Stereotypes Surrounding the Herb
Cannabis has been used as a medicine for thousands of years, but in the modern world, there are a lot of stereotypes surrounding the herb. Instead of focusing on the plant’s legitimate medicinal uses, many people fixate on the psychoactive properties of cannabis when it’s smoked or ingested and call cannabis a narcotic. Because of this idea of marijuana as only a recreational drug, there are a bunch of myths out there about what pot does to users. Some of these cannabis myths were spread with the intention of demonizing the natural herb, but others spread like any other urban myths, harmless tales surrounding a substance that many people use. Let’s look at some the most persistent and harmful myths surrounding marijuana use.
Myth #1 – Marijuana is addictive, just like cigarettes
This marijuana myth owes its origins to the War on Drugs, criminalization of marijuana, and a little bit of circular logic. Since cannabis is a Schedule I narcotic, it must be addictive just like other narcotics such as heroin or cocaine. Right? False. A National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) study from the 1990s looked at the addiction rates of various drugs, including tobacco, alcohol, and cannabis. Marijuana was ranked as the lowest rate of addiction per user at 9%. That means that of 100 people who use cannabis, about 9 of them would become psychologically addicted. Other legal drugs like tobacco ranked higher at a 24% addiction rate, and alcohol was ranked at 14%. Like with other substances such as alcohol, there are many factors that can lead to addiction, like genetics or underlying mental health issues.
Myth #2 – Smoking marijuana causes lung cancer like smoking cigarettes
When you burn any plant material and then inhale the smoke, you are depositing tar and other chemicals in your lungs, so smoking marijuana does harm the lungs like cigarettes. However, a 2014 study looked at the link between lung cancer and marijuana and found that cancer rates for cannabis smokers were much, much lower than for cigarette smokers. Just like marijuana, tobacco is a naturally growing herb that has been smoked for thousands of years, but several factors make cigarette smoke much worse. Mostly, the chemicals in manufactured cigarettes make cigarette smoke much more harmful. Cigarette smokers will generally use much more tobacco in a day than marijuana smokers, increasing their exposure to tar. The cannabinoids contained in marijuana may also have a protective, anti-cancer effect, though more research needs to be done to determine why.
Myth #3 – Cannabis use is a gateway to harder drug use
This is another myth perpetuated by individuals who want to keep cannabis illegal. Studies have shown that people who later went on to abuse drugs like heroin or methamphetamines either also used or had tried marijuana, making cannabis a “gateway drug.” This phrase has been repeated so many times, it’s become a cliché. Many of these people also tried or used alcohol, but the study only focused on cannabis as a gateway drug. There are many reasons for this correlation between cannabis use and use of other drugs, such as the fact that marijuana is one of the easiest illegal substances to get, also that it is very popular among a huge cross section of society. Another more recent study showed that while cannabis use had increased in teens and young adults, abuse of harder drugs like methamphetamines had decreased. This study destroys the gateway drug myth, as young people are actually choosing cannabis over narcotics like cocaine. Medical cannabis use also reduces the use of pharmaceutical pain drugs, which can lower risk of addiction..
Myth #4 – Cannabis use leads to criminal activity
As with many of these anti-cannabis myths, there was an older study supporting the idea that marijuana use led to more criminal activity later in life, but recent research has provided a more nuanced view of the effects of cannabis use on people’s lives. The original study claimed that individuals who used marijuana later went on to be involved in more criminal activity. A closer look at the study reveals that that criminal activity was drug related, meaning that decriminalizing cannabis would make the whole problem disappear. Also, later studies of areas that have decriminalized marijuana have shown that crime rates have actually dropped.
Myth #5 – We still don’t know if cannabis has any medicinal effects
Those who oppose marijuana legalization love to cite the US federal government’s declaration that marijuana has no medicinal value, a determination that keeps cannabis a Schedule I drug. However, study after study shows that cannabis relieves many symptoms ranging from nausea to seizures. More and more US states are legalizing medical marijuana because of overwhelming evidence that cannabis can provide necessary relief for millions of people. WebMD even did a survey of doctors that revealed that 67% said that marijuana should be a medical option for patients.
Myth #6 – Cannabis use causes brain damage
This is a dangerous myth that can scare away patients who could benefit greatly from medical marijuana. Again, this myth goes back to one French study that showed differences in the brains of marijuana smokers from non-smokers. The thing is, that’s literally all the study said: that there were differences in the cognitive processing areas of the brain between cannabis users and non-users. Period. There weren’t any conclusions drawn, and the study authors were quick to point out that they were not saying that “pot causes brain damage,” and they also noted that these differences might mean that people with certain types of brains be more disposed to enjoy marijuana.
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