- For some people, polyamory is an exciting idea.
- rawpixel.com / Unsplash
- Polyamory is when couples allow each other to have multiple romantic partners outside their primary relationship.
- There are several different approaches, such as triads which consist of three people.
- Sometimes couples try out polyamory naively, especially when a straight couple wants to find another bisexual woman to join them.
- This is called “unicorn hunting,” and it’s something of a cliché in the poly community.
To some people, the idea of polyamory – the term describing having more than one romantic partner – is exciting.
In polyamorous relationships, a couple decides they will give each other the freedom to meet, flirt, and hook up with other people. Sometimes they may invite another person into the relationship permanently, in what’s known as a triad.
But it’s not as simple as finding a third person you both fancy. In fact, according to Dr Elisabeth Sheff, expert witness, speaker, and coach of polyamory and author of “The Polyamorists Next Door,” straight couples often come into the polyamorous community expecting to find a bi woman to join them. This, she said, is called “unicorn hunting.”
Sheff’s former husband introduced her to the idea of polyamory with exactly this intention. He wanted another woman to sleep with, but he didn’t particularly want her to be able to meet other men. Apparently in the poly community, this is quite a cliché.
“She’s known as ‘the unicorn’ because she’s so rare, and almost mythical,” Sheff told Business Insider. “He thought he was so edgy and out there, and we could have a wife the two of us together.
“As it turns out, it’s every straight boy’s fantasy. It doesn’t fly well in the poly community. And when he didn’t get what he wanted, he had a tantrum, and didn’t want to do it anymore.”
When couples can’t find a unicorn, Sheff said it’s common that the woman has actually started to quite enjoy the freedom of polyamory. She may have been reluctant to try it at first, but turns out to be the one who enjoys it more.
“The woman of the couple finds other people to socialise with, and the man realises he’s not the centre of attention that he [thought he] would be, and thinks ‘this isn’t as much fun as I thought it would be,’” Sheff said. “These couples either blow up, [or] some of them return to monogamy… and she might have a little more clout than she used to. But if she really likes it, and he really can’t stand it, they’ll break up.”
- Unicorn hunting is usually considered with suspicion and scorn.
Remember – everyone has feelings
Alex* is in a polyamorous relationship with his wife. They were monogamous for a long time, but ended up making friends with many polyamorous people, and it turned into quite a normal thing in their social circle.
He told Business Insider he’s not aware of a situation where a male-female couple actively seeking a bi woman has worked out well.
“I don’t really feel like there is a consistent way of thinking about these things in the many varied ways people approach polyamory,” he said. “But amongst my friends ‘unicorn hunting’ is usually considered with suspicion and scorn.”
“The stereotype at least is that unicorn hunting couples are looking to treat a partner as an object in their relationship,” he added. “They want someone – maybe anyone, reducible to their gender, sexuality, and availability – that fits into their lives and fits their relationship without thinking about the needs and human perspectives of the person they’re looking for.”
In other words, it can look a lot like people wanting to have their cake and eat it too, without actually taking into account anyone else’s feelings. This is what Sheff felt when her ex-husband first came up with the idea.
“My instinct is to say that ‘unicorn hunting’ couples are likely not taking the considerate and compassionate approach which I associate with polyamory,” Alex said. “But like I say, this is something of a stereotype, and folk are welcome to do whatever works for them, right?”
* Name changed for anonymity.
There’s no reason you shouldn’t feel like the best version of yourself this summer. A strict diet is not required.
Instead, get ready to hit the beach by making sure you’re not weighed down by unpleasant symptoms like bloating, dehydration, and discomfort.
Here are a handful of tips from registered dietitian and nutritionist Andy Bellatti to get you feeling your best in under a week.
DO: Drink lots of water.
Water is essential – it regulates the shape of every cell inside our bodies. If we don’t get enough, in fact, these cells begin to shrivel up. The CDC recommends choosing water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages to “help with weight management.”
Swapping a cold glass of H2O for a single 20-ounce soda will save you about 240 calories.
So hydrate, Bellatti told Business Insider, “ideally with water.”
DON’T: Go on a juice cleanse.
- Saaleha Bamjee/Flickr
If you’re considering a “detox” or “juice cleanse,” you might want to reconsider. Drinking just water, juice, or any other liquefied concoction for more than a few days can set you up for unhealthy eating behaviors, and can often lead to spikes and drops in blood sugar levels, which can spawn cravings and mood swings.
