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Here’s How Getting Stoned Affects Your Body

In an ideal world, with rigorously regulated dispensaries and organic pot at shoppers’ disposal, would a healthy person be healthier if she used marijuana?

Balancing 24 credits, marching band, sorority council meetings, and a part-time job was taking a toll on Cali G., then a 21-year-old University of Missouri student. Overwhelmed, she turned to alcohol to mellow out.

“My responsibilities became unbearable. I would come home from class, grab a beer, and chug my way into a fog,” she says. After one particularly brutal hangover, Cali swore off hard drinking. Then, on a camping trip with friends, she had a pot epiphany.

“My friends told me that smoking weed is safer for your lungs than cigarettes,” says Cali, who is now 24 and living in southern California. “After learning how to do it, I sank into a state of relaxation I’d rarely felt before. It was like I’d been wearing a weighted vest but now it was lifted off.”

The next morning, Cali watched as campers who had gotten drunk staggered out of their tents. “I was munching on Goldfish crackers, thinking, Damn, I’m glad I missed out,” she recalls. “That went against what I’d believed before: Weed is bad, and alcohol is legal. There’s a reason for that, right?”

Long-held beliefs about pot are shifting fast. Fifty- three percent of Americans (and 68 percent of millennials) support legalization, according to a March 2015 survey by the Pew Research Center. It’s already fine to use medicinally in 23 states and DC—prescribed for pain, nausea, insomnia, PTSD, and more—and you can light up recreationally in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. Which means plenty of people may be wondering the same thing as Cali: Might pot be better for you than alcohol?

In the Pew survey, about 7 out of 10 respondents said drinking is the more damaging habit.

They seem to be right. Last year, researchers compared the deadliness of 10 substances for a study published in Scientific Reports. Booze and tobacco were among the top four. Alcohol abuse is linked to 1 in 10 deaths among 20- to 64-year-olds annually, including car accidents, homicides, and suicides. Smoking cigarettes kills more than 200,000 women each year from heart attack, stroke, lung cancer, and emphysema. Marijuana, meanwhile, was last on the list—about 114 times less fatal than alcohol.

“In modest amounts, marijuana doesn’t cause terrible harm to anyone’s health,” says Igor Grant, MD, director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research, at the University of California at San Diego. Still, he and other experts argue that more research is needed before we endorse pot as a health positive. But because the federal government categorizes marijuana in the most dangerous class of drugs, it’s incredibly difficult to get the approval and supplies necessary to conduct a gold-standard study that might show weed’s benefits. Pot may turn out to be a more virtuous vice than booze, but that doesn’t mean getting baked is good for you.

It’s no news flash that marijuana use affects coordination, time perception, and memory. It can hinder your ability to pay attention and alter your judgment, says Nora Volkow, MD, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Sometimes, I do get to that point where I can’t focus and realize I’ve smoked too much,” says Annie D., 25, who works in e-commerce in Washington. Teens and young adults, in particular, may not be able to learn as much while high, Dr. Grant says. And Dr. Volkow points out that the brain is still developing until age 24 or 25.

Marijuana can affect mood disorders and mental health too. In some, it can cause or exacerbate anxiety and depression. And those with a genetic predisposition might be at risk of developing schizophrenia if they use pot, a 2012 study in Biological Psychiatry concluded. Longtime users may experience withdrawal symptoms like unease, restless- ness, and irritability if they quit.

Scary, yes, but such effects aren’t that different from what drinkers experience. A few drinks can impair memory, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) states. And withdrawal symptoms from heavy, long-term alcohol use are much more alarm- ing: hallucinations or delusions.

There’s some evidence pot may have negative effects on your heart, including case reports of heart attacks and strokes among recent or heavy users. But little is known about the link, says David Goff, Jr., MD, PhD, dean of the Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado at Aurora. One study from 2013 shows that pot may decrease fertility, because it can lower levels of the luteinizing hormone, needed for ovulation. And smoking pot isn’t great for your lungs. It can’t compare to the health effects of tobacco, partly because, as Dr. Goff notes, “people don’t smoke a pack of joints a day.” Still, he says, “voluntarily putting smoke into your lungs is dumb.” Dr. Grant adds, “When you smoke marijuana, you bring in tars that can cause lung cancer.” Using a vaporizer may reduce your tar exposure.

Pot & Your Safety

Tori C., a student at a large southern university, skips alcohol and smokes pot usually. She feels it keeps her safer. In the fall of 2014, she was sexually assaulted after a party where she and her attacker had been drinking.

It happens way too often: More than 690,000 college students are assaulted each year by someone who has been drinking, NIAAA statistics estimate. The annual number of victims of alcohol- related sexual assaults, specifically, is 97,000. Pot, meanwhile, tends to lessen aggressive behavior. Moderate and high doses may even suppress violence and reduce irritability and hostility in group settings, according to a review of research in Addictive Behaviors.

