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Pot: Just a Relaxing Pastime?

Legal in Washington but not on campus

Possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is legal in Washington State for those over the age of 21.  However, you may not smoke pot anywhere on the University of Washington campus.

Is pot dangerous?

Marijuana (also known as pot or weed) is the most frequently used drug in the United States.  Annual use among college students was about 30 percent in 2006. 

One argument for pot legalization is that it isn’t nearly as dangerous as other legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco.  However, pot can still harm your body, with frequent use leading to respiratory problems and decreased immune system function (meaning that you get sick more often). 

Smoking pot is associated with other risk behaviors, like binge drinking and tobacco use.  One study found that 9 out of 10 students who used pot also engaged in other risky activities, like heavy drinking or cigarette smoking.

Is marijuana addictive?

Even though pot may not be as addictive as other substances, its use can still lead to addiction.  In 2004, more than 298,000 people who were entering drug treatment programs said that they were addicted to pot.  Most scientists agree that a little less than 10 percent of those who smoke pot become addicted.

How does marijuana affect your body?

When you smoke pot, the active chemical in marijuana quickly passes from the lungs to the bloodstream.  This chemical then acts upon parts of your brain called cannabinoid receptors, which are more common in areas of the brain that control pleasure, memory and concentration.  There’s some evidence that these areas can continue to be affected even after you no longer feel high from pot.

What happens to your body when you use pot?

Short-term effects of pot use may include:

  • Feelings of intoxication
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Dry mouth and throat
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Loss of coordination and poor sense of balance
  • Decreased reaction time
  • Difficulty listening or speaking
  • Reduced short-term memory, comprehension, problem solving and judgment
  • Altered send of time
  • Impaired ability to drive a car or perform
  • Paranoia
  • Intense anxiety or panic attacks

Long-term effects are less clear cut, especially because many people who smoke pot also smoke cigarettes, so it is hard for researchers to know which substance is producing an effect.  However, pot use may:

  • Make it harder to concentrate
  • Make it difficult to remember and learn things
  • Delay the onset of puberty in men
  • Decrease sperm production in men
  • Disrupt the menstrual cycle and prevent ovulation
  • Harm the immune system
  • Increase cancer rates
  • Cause respiratory problems and disease

Getting help

If your marijuana use is negatively affecting your life, contact Hall Health to schedule an appointment.

Additional resources

University of Washington’s Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute offers a wealth of online resources about pot

New York Times.  “Legalizing of Marijuana Raises Health Concerns.” January 7, 2013.  http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/07/legalizing-of-marijuana-raises-health-concerns/

NORML. Health Reports. http://norml.org/library/health-reports

 

Authored by: Hall Health Center Health Promotion staff

Reviewed by: Hall Health Center Mental Health Clinic staff, January 2014