“This is a recipe for ‘hangriness,’” Bellatti said, “that also inaccurately paints all solid food as problematic.”
DO: Cut back on sodium.
- Not drowning your sushi in soy sauce can be a good start.
Most of us – 89% of US adults, according to the CDC – eat too much sodium, and that’s not including any salt added at the table. Too much salt in your diet can cause puffiness and bloating, so cutting back can help you avoid that.
“Sodium retains water,” Bellatti said, “so lowering sodium intake also reduces puffiness.”
DON’T: Start banning foods.
- Flickr/Ariel Waldman
There’s a difference between cutting back on things you eat in excess and banning certain food groups entirely.
Diets that rely on avoiding ingredients (like sugar or gluten) can lead to replacing those things with other ingredients that play the same role in the body (like honey or corn-based foods). Doing this can be dangerous if the replacement products are nutrient-deficient.
DO: Fill up with fiber.
- Flickr/With Wind
Writer Michael Pollan said it best: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Fresh, high-fiber vegetables like broccoli, bell peppers, and brussels sprouts – which the CDC calls “powerhouse foods” – are a great source of key vitamins and nutrients, including fiber, which helps keep you feeling full and satisfied until your next meal.
“Whole, plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds) are best,” Bellatti said. “One quick way to add extra fiber to your day: sprinkle chia, hemp, or ground flax over whatever you’re eating for a boost.”
DON’T: Rely on powders and pills.
- Flickr/B Rosen
The problem with diet powders and pills, Bellatti said, is that they often take something that was once a whole food, like a fruit or a vegetable, then process it to separate out one ingredient. That’s alright for things like cocoa powder, which does have nutrients, but it shouldn’t make up the bulk of your dietary intake.
“When something is a powder, you’re probably using what, a teaspoon or tablespoon at most? And you have to wonder how much that can really do. Versus a cup of broccoli or a quarter cup of cashews. That’s something significant,” Bellatti said.
DO: Be mindful of portion sizes.
- Flickr/IRRI Photos
The baseline portion sizes of our snacks and meals have ballooned over the last 40 years – even the plates and cups we serve them on have gotten noticeably bigger.
The average size of many of our foods – whether fast-food, sit-down meals, or even items from the grocery store – has grown by as much as 138% since the 1970s, according to data from the American Journal of Public Health, the Journal of Nutrition, and the Journal of the American Medical Association.
So be mindful of portion sizes, and if you’re eating out, consider taking some of your meal home for later.
DON’T: Focus exclusively on calories.
- Flickr / Ian T. McFarland
Focusing too much on calories can be dangerous, too, since the measurement falsely makes it seem like a calorie of one food is exactly the same as that of another.
“This is especially true when eating at restaurants,” Bellatti said. “Many low-calorie items are loaded with sodium, which retains water and can leave you feeling bloated.”
Plus, keep in mind that for sustained weight loss, you’re only supposed to lose about 1-3 pounds each week.
“That tends to be a lot more sustainable than losing a whole bunch at once,” Philip Stanforth, a professor of exercise science at the University of Texas, told Business Insider.
DO: Think positive.
- Flickr / Jim Fischer
Thinking positively about eating and feeling better can help motivate some people to stick to a new lifestyle.
“In terms of changing the way you eat (it’s much more than a ‘diet’), focus on the opportunities and what you can eat as opposed to what foods you’re trying to cut down on,” Dr. Donald Hensrud, who chairs the Mayo Clinic’s division of preventive, occupational and aerospace medicine, wrote in a blog post. “There are many wonderful foods and recipes to explore, and believe it or not, we can learn to like new foods.”
DON’T: Expect miracles.
Let’s be real: Eating right for a week isn’t going to counteract decades of subsisting on fries and Frappuccinos. But it is enough to reduce some of the more irritating aspects of those symptoms, like the bloating linked with a high-salt diet, and the fatigue associated with blood sugar crashes.
“The most that can happen in a week’s time is that you make choices that help reduce bloating and puffiness. Any promises beyond that are more about marketing and hyperbole than anything else,” Bellatti said.
But committing to treating your body well – even if only for a few days – might be enough to lay the foundation for months or years of future healthy eating. If you can prove to yourself that you can treat your body right (and that it feels good to do so), you just might be more likely to keep it up later on.
