Harmless plant or narcotic? According to some, marijuana is dangerous, but according to others, it's never caused a single death. Both sides of the marijuana debate make some bold claims, but which side is right? When it comes to discussing marijuana, folks on both sides of the issue tend to exaggerate to further their own agenda. This makes finding accurate information about the substance difficult to obtain. As a starting off point, here are five popular claims about marijuana, examined for veracity.
A Little History
Before we delve into the myths and facts about marijuana, it's important to understand how marijuana ended up in the US in the first place. Although hemp was grown in the US's early days, psychoactive use of marijuana stayed under the radar for centuries. When the Mexican revolution sent immigrants flooding into the US in 1910, they brought their knowledge of marijuana with them. Until the 1930s, doctors could freely prescribe cannabis "tonics" which were essentially a crossbuzz in a medicine bottle.
However, resentment towards Mexican immigrants, plus public safety concerns about the use of alcoholic-marijuana to treat a huge variety of ailments led to regulation, which by 1937, led to the full scale prohibition of marijuana. In 1942, it was formally taken out of the US Pharmacopeia.
Today, marijuana's legal status is hazy. It's illegal on a federal level, but on local and state levels, it has been decriminalized in many places, and it is actually legal in four states. In spite of state and local laws, federal agents can still charge those in violation of the federal law, but they don't usually do that. Usually, the laws regarding marijuana and the response to them are upheld on an inconsistent or circumstantial basis. You have to be careful not to think about these matters too hard, or they'll make even less sense. But I digress, marijuana has a long and colorful history that has brought us up to this point, where two sides have been battling it out for decades. With that said, let's address and debunk five commonly believed myths about marijuana.
Claim 1: Marijuana Is a Gateway Drug
Marijuana has been called a "gateway" to hardcore drug use for a long time and at first, this idea seems to make sense. Marijuana is usually the first illegal drug people try. As a police officer I knew once said "I haven't seen too many crackheads that weren't potheads first. His observation is shared by many; however, as statistics professors have preached for decades, association does not prove causation. This means the correlation between marijuana use and other drugs doesn't mean marijuana use causes someone to do other drugs. In fact, Holland's lax pot policies actually resulted in some of the lowest hard drug use rates in the world. Marijuana doesn't lead to more drug use, but those who wish to try harder drugs usually start with marijuana.
Claim 2: Marijuana Causes Lung Cancer
This issue is one that science has yet to come up with a definitive answer for; however, this popularly assumed idea is no longer accepted as fact. While marijuana may minimally increases one's risk for lung cancer, it's not nearly as bad as smoking cigarettes. See, marijuana has some of the same carcinogens as tobacco and inhaling smoke of any kind hardly seems like it would be good for the lungs, however, some studies have shown no correlation between Marijuana use and lung cancer. One study even found an association between marijuana use and not getting cancer. In the end, it's a crap shoot, however, scientists have also noted that cannabis users rarely smoke as much marijuana as cigarette smokers do tobacco, meaning the risk is significantly lower with weed.
Claim 3: All Types of Marijuana Do the Same Things
There are two kinds of marijuana, Indica, and Sativa.
Indica is what most people think of when they imagine/remember being high. It's side effects include:
- A feeling of great relaxation
- Relief of pain
- Creates a "couch lock" or a feeling of extreme lethargy
- Significantly reduced anxiety and stress
Meanwhile, Sativa creates a very different experience. Frequently reported side effects of Sativa are:
- Bursts of spontaneous creativity
- An overall feeling of well-being
- Renewed energy
- Increased focus and fostering of new ideas
- Fights depression
Although there are many differences between the two types, one thing is certain about both types: they can both result in a case of the munchies! Break out the Doritos and generic cola!
Claim 4: Marijuana Is Chemically Addictive
A person can become addicted to literally anything. Many people are addicted to unhealthy foods, more still are hooked on caffeine, and to blow off the possibility of marijuana addiction isn't smart. If someone doesn't like the word "addiction," "dependence" can be safely used interchangeably. Both imply an individual doesn't feel like him/herself without the drug. If someone "has to have it to get through the day" or "just feels off" without toking up, that's probably a sign of a psychological addiction.
A chemical addiction is when a person's body cannot physically function properly without the drug, to the point that they're willing to do virtually anything to obtain more. One of the scariest examples of this is addiction to Benzodiazepine, a frequently abused anxiety medication more commonly known as Klonopin. Once a person takes the medication frequently enough, sudden withdrawal can cause seizures and occasionally, death. While extreme cases of cannabis withdrawal can result in symptoms like headaches or nausea, nobody in recorded history has ever died from stopping cannabis use. And no, being dependent on marijuana is probably not going to make you go shoot someone for drug money, but it can easily land your life in the toilet when you find yourself unable to function properly without an illegal substance.
Claim 5: Marijuana Makes People Violent/Immoral/Mentally Ill
Statistically speaking, many criminals are involved with drugs. Frequently, large, violent gangs are involved in the distribution of marijuana and a myriad of other drugs, which can, if one is not careful, put a person around violent people. That being said, in 1938, a film purporting to be factual claimed that marijuana caused "acts of shocking violence" and "incurable insanity".
However, for those who have not observed the phenomenon known as "smoking the ganj" people who are high are generally the exact opposite of violent. They may show signs of paranoia, and occasionally, a "bad high" can result from someone smoking a huge amount in a short time, however, this usually just ends up causing them to feel temporarily scared or sad, but not violent. Other sources say marijuana can cause psychosis. At the end of "Reefer Madness," a character ends up in a sanitarium because of "incurable, marijuana-induced insanity." I won't go into too much detail, but that's not remotely scientifically credible. The only way in which marijuana has been proven to upset the psyche is in schizophrenic people, who can end up with worsened symptoms while high, or it may cause symptoms to manifest themselves earlier than they would have otherwise. Marijuana is not going to make a person violent, and it won't cause "incurable insanity."
To Wrap Up...
Despite the warnings of public officials and DARE classes, marijuana is not evil and it will not kill you. It is not, however, without its risks. Despite the advice of millions of stoners, hippies, and other enthusiasts, marijuana is not necessarily healthy, it can ruin one's motivation, and it occasionally leads to dependence. It is also, at least on a federal level, illegal, and it spells trouble for users who get caught in the act. This may become less of a problem as public opinion shifts in favor of legalization. How do you feel about all this? Leave a comment below. Thanks for reading!
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
JJ Tyson (author) from Chapel Hill, NC on May 29, 2014:
I agree completely. I think the concept of gateway would pretty much end if we stopped classifying it as a narcotic. Thanks for your comment.
saltymick on May 28, 2014:
The "Gateway" is mainly due to its illegality. ie: making it legal takes it away from the control of dealers who also sell harder drugs. In itself, weed doesn't make you want to shoot up heroin or do crack. Legality also removes some of the mystique around pot and normalises its usage, removing it further still from dangerous and more stigmatised highs. Legalise it. Good hub and one of my favourite topics
JJ Tyson (author) from Chapel Hill, NC on May 28, 2014:
Thank you, I'm glad the article didn't seem tilted to one side or the other. And thanks, I'll change it to lethargy.
cathylynn99 from northeastern US on May 27, 2014:
article gives a balanced view. the word you are looking for to replace lethagicness is lethargy.
JJ Tyson (author) from Chapel Hill, NC on May 27, 2014:
I'm very glad you liked the article. It's a shame your friends moved on to other drugs, I just hope they don't blame marijuana for leading them to it.
Justinas from Earth on May 27, 2014:
Heh, funny and useful hub. I always though cannabis is not that dangerouse, but i have friends which started pot