If you've ever consumed cannabis, then you probably don't need me to tell you there are some wonderful and weird side effects of getting high. After just a few puffs, bites, or drops of your favorite flower, edible, or tincture, sweet Mary Jane starts working her magic; and you'll just have to decide for yourself if the potential for weird side effects is worth the potential for wonderful ones.
First things first: to understand how cannabis affects us, it's important to know that humans are born with cannabinoid receptors. These live on the surfaces of cells and are responsible for communicating changing conditions outside of the cell to the inner cell, thus instigating cellular responses. The main cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2 are responsible for the high you get from THC, and both receptors exist in various parts of your body. But the effect isn't necessarily identical for every single person — in other words, people can experience different side effects or varying degrees of benefits.
To help explain the impacts weed can have on your body, Bustle spoke with Dr. Jordan Tishler, MD, an expert on cannabis therapeutics and holistic care. Here are seven side effects of getting high, explained:
1. Cotton Mouth
"Cotton mouth" happens when a cannabinoid like THC binds itself to the receptor of our submandibular glands, (a pair of glands located on the floor of our mouths which produce about 70% of our saliva). Then, it causes them to stop receiving the messages from our parasympathetic nervous system which would normally tell them to make more saliva.
Dr. Tishler notes that even though you might feel thirsty after consuming cannabis, that doesn't necessarily mean you're dehydrated. "For those who have heart or kidney disease, overdoing water intake can be dangerous, so they should be warned to take sips, not large drinks," he says.
2. Increased Heart Rate
Now, when it comes to cannabis and heart rate, Dr. Tishler says there are two important factors at work here. "First cannabis via the CB1 receptor has a direct stimulatory effect on heart rate," Dr. Tishler explains. "Also, it causes decreased vascular resistance which leads to lower blood pressure. When blood pressure drops, it calls for increased heart rate to compensate." He says for most people the increase in heart rate is mild and not particularly noticeable. But if you get a weird feeling in your chest when you’re high, he suggests dialing the dose back. Your heart usually beats between 60 and 100 times per minute. However, that can increase to 70 to 120 beats per minutes after smoking weed.
If you're dealing with established cardiovascular issues, however, you should take this side effect more seriously. "In patients with either coronary artery disease or congestive heart failure, the increased rate can be dangerous," Dr. Tishler says. "... This can lead to chest pain, shortness of breath, and in worst case, a heart attack." He makes it clear that this is rare, but serious.
3. Possible Erectile Dysfunction
Erectile dysfunction may not directly affect you if you don't have a penis — and having a penis shouldn't keep you from safely and legally consuming cannabis if you want to — but you should know that it might be a possibility. "Men, more than women, are very dose dependent when it comes to the effects of cannabis on sexuality," Dr. Tishler says. Still, some of the existing studies on erectile dysfunction and marijuana use are contradictory and require further research.
4. Potentially Increased Tolerance
According to a 2014 study performed by Washington State University Psychologist Rebecca Craft and published in the journal, Drug and Alcohol Dependence, female rats are more likely to develop a tolerance to cannabis than males. The female rats in Craft's study were also more sensitive to the painkilling qualities of cannabis than the males, and were the most sensitive around ovulation. That said, Dr. Tishler remains unconvinced by the available data on weed's painkilling effects for men vs. women. "There is some evidence that women may need a higher dose than men for pain control, but I have not seen this in practice, nor was I convinced that the studies were accurate," he says.
5. Increased Appetite
Even weed virgins have probably heard that getting stoned will make you super hungry, but what's weird about this side effect is why cannabis consumption sometimes makes us feel like single-handedly eating whole pizzas and mountains of mac and cheese.
In a 2018 study conducted by experts at Washington State University, it was found that dosing rats with cannabis stimulates a surge of ghrelin — a hormone the stomach releases when it's empty which tells the brain it's time to look for food. Additionally, as a 2015 study published in the journal Nature found, our cannabinoid receptors have a relationship with the pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) neurons that live in the hypothalamus, and these neurons control appetite stimulation. So when people consume cannabis, those neurons are activated and it causes you to become hungry.
That said, Dr. Tishler tells Bustle he doesn't think we have a good answer yet regarding exactly why the munchies happen post-dose. "It’s clear that cannabis interacts with receptors in the hypothalamus, which is the area that controls satiety," Dr. Tishler says. "Beyond that, we just don’t know."
Laughing is not only super fun, it's literally good for you. And one of the most pleasurable (and weird) side effects of getting stoned is how much it might make you laugh — but Dr. Tishler points out the side effect isn't necessarily universal. "It may accentuate people’s innate giggliness or their baseline mood, but uncontrolled laughter is not a universal phenomenon," he says.
Unfortunately most of the studies on cannabis and laughter are over a decade old, but research on the topic does exist. One such study, for example, found that cannabis activates blood flow to the right frontal and left temporal lobes of the brain, both of which are associated with laughter. Plus, laughter is contagious, so if you're smoking with friends and they start giggling, it makes sense that you'll probably start giggling as well.
7. Slower Perception Of Time
Like every single stoned scene from any movie or TV show will tell you, getting high tends to slow things down — and it can actually be quite relaxing, because it forces us to slow down, too. Dr. Tishler tells Bustle we're still learning about why this happens, but it likely has something to do with the hypothalamus. "The hypothalamus is again involved in some of our time-keeping apparatus, so the interaction is likely there, but why and how are still unexplored," Dr. Tishler says.
According to a 1998 study, marijuana alters blood flow to our cerebellum (the part of the brain that regulates muscle activity), and the cerebellum is linked to our body's timing system. More recently, a study published in Psychopharmacology found that — when compared with sober participants — participants who consumed cannabis overestimated time by as much as 25%.
Koch, M., Varela, L., Kim, J. G., Kim, J. D., Hernández-Nuño, F., Simonds, S. E., … Horvath, T. L. (2015). Hypothalamic POMC neurons promote cannabinoid-induced feeding. Nature. https://www.nature.com/articles/nature14260
Mathew, R. J., Wilson, W. H., Turkington, T. G., & Coleman, R. E. (1998). Cerebellar activity and disturbed time sense after THC. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9666122
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Sneider, J. T., Pope, H. G., Silveri, M. M., Simpson, N. S., Gruber, S. A., & Yurgelun-Todd, D. A. (2006). Altered regional blood volume in chronic cannabis smokers. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17115869
Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior. (2018). How cannabis affects appetite: Brain changes. ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/07/180717094747.htm
Wakley, A. A., Wiley, J. L., & Craft, R. M. (2014). Sex differences in antinociceptive tolerance to delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol in the rat. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4161674/
Jordan Tishler MD; President, CMO inhaleMD; President, Association of Cannabis Specialists. https://inhalemd.com/about-us/
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