Which is worse for you: weed or whiskey?
It’s a tough call, but based on the science, there appears to be a clear answer.
Keep in mind that there are dozens of factors to account for, including how the substances affect your heart, brain, and behavior, and how likely you are to get hooked.
Time is important, too – while some effects are noticeable immediately, others only begin to crop up after months or years of use.
The comparison is slightly unfair for another reason: While scientists have been researching the effects of alcohol for decades, the science of cannabis is a lot murkier because of its mostly illegal status.
More than 30,700 Americans died from alcohol-induced causes in 2014. There have been zero documented deaths from marijuana use alone.
- Gerardo Garcia/Reuters
In 2014, 30,722 people died from alcohol-induced causes in the US – and that does not count drinking-related accidents or homicides. If those deaths were included, the number would be closer to 90,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Meanwhile, no deaths from marijuana overdoses have been reported, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. A 16-year study of more than 65,000 Americans, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that healthy marijuana users were not more likely to die earlier than healthy people who did not use cannabis.
Marijuana appears to be significantly less addictive than alcohol.
Close to half of all adults have tried marijuana at least once, making it one of the most widely used illegal drugs – yet research suggests that a relatively small percentage of people become addicted.
For a 1994 survey, epidemiologists at the National Institute on Drug Abuse asked more than 8,000 people from ages 15 to 64 about their drug use. Of those who had tried marijuana at least once, roughly 9% eventually fit a diagnosis of addiction. For alcohol, the figure was about 15%. To put that in perspective, the addiction rate for cocaine was 17%, while heroin was 23% and nicotine was 32%.
Marijuana may be harder on your heart, while moderate drinking could be beneficial.
Unlike alcohol, which slows your heart rate, marijuana speeds it up, which could negatively affect the heart in the short term. Still, the largest-ever report on cannabis from the National Academies of Sciences, released in January, found insufficient evidence to support or refute the idea that cannabis may increase the overall risk of a heart attack.
On the other hand, low to moderate drinking – about one drink a day – has been linked with a lower risk of heart attack and stroke compared with abstention. James Nicholls, a director at Alcohol Research UK, told The Guardian that those findings should be taken with a grain of salt since “any protective effects tend to be canceled out by even occasional bouts of heavier drinking.”
Alcohol is strongly linked with several types of cancer; marijuana is not.
In November, a group of the nation’s top cancer doctors issued a statement asking people to drink less. They cited strong evidence that drinking alcohol – as little as a glass of wine or beer a day – increases the risk of developing both pre- and postmenopausal breast cancer.
The US Department of Health lists alcohol as a known human carcinogen. Research highlighted by the National Cancer Institute suggests that the more alcohol you drink – particularly the more you drink regularly – the higher your risk of developing cancer.
For marijuana, some research initially suggested a link between smoking and lung cancer, but that has been debunked. The January report found that cannabis was not connected to any increased risk of the lung cancers or head and neck cancers tied to smoking cigarettes.
Both drugs may be linked with risks while driving, but alcohol is worse.
- Unsplash / Michael Discenza
A research note published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (PDF) found that, when adjusting for other factors, having a detectable amount of THC (the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis) in your blood did not increase the risk of being involved in a car crash. Having a blood-alcohol level of at least 0.05%, on the other hand, increased that risk by 575%.
Still, combining the two appears to have the worst results.
“The risk from driving under the influence of both alcohol and cannabis is greater than the risk of driving under the influence of either alone,” the authors of a 2009 review wrote in the American Journal of Addiction.
Several studies link alcohol with violence, particularly at home. That has not been found for cannabis.
It’s impossible to say whether drinking alcohol or using marijuana causes violence, but several studies – including a recent analysis published in the journal Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience – suggest a link between alcohol and violent behavior.
For a study published in January, researchers used fMRI scans to see how two alcoholic drinks impacts brain function in 50 healthy adult males. Compared with sober participants, the intoxicated volunteers were found to have reduced functioning in the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain linked with moderating social behavior. That reduced functioning was also linked with aggressive behavior.
The finding aligns with some previous research on alcohol’s connections with violence. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, alcohol is a factor in 40% of all violent crimes, and a study of college students found that the rates of mental and physical abuse were higher on days when couples drank.