Evidence of this is emerging outside the lab. Compared with the first six months of 2013, the murder rate in Denver, Colorado, dropped by 38 percent in 2014, the first year you could lawfully buy pot. The rate of forcible sex offenses dropped by almost 19 percent. Critics caution, however, that it may be a case of correlation, not causation.

Tori knows the only person to blame for her rape is her rapist. Still, she says, “I was too drunk to fight back. Drinking inhibits my ability to function more than pot. When I smoke, I stay in control.”

She feels the same way about driving high. She tries not to drive under the influence of anything, she says, “but if I had to, I could drive stoned. There’s no way I could operate a vehicle drunk.” She’s not way off base. A 2010 study published in the American Journal
on Addictions found that drivers under the influence of alcohol underestimate how impaired they are, while participants who smoke pot drive cautiously to compensate. Drunk drivers also have more trouble keeping a car in its lane than marijuana users do.

None of which endorses drugged driving. Pot-related
road fatalities appear to be rising: About 12 percent of U.S. drivers in fatal accidents in 2010 had cannabinoids in their system,
up from 4.2 percent in 1999. “If you’re high, you shouldn’t be driving,” says Dr. Grant. “One could argue that drunk driving is worse, but that doesn’t mean pot is safe.”

Pot & the Bottom Line

This debate is far from over, so maybe take it slow. Legalization opponents worry there isn’t enough education and regulation to keep users safe. Denver has seen a rise in ER visits after people ingested large amounts of pot- laced goodies, which can cause anxiousness and hallucinations. In one tragic case, a visiting college student jumped off a balcony and died. “When I bought weed from a dispensary, I asked, ‘What are the side effects? What’s the correct dose?'” says Carla Lowe, founder of Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana. They were very unhelpful and blasé, she says.

Most states have agencies intended to provide some level of oversight on how dispensaries operate, but Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, notes that there are no agreed-upon safety regulations of any kind: no supervision of testing facilities, and tests for contaminants aren’t standardized. “People are used to buying weed on the black market with no idea about quality,” he says. “As consumers get more sophisticated, they’ll demand higher quality and better testing.”

So in an ideal world, with rigorously regulated dispensaries and organic pot at shoppers’ disposal, would a healthy person be healthier if she used marijuana? Probably not. Studies show the most support for marijuana’s ability to relieve pain and muscle spasms, per a review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2015. Evidence of other benefits is unclear. And if weed has protective qualities that might help healthy women, it remains to be seen. It’s still illegal for recreational use in nearly every state, of course. In those places where it is legal, it’s up to individuals to decide if pot is lifting them up or holding them back.

For Tori C., marijuana became a crutch instead of a cure. After the trauma of her sexual assault, she admits she abused pot for months, getting high several times a day to “be numb.” Her best friend set her straight: “She told me to stop smoking all the time and do my homework. I found a therapist, and my grades got better. Smoking so much just put a Band-Aid on what was really bothering me.”

This article was originally published as “Should Everybody Just Get Stoned?” in the January 2016 issue of Cosmopolitan . Click here to get the issue in the iTunes store!

In an ideal world, with rigorously regulated dispensaries and organic pot at shoppers' disposal, would a healthy person be healthier if she used marijuana?

What Are The Cannabis Shakes And Why Do They Happen?

Ever started shaking uncontrollably after smoking a large amount of weed? Well, you’re not alone. The “cannabis shakes” have numerous causes and are most likely nothing to worry about.

Contents:

Breaking down the cannabis shakes: what they are, why they happen, and how to deal with them.

So, you’re relaxing, enjoying a smoking session with friends, when suddenly your leg starts to twitch, then your shoulder, and your eyelid. You start to freak out and the tremors get worse. Panicked, you wonder what’s happening to you. Don’t worry, it’s probably just the cannabis shakes (and you should be fine in a few minutes).

What are the cannabis shakes?

“The shakes” are involuntary muscle twitches and tremors. This phenomenon can sometimes occur after consuming weed. If you typically associate the shakes with alcohol withdrawal or more serious health conditions, don’t stress. When it comes to cannabis, the shakes are generally no big deal.

Cannabis has a very good safety profile [1] . While no formal studies have been conducted on cannabis shakes, a plethora of anecdotal reports tell us they’re relatively common and typically harmless. Like other symptoms of consuming too much weed, such as increased heart rate, sweating, and nausea, they tend to subside as quickly as they began.

Why do you shake after smoking cannabis?

So, what causes the cannabis shakes? Are they just a side effect of getting too high for your own good? There are actually a variety of factors that could contribute to the shakes, including:

• Cold environment
• Over-stimulation
• Anxiety
• Too much THC

Let’s break it down:

Cold environment

You might be shaking or shivering because you’re cold. Cannabis actually lowers your body temperature [2] —an effect known as “THC-induced hypothermia”. Before you start imagining yourself freezing to death as your couch morphs into a snow-covered mountain, take a beat. THC-induced hypothermia only causes a slight drop in basal body temperature. You might shiver and shake what your mama gave you, but it isn’t dangerous or life-threatening.

