even among casual users, according to new evidence. Plus, a second, new study underscores marijuana’s harmful effects on the heart. In a moment, I’ll tell you about both of these new studies.

But before we get into the science, let’s back up and look at the issue from a logical point of view. And I’ll start out with one, basic contradiction to the legalized marijuana argument…

If smoking one burning plant leaf (tobacco) in excess is so bad for your health, how can smoking another burning plant leaf (marijuana) benefit your health? The dangers of inhaling combustion products are the same or similar.

(It is true, tobacco companies put harmful additives in most mass-manufactured cigarettes. But natural, whole leaf tobacco cigarettes are widely available. And natural, whole leaf tobacco is used exclusively in cigars, which you don’t inhale in any case. Yet the government has focused on the harmful effects of inhaling thesmoke of the burning tobacco leaf (and more recently on nicotine) when consumed in excess. Not the additives. Besides, nobody can certify marijuana as “organic” when we can’t know whether artificial chemicals are present, even unintentionally.)

There is another simple contradiction at the base of the politically correct argument…

If nanny states want to ban so many behaviors because they supposedly harm your health, how can many of the same politically correct posse extol the virtues of legalizing marijuana?

I personally favor getting big government completely out of our lives and the business of regulating behavior and morality through the penal code and the tax code. It’s a huge waste of taxpayer money. And it contributes to the costs, intrusiveness, and incompetence of government.

But while we are still stuck with big government–at least try to be consistent. Treat smoke from one burning plant the same as the other.

Now–putting aside political correctness and posturing, what are the actual medical and scientific facts about smoking marijuana?

For many years, we didn’t have good studies about the effects of smoking marijuana…for one simple reason. People did not want to disclose smoking an illegal substance. Plus, scientists could hardly design studies where they asked participants to smoke an illegal substance.

Ironically, now that smoking marijuana is legal in many places…we are finally beginning to see how dangerous it really is.

Earlier this year, I reported on the neuropsychiatric problems associated with heavy marijuana use among young people.

But a new report from the ongoing study at Harvard and Northwestern Universities is even more worrisome. It shows that 18- to 25-year-old young adults who smoke marijuana, even recreationally, have marked abnormalities in areas of their brains that regulate motivation.


For those who think smoking pot, even in moderation, can’t possibly be harmful…they need to think again. (That is, if they still can.)

Anne Blood, Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School, said in a TIME magazine cover story, “There is this general perspective out there that using marijuana recreationally is not a problem–that it is a safe drug. We are seeing this is not the case.”

In this new study, researchers examined the brains’ of 40 young-adult students from the Boston area who smoked marijuana casually–on average, four times per week. The researchers compared those students to students who never smoked marijuana.

The scientists specifically examined two key parts of the brain–the amygdala and the nucleus accumbens. These parts of the brain affect judgment. They also help you weigh the upsides against the downsides of partaking in a pleasurable activity. For example, as you grow older you know eating a donut or staying up late to watch a favorite show might give you pleasure. But it has real consequences.

But smoking marijuana damages these areas of the brain. In fact, the researchers discovered significant brain changes to these areas in the students who smoked marijuana. Even among those who smoked only once a week! (Malnutrition can affect the brain in similar ways. Researchers have observed similar brain changes among men and women who follow vegan diets. You can learn more about how vegan diets affect the brain in the May 2014 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter. If you’re not yet a subscriber, now is the perfect time to get started.)

In the second new study, researchers link smoking marijuana with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. The study was published last month in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Between 2006 and 2010, the nationwide Addictovigilance Network in France received nearly 2,000 reports of serious cannabis-related health problems. And 35 of the reports were for cardiovascular complications.

That number might not sound very high. But here are two interesting points…

From 2006 to 2010, the proportion of cardiovascular complications relating to cannabis more than tripled. Plus, the researchers estimate up to 95 percent of cases aren’t ever reported. So the numbers, in reality, are probably much higher.

The cardiovascular complications that were reported are very serious in nature. They included:

  • acute coronary syndromes
  • heart rate disorders
  • acute cerebral angiopathies
  • transient cortical blindness
  • spasms of cerebral artery
  • and lower limb peripheral vascular diseases.

So even if this new report is just the tip of the iceberg, we still should add serious cardiovascular complications to the list of known effects of smoking marijuana. And according to the authors, “Practitioners should be aware that cannabis may be a potential triggering factor for cardiovascular complications in young people.”

Now, let’s put all these new research findings together. (Not likely to happen in the mainstream or medical media.) We’ve got brain complications, lung complications, and now cardiovascular complications. I wonder if these sudden and serious cardiovascular complications are actually causing permanent brain damage, by reducing blood flow to sensitive brain tissues? Indeed, reduction in blood flow to the brain does typically occur during a cardiovascular event. And it can cause permanent damage.

Now, let me be clear–smoking marijuana for its pain-relief benefits should be weighed against its side effects. (Just like with any other substance used as a medication.) So, a person with cancer who smokes marijuana for pain relief isn’t as concerned about its side effects, especially at an older age.

But the acceptance of medical marijuana has contributed to the belief that recreational use is safe…or even healthy…for everyone.

However, the facts are these: Smoking marijuana is harmful to your health. And solid research now links its use with diseases of brain, mind, lung, and heart.




1. “Recreational Pot Use Harmful to Young People’s Brains,” Time magazine (www.time.com) April 21, 2014

2. “Cannabis Use Is Quantitatively Associated with Nucleus Accumbens and Amygdala Abnormalities in Young Adult Recreational Users,” The Journal of Neuroscience April 16, 2014, 34 (16): 5529-5538

3. “Cannabis Use: Signal of Increasing Risk of Serious Cardiovascular Disorders,” Am Heart Assoc originally published April 23, 2014