On the other hand, no such relationship appears to exist for cannabis. A recent study looking at cannabis use and intimate partner violence in the first decade of marriage found that marijuana users were significantly less likely to commit violence against a partner than those who did not use the drug.
Both drugs negatively affect your memory — but in different ways. These effects are the most common in heavy, frequent, or binge users.
- Kristoffer Trolle/flickr
Both weed and alcohol temporarily impair memory, and alcohol can cause blackouts by rendering the brain incapable of forming memories. The most severe long-term effects are seen in heavy, chronic, or binge users who begin using in their teens.
Studies have found that these effects can persist for several weeks after stopping marijuana use. There may also be a link between daily weed use and poorer verbal memory in adults who start smoking at a young age.
Chronic drinkers display reductions in memory, attention, and planning, as well as impaired emotional processes and social cognition – and these can persist even after years of abstinence.
Both drugs are linked with an increased risk of psychiatric disease. For weed users, psychosis and schizophrenia are the main concern; with booze, it’s depression and anxiety.
The largest review of marijuana studies found substantial evidence of an increased risk among frequent marijuana users of developing schizophrenia – something that studies have shown is a particular concern for people already at risk.
Weed can also trigger temporary feelings of paranoia and hostility, but it’s not yet clear whether those symptoms are linked with an increased risk of long-term psychosis.
On the other hand, self-harm and suicide are much more common among people who binge drink or drink frequently. But scientists have had a hard time deciphering whether excessive alcohol use causes depression and anxiety or whether people with depression and anxiety drink in an attempt to relieve those symptoms.
Alcohol appears to be linked more closely with weight gain, despite weed’s tendency to trigger the munchies.
- Melia Robinson/Business Insider
Weed gives you the munchies. It makes you hungry, reduces the natural signals of fullness, and may even temporarily make food taste better.
But despite eating over 600 extra calories when smoking, marijuana users generally don’t have higher body-mass indexes. In fact, studies suggest that regular smokers have a slightly reduced risk of obesity.
Alcohol, on the other hand, appears to be linked with weight gain. A study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that people who drank heavily had a higher risk of becoming overweight or obese. Plus, alcohol itself is caloric: A can of beer has roughly 150 calories, and a glass of wine has about 120.
All things considered, alcohol’s effects seem markedly more extreme — and riskier — than marijuana’s.
When it comes to addiction profiles and risk of death or overdose combined with ties to cancer, car crashes, violence, and obesity, the research suggests that marijuana may be less of a health risk than alcohol.
Still, because of marijuana’s largely illegal status, long-term studies on all its health effects have been limited – meaning more research is needed.
- Darrin Harris Frisby / Drug Policy Alliance
Marijuana’s official designation in the US as a Schedule 1 drug – something with “no currently accepted medical use” – means it has been pretty tough to study.
Despite that, a growing body of research and numerous anecdotal reports link cannabis with several health benefits, including pain relief and the potential to help with certain forms of epilepsy. In addition, researchers say there are many other ways marijuana might affect health that they want to better understand – including a mysterious syndrome that appears to make marijuana users violently ill.
Along with several other recent studies, a massive report released by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in 2017 helps sum up exactly what we know – and what we don’t – about the science of weed. Here’s what you should know about how marijuana affects the brain and body.
Marijuana use is linked to a rare syndrome that causes nausea and vomiting.
- Getty Images/John Moore
Most recently, a March 2019 study looked at over 2,500 cannabis-related ER visits in Colorado. They found that stomach issues like nausea and vomiting were the main driver of the trips, even before psychiatric problems like intoxication and paranoia.
In 2004, Australian doctors began looking into these stomach symptoms based on the experiences of a local woman who used to be able to smoke marijuana with no issue, and then seemingly out of nowhere began having adverse reactions that paralleled those in the 2019 study.
They gave her condition a name: cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, or CHS. The rare illness is still fairly new and understudied, but researchers believe it might affect a large population.
“CHS is certainly not very rare,” Andrew Monte, an associate professor of emergency medicine at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital who led the March study, previously told Business Insider. “We see it absolutely every week in our ER.”
Marijuana can make you feel good.
One of weed’s active ingredients, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) interacts with the brain’s reward system, the part that has been primed to respond to things that make us feel good, like eating and sex.
