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Marijuana isn’t the healthy high we all wanted

A nug of weed. Photo by Sean Keenan | The Signal

In one of my favorite episodes of The Boondocks, Grandpa is warned that he will die soon if he doesn’t address his dangerously high stress levels (same, Grandpa). Not wanting to grow dependent on legal pharmaceuticals, Grandpa acquiesces to his gangster neighbor’s pestering, and starts smoking medical marijuana.

Immediately, his stress levels plummet, and he becomes the epitome of the stereotypical relaxed, easy-going pothead. His grandchildren are shocked and confused by the drastic change in their grandfather, especially when one day Huey comes home to find him literally floating.

Inevitably, as a black man in a white-majority neighborhood, Grandpa is arrested and ordered to give up marijuana. He’s told there are other legal drugs that he can use instead to “take the edge off,” and the episode ends with him barking at his best friend, unable to sit up straight and disgustingly drunk with empty bottles around him.

URGE Abortion

The Boondocks is just a cartoon, but the message of this episode is a sentiment echoed by many self-proclaimed health hipsters. Indeed, weed is often described as a cure and preventative supplement for everything from social anxiety to gastrointestinal discomfort to certain types of cancer. However, while some elements of marijuana, like cannabidiol, or CBD, have proved to be so beneficial they are used in medications. There is ample reason to be wary of using indicas and sativas as universal cures or “health products.”

For one, it is essential to remember that above all, marijuana is a drug that changes the biochemistry of your nervous system and of your body. Like any drug, marijuana can have unexpected negative effects on those systems.

Research for the medical uses of marijuana have largely been mixed. While some swear by weed as their cure of choice for anxiety, some of weed’s best-documented effects are panic attacks and paranoia. This discrepancy doesn’t mean weed can’t help mitigate stress levels, but it’s something worth considering.

Another element of element drug-taking to remember is that they have dramatically different effects depending on dose. An easy example is how while a few glasses of wine can lead to feelings of euphoria and relaxation, going overboard leads to dysphoria and physical illness. Similarly, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component of marijuana, can have sedating effects at low doses, or stimulating effects at higher doses. More is not necessarily better.

Additionally, research suggests that the concentrations of THC in street marijuana have increased in the past few decades, exacerbating the effects of the drug on common users.

Wake Forest University

That higher dose may have significant implications for users today. Studies show that social use of marijuana use doesn’t typically have substantial negative effects on the brain or body after adulthood, but it is worth noting that adolescent use of marijuana is strongly associated with cognitive deficits later in life. However, heavier use of marijuana, even in adulthood, is strongly associated with memory loss, cognitive dysfunction, and overall lower quality of life, even when studies control for other factors like race and socioeconomic status.

Some of the most thoroughly studied effects of marijuana on humans involves brain volume. There is evidence that pot causes gray matter reductions in the regions of the brain associated with motivational and emotional processing. The severity of atrophy seem to be correlated with age and frequency of use. What is significant about these brain regions is that damage can cause deficits in reasoned decision-making and reduced impulse control. Disruption in these areas can also affect emotional processing and make people less empathetic, while also reacting more strongly to negative emotions. Meanwhile, these findings come to no surprise to those of us whose exes were potheads.

Despite the evident downsides of weed, there are obvious reasons why it can be useful for individuals, and society overall. For instance, marijuana is effective at managing chronic pain from various illnesses and injuries, without the devastatingly addictive properties of opiates. But keep in mind that while marijuana is indeed addictive, it’s not nearly as powerful as many other drugs. It is an appetite stimulant and anti-emetic, which can help those who have trouble keeping food down without getting nauseous, such as those going through chemotherapy or those who experience severe anxiety.

Even recreationally, while weed isn’t exactly “healthy,” the studied effects on the brain aren’t as damaging as heavy or even moderate alcohol consumption. Most negative effects on the body can be attributed to the fact that most people smoke weed, and smoking anything, even herbal cigarettes, will have negative effects on the pulmonary system. This is especially true for heart disease patients, who should steer clear of all forms of weed.

That being said, you might be wary of an argument against marijuana use by reasoning like, “it’s not as bad for you as this other proven carcinogen!” Rather, weed just has a place in American culture, like any other recreational drug. It is not a supplement or “nutrient” most people should take for health reasons. But a society that condones weed use like it does alcohol or cigarette use would arguably be better than our current one that imprisons its youth for drugs less dangerous than the ones it allows.


  1. This is propaganda. I have been smoking marijuana for eighteen years, and I’m a great soul. I only have mental illness from domestic violence. I only have physical illness from traumatic brain injury from a drunk driver. This propaganda is morally offensive. Try gaining almost two-hundred pounds in six months from trying mental health pills. Marijuana NEVER put one ounce on me that was unnecessary. When I was 90 pounds from being starved by a man, marijuana put the weight I needed back on. You simply don’t get it. I don’t try to pretend I know what it’s like to be a devil worshiper. So, don’t pretend to know a thing about marijuana. This propaganda promoter most likely also eats cats after they’re mowed down by a bulldozer. #Impeach

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