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Cannabis: Good or bad for your health?

Updated: Oct 24, 2022

More and more places in the world are moving towards the legalization of cannabis and the growing popularity of this plant is undeniable. Its benefits are more and more recognized, but this does not prevent debates and stigmatization from still occurring all over the world. Some will argue that cannabis is not good for your health, while others will put forward its numerous medicinal properties.

Canada legalized cannabis in 2018 and to date, while federal legalization in the United States has yet to occur, more and more U.S. states are passing laws opening the door to medical and/or recreational cannabis. Mexico has temporarily decriminalized weed in its territory until the Mexican government legislates on the matter. This wave of legalization certainly opens the door to interesting discussions across North America.

If the trend persists, cannabis will be legalized in more and more territories around the globe over the years and that's why it is very important to understand its effects on human health. Many scientific studies will be conducted in the coming years to help us get a clearer picture of the role and impact of cannabis on our health, as well as the potential it has, especially at a medical level.

If you're reading this article, you've probably already wondered whether cannabis is good or bad for your health. To demystify this question, it is first important to understand what exactly this plant is and how it produces its effects on the body. The different studies cited in this article presenting the negative and positive effects of cannabis will also certainly help you clarify the situation.


What is cannabis?

Cannabis is a plant originating from Asia that is now cultivated in more than 185 countries. It contains chemicals called cannabinoids, which produce effects on the brain and the human body through cellular receptors found in the human body's endocannabinoid system. The various cannabinoids are found in the trichomes, the tiny transparent hairs found on cannabis flowers and leaves.

THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) is the first of the main cannabinoids found in cannabis. This psychoactive compound is responsible for most of the plant's known effects on the body and the brain (notably the famous "high").

CBD (cannabidiol) is the second main cannabinoid found in cannabis. Unlike THC, CBD does not produce a psychoactive effect and therefore does not cause the feeling of being "high". This cannabinoid is currently the subject of several studies regarding its numerous therapeutic capacities. It could even modulate the psychoactive effects of THC, especially when the cannabis strain has a CBD concentration equal to or higher than that of THC.

Dozens of other cannabinoids are also present in cannabis, such as CBG, THCV, CBC and CBN (1).

A growing amount of scientific research is also pointing to the wide range of effects that terpenes can have on the body. Terpenes are the strong aromatic molecules that give cannabis its wide range of scents and flavors (2).


How does cannabis produce its effects on the body?

Cannabis acts on the body through what is called the endocannabinoid system. This system, discovered by scientists in the early 1990's, serves to maintain the body's internal balance (3). When a person consumes cannabis, the cannabinoids contained in the plant come into contact with the endocannabinoid receptors present throughout the body to produce its various effects. The two main receptors, CB1 and CB2, have been detected in the central nervous system, digestive system, liver, pancreas, cardiovascular system, lungs, muscles and more.

Cannabinoids are not only found in cannabis: the human body also naturally produces cannabinoid substances (4). One could say that the body is made to receive cannabinoids since it produces some by itself! ;)


Health effects of cannabis

Now that you know in more detail how cannabis affects our bodies, the same question remains: is cannabis good or bad for our health?

It is very difficult to paint an exact picture of the issue but to help you make up your mind on the subject, the following lines will present the main arguments from both sides. First, we will present you the different studies that tend to show that cannabis is bad for your health, and then we will present the studies that support the positive and therapeutic effects that cannabis can have.


Possible negative effects of cannabis

Cannabis can of course have adverse effects on some of its users and is not a totally safe product (as is the case with almost everything in life).

The risks associated with it depend very much on the frequency of use and the characteristics of the user himself. They are more likely to affect users who ingest high doses on a daily basis (5), teenagers, pregnant women, and people who are particularly at risk for mental health problems (6).

Smoke inhalation

Although studies have struggled to establish a true cause-and-effect relationship between cannabis inhalation and lung damage (7), there is no doubt that the act of smoking itself poses some risk to the lungs. Of course, this risk is eliminated if you choose to consume the plant in other forms (edible products, oils, etc.).

A 2014 study found that short-term exposure to cannabis smoke is associated with an increased risk of bronchodilation (8) and chronic cough, but it has not been clearly associated with lung function impairment, lung disease, or asthma (9).

On the other hand, it must be said that certain actions taken by stoners can contribute to lung injuries, although these cases remain rare. Habits such as smoking in an uncleaned bong or performing "smoke tricks" by holding the smoke with one' s breath for as long as possible, just to name a few, can contribute to lung injuries among its adepts (