When overexcited by drugs, the reward system creates feelings of euphoria. This is also why some studies have suggested that excessive marijuana use can be a problem for some people – the more often you trigger that euphoria, the less you may feel during other rewarding experiences.
In the short term, it can also make your heart race.
- REUTERS/Jorge Dan Lopez
Within a few minutes of inhaling marijuana, your heart rate can increase by between 20 and 50 beats a minute. This can last anywhere from 20 minutes to three hours, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The NASEM report found insufficient evidence to support or refute the idea that cannabis might increase the overall risk of a heart attack. The same report, however, also found some limited evidence that smoking could be a trigger for a heart attack.
Marijuana’s effects on the heart could be tied to effects on blood pressure, but the link needs more research.
In August, a study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology appeared to suggest that marijuana smokers face a threefold higher risk of dying from high blood pressure than people who have never smoked – but the study came with an important caveat: it defined a “marijuana user” as anyone who’d ever tried the drug.
Research suggests this is a poor assumption – and one that could have interfered with the study’s results. According to a recent survey, about 52% of Americans have tried cannabis at some point, yet only 14% used the drug at least once a month.
Other studies have also come to the opposite conclusion of the present study. According to the Mayo Clinic, using cannabis could result in decreased – not increased – blood pressure.
So while there’s probably a link between smoking marijuana and high blood pressure, there’s not enough research yet to say that one leads to the other.
Weed may also help relieve some types of pain.
- Reuters/Baz Ratner
Pot contains cannabidiol, or CBD, a chemical that is not responsible for getting you high but is thought to be responsible for many of marijuana’s therapeutic effects. Those benefits can include pain relief or potential treatment for certain kinds of childhood epilepsy.
The new report also found conclusive or substantial evidence – the most definitive levels – that cannabis can be an effective treatment for chronic pain, which could have to do with both CBD and THC. Pain is also “by far the most common” reason people request medical marijuana, according to the report.
Pain relief could include the discomfort of arthritis.
- Robert Johnson for Business Insider
One of the ways scientists think marijuana may help with pain is by reducing inflammation, a component of illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis.
A preliminary 2005 study of 58 patients with RA, roughly half of whom were given a placebo and roughly half of whom were given a cannabis-based medicine called Sativex, found “statistically significant improvements in pain on movement, pain at rest, quality of sleep” for patients on Sativex.
Other studies testing other cannabinoid products and inhaled marijuana have shown similar pain-relieving effects, according to the report.
Individuals with inflammatory bowel disease may also find some relief.
- Reuters/Lucy Nicholson
Some people with inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis could also benefit from marijuana use, studies suggest.
A 2014 paper, for example, describes two studies of people with chronic Crohn’s. Half were given the drug and half got a placebo. That study showed a decrease in symptoms in 10 of 11 subjects using cannabis, compared with just four of 10 on the placebo. But when the researchers did a follow-up study using low-dose CBD, they saw no effect in the patients.
Researchers say that, for now, we need more research before we’ll know whether cannabis can help with these diseases.
Marijuana may also be helpful in controlling epileptic seizures.
- Sonya Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance
In June 2018, the FDA approved a CBD medication called Epidiolex.
The drug can be prescribed to people with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, two rare forms of epilepsy. In fact, it is the first FDA-approved treatment option for Dravet syndrome.
In the clinical trial for the drug, common side effects included sleepiness, fatigue, decreased appetite, diarrhea, and insomnia.
But it can also mess with your sense of balance.
- Thomson Reuters
Marijuana may throw off your balance, as it influences activity in the cerebellum and basal ganglia, two brain areas that help regulate balance, coordination, reaction time, and posture.
And it can distort your sense of time.
- David Moir/Reuters
Feeling as if time is sped up or slowed down is one of the most commonly reported effects of using marijuana. A 2012 paper sought to draw some solid conclusions from studies on those anecdotal reports, but it was unable to do so.
“Even though 70% of time estimation studies report overestimation, the findings of time production and time reproduction studies remain inconclusive,” the paper said.
In a 1998 study that used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to focus on the brains of volunteers on THC, the authors noted that many had altered blood flow to the cerebellum, which most likely plays a role in our sense of time.
Limitations on what sort of marijuana research is allowed make it particularly difficult to study this sort of effect.
Weed can also turn your eyes red.
- Jeff Golden / Flickr, CC
Since weed makes blood vessels expand, it can give you red eyes.
And you’ll probably get the munchies.
- Melia Robinson/Business Insider
A case of the munchies is no figment of the imagination – both casual and heavy marijuana users tend to overeat when they smoke.
A recent study in mice suggested the possibility that marijuana may effectively flip a circuit in the brain that is normally responsible for quelling the appetite, triggering us to eat instead.
It all comes down to a special group of cells in the brain that are normally activated after we have eaten a big meal to tell us we’ve had enough. The psychoactive ingredient in weed appears to activate just one component of those appetite-suppressing cells, making us feel hungry rather than satisfied.
A 2014 study found that marijuana use had no effect on body weight, despite the munchies phenomenon commonly associated with use.
Some women have reported having more satisfying sex when using marijuana.
- t.germeau / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
A small study of 373 women from of varying races, sexual orientations, and marital statuses found that people who said they used marijuana before sex tended to have a more pleasurable experience than those who did not use the substance.
Specifically, some women reported having more satisfying orgasms and an increase in their sex drive.
Researchers weren’t able to pinpoint why marijuana had this effect, but suggested it could be due to the substance’s ability to reduce stress and anxiety.
Marijuana may also interfere with how you form memories.
- Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Marijuana can mess with your memory by changing the way your brain processes information, but scientists still aren’t sure exactly how this happens. Still, several studies suggest that weed interferes with short-term memory, and researchers tend to see more of these effects in inexperienced or infrequent users than in heavy, frequent users.
Unsurprisingly, these effects are most evident in the acute sense – immediately after use, when people are high.
According to the new NASEM report, there was limited evidence showing a connection between cannabis use and impaired academic achievement, something that has been shown to be especially true for people who begin smoking regularly during adolescence. (That has also been shown to increase the risk for problematic use.)
Importantly, in most cases, saying cannabis is connected to an increased risk doesn’t mean marijuana use caused that risk.
In some people, weed could increase the risk of depression.
- Thomson Reuters
Scientists can’t say for sure whether marijuana causes depression or depressed people are simply more likely to smoke. But one study from the Netherlands suggests that smoking weed could raise the risk of depression for young people who already have a special serotonin gene that could make them more vulnerable to depression.
Those findings are bolstered by the NASEM report, which found moderate evidence that cannabis use was linked to a small increased risk of depression.
And it may also increase the risk of developing schizophrenia.
The NASEM report also found substantial evidence of an increased risk among frequent marijuana users of developing schizophrenia – something that studies have shown is a particular concern for people at risk for schizophrenia in the first place.
Regular marijuana use may also be connected to an increased risk of social anxiety.
- REUTERS/Jason Redmond
Researchers think it’s possible that CBD might be a useful treatment for anxiety disorders, and that’s something that several institutions are currently trying to study.
The recent report suggested that evidence of a link between marijuana and an increased risk of most anxiety disorders was limited.
However, the authors wrote that there is moderate evidence that regular marijuana use is connected to an increased risk of social anxiety. As in other cases, it’s hard to know whether marijuana use causes that increase or people use marijuana because of an increased risk of social anxiety.
Marijuana use could also affect sperm count.
A small study of 37 men found that those who used marijuana had decreased sperm counts than those who never used marijuana. The study did not specify the methods of marijuana consumption used.
Another study, however, found that marijuana increased sperm count in men. This study was larger and looked at 1,215 healthy young men. They found that men who currently or previously used marijuana had both higher sperm counts and higher sperm concentrations than men who never used the substance.
A person could need more sedation medication for surgery if they have a regular marijuana habit.
- Dado Ruvic/Reuters
A small study in the May 2019 issue of The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association found that people who reported smoking marijuana or eating edibles on a daily or weekly basis needed higher doses of medication for sedation.
The researchers found that people who used marijuana daily or weekly needed 14% more fentanyl, 19.6% more midazolam, and 220.5% more propofol (all medications that are used for sedation) for the full length of their procedures than their counterparts who didn’t use as much marijuana.
Researchers haven’t determined why this was the case, but they believe marijuana could potentially desensitize the body’s receptors that process sedatives.
It’s worth noting that marijuana has likely gotten stronger since the 1980s, and that its ratio of THC to CBD has changed as well.
- REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/File Photo
The THC content of marijuana across the US has tripled since 1995, according to a large recent study in which researchers reviewed close to 39,000 samples of cannabis. While THC levels hovered around 4%, on average, in 1995, they skyrocketed to roughly 12% in 2014.