Over-stimulation

In a lot of places, it’s common to roll a little tobacco into your joint. Nicotine is a stimulant: it excites the nervous system and boosts dopamine levels. While this boost is the reason a lot of people like to add a pinch of tobacco to their weed, it can cause twitching and anxiety in higher doses. If you’ve been enjoying this combo and find yourself with a case of the shakes, the problem could actually be the tobacco, not the cannabis. Likewise, if you’ve been drinking a lot of coffee, tea, or soda, caffeine could be contributing to your tremors.

Anxiety

It’s well-known that weed can cause acute anxiety and paranoia, and some people are more susceptible to it than others. If you’re one of those people, or if you just caught a bad break, nervousness could be at the root of your shakes. Of course, your body acting in ways that feel out of your control can amplify anxiety. If you get the shakes, try not to panic. Instead, keep calm and carry on.

Too much THC

To go back to the original question: Are the shakes just a side effect of getting way too high? Often, the answer is yes. The cannabis shakes are commonly due to a mild THC overdose. Don’t let the word “overdose” freak you out too much, especially if you’re young and healthy. We’ve all flown too close to the sun at some point, but nobody has died from overdosing on cannabis alone [3] . Freaked out and embarrassed yourself in front of all your friends? That’s another story.

What can you do if you get the cannabis shakes?

To recap, the cannabis shakes are not life-threatening, but they can leave you feeling alarmed and uncomfortable. While time is a key factor, waiting for them to subside on their own isn’t your only option. Here are some quick harm-reduction tips to help combat the shakes:

• Adjust your environment
• Move around, distract yourself, breathe
• Stay away from stimulants
• Consider switching strains
• Try some CBD

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Adjust your environment

Regardless of the precise cause of your shakes, sitting there and panicking or focusing on how uncomfortable you feel won’t help. Instead, take control of the things you can.

Environment plays a huge role in our emotional state, especially when psychoactive substances are involved. Feeling comfortable, warm, and safe is key. That could mean going to a different room or a more relaxing place. It could mean leaving an overwhelming social situation. It could be as simple as adjusting the lighting and putting on your favourite tunes. And, if your shakes are actually shivers, crank the heat. Cosy blankets are a chilly stoner’s best friend.

Move around, distract yourself, breathe

If you feel yourself starting to panic, switch gears from straight up shaking to shaking it off. Get up and move around. Distract yourself with a simple task, even if it’s counting steps. Take slow, deep breaths to calm down, or try some other strategies to calm anxiety. Movement and breathing help you recenter yourself in your body and focus on something other than your anxiety. Walking or moving around also gets you to stretch and warm up your tense, twitching muscles.

Stay away from stimulants

If you’ve been rolling your joints with tobacco or drinking caffeine, it’s time to try less-stimulating alternatives. Switch to non-caffeinated beverages and limit the amount of tobacco in your joints. If using pure cannabis feels too basic, spice it up with something different. A number of herbs make great tobacco alternatives. Just avoid anything with strong stimulant properties. You don’t want to end up back where you started, with the shakes (version 2.0).

Switch strains

A few of the factors that cause the shakes—anxiety, over-stimulation, too much THC—could boil down to the strain you’re smoking. There are hundreds of cannabis strains out there, each with its own unique mix of properties. In general, sativa-dominant strains tend to be more stimulating (and possibly anxiety-inducing) than indica-dominant strains.

Many people love the boost they get from a good sativa. But, if you’re prone to anxiety or paranoia, look for indica strains that tend towards relaxation. Of course, the indica/sativa split isn’t a hard rule. The best choice is an informed one, so don’t be afraid to check strain reviews from other users or ask your budtender for a recommendation.

Try some CBD

It’s also possible that the THC content of your strain is simply too high. Instead, look for a strain that’s high in CBD (cannabidiol). CBD isn’t psychoactive, and scientific studies [4] have found that it mitigates some of the side-effects of THC. Research also suggests it has potential as an anxiolytic, meaning it may help to combat anxiety. Depending on your preference, choose a strain with a 1:1 ratio of THC and CBD, or one that’s higher in CBD and lower in THC. These popular high-CBD strains are an excellent starting point.

What if it’s too late to switch strains and you’re already high? If you find yourself caught in the midst of those twitches and tremors, CBD could still help. You probably don’t want to add more THC to your system, so choose CBD oil or isolates with quick delivery mechanisms. A few drops of high-quality CBD oil or tincture under the tongue is your best bet.

How long do the cannabis shakes last?

Luckily, the cannabis shakes usually don’t last too long. Of course, this depends on a few factors, including the amount of cannabis you took (and how you took it). If you vaped, smoked a joint or indulged in one too many bong rips, you should feel better within 15–20 minutes. If you overdid it on the edibles, you might be in for a longer haul.

If you experience truly alarming symptoms, have underlying health conditions, or suspect something more is going on, check with your doctor or a cannabis-informed healthcare provider. Beyond that, a few key adjustments and a little bit of patience (or CBD) should do the trick.

Twitches and tremors after smoking weed are generally harmless. Here's what causes the cannabis shakes and how to combat them.