Meanwhile, the CBD content in marijuana – the part that’s responsible for many of the drug’s therapeutic effects – has dropped, the researchers found, shifting the ratio of THC to CBD from 14:1 in 1995 to about 80:1 in 2014.
Still, tracking THC potency over time can be tricky. The older a weed sample gets, the more its THC appears to degrade. How it is stored matters too. These two barriers could be interfering somewhat with the metrics on pot’s potency.
Most importantly, regular weed use is linked with some specific brain changes — but scientists can’t say for sure whether one causes the other.
- Jason Redmond/Reuters
In a recent study, scientists used MRI brain scans to get a better picture of the brains of adults who have smoked weed at least four times a week for years.
Compared to people who rarely or never used the drug, the long-term users tended to have a smaller orbitofrontal cortex, a brain region critical for processing emotions and making decisions. But they also had stronger cross-brain connections, which scientists think smokers may develop to compensate.
Still, the study doesn’t show that smoking pot caused certain regions of the brain to shrink; other studies suggest that having a smaller orbitofrontal cortex in the first place could make someone more likely to start smoking.
Most researchers agree that the people most susceptible to brain changes are those who begin using marijuana regularly during adolescence.
A small study of teenagers in Europe found that people who used marijuana had more gray matter in their brains, which can affect how humans mature over time.
The researchers noticed these brain-level changes in teens who had just one or two joints in their lifetimes.
Although researchers are unsure whether higher brain volume is bad for health, they do know brain volume naturally decreases during the aging process, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
An international meta-analysis of 23,317 young adults also found that marijuana use could increase risk for depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.
“Although the causes of major depressive disorder are multifactorial and complex, this meta-analysis suggests that the cannabis exposure could be 1 factor contributing to depression in young adulthood,” the researchers wrote.
Marijuana use affects the lungs but doesn’t seem to increase the risk of lung cancer.
People who smoke marijuana regularly are more likely to experience chronic bronchitis, according to the report. There’s also evidence that stopping smoking relieves these symptoms.
Yet perhaps surprisingly, the report’s authors found moderate evidence that cannabis was not connected to any increased risk of the lung cancers or head and neck cancers associated with smoking cigarettes.
Other forms of marijuana consumption, like vaping or eating edibles, have not been linked to increased cancer risk like smoking has been linked.
“When you combust any plant, you’re creating significantly more carcinogens,” Dr. Jeffrey Chen, the director of the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative, previously told INSIDER.
Some athletes think marijuana could be used in ways that might improve certain types of physical performance.
- Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Some athletes, especially in certain endurance and adventure sports, say marijuana use can boost their athletic performance. This may be because of anti-inflammatory or pain-relieving effects that make it easier to push through a long workout or recover from one.
At the same time, there are ways that marijuana could impair athletic performance, since it affects coordination and motivation, and dulls the body’s natural recovery process.
Without more research, it’s hard to know how marijuana affects athletic performance.
There’s evidence that marijuana use during pregnancy could have negative effects.
- 10 Face/Shutterstock
According to the new NASEM report, there’s substantial evidence showing a link between prenatal cannabis exposure – when a pregnant woman uses marijuana – and lower birth weight. There was limited evidence suggesting that using marijuana during pregnancy could cause complications and increase the risk that a baby would have to spend time in a neonatal intensive care unit.
Still, pregnant and breastfeeding women have reported using the drug to relieve nausea, pain, and depression symptoms since traditional NSAID painkillers are not allowed during pregnancy.
Experts say they have little information about the potential health risks associated with this practice, so they urge mothers to abstain from marijuana consumption.
There are still so many questions about how marijuana affects the body and brain that scientists say far more research is needed.
Based on the available evidence and conversations with researchers, there are good reasons to think marijuana has potentially valuable medical uses. At the same time, we know that, as with any substance, not all use is risk-free.
More research is needed to figure out how to best treat the conditions that cannabis can help and how to minimize any risks associated with medical or recreational use.
Staci Gruber, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the director of the Marijuana Investigations for Neuroscientific Discovery program at McLean Hospital, told Business Insider that marijuana research is essential in determining “how best we can use it, what are the safest ways, and what are the real risks.”
Kevin Loria contributed to a previous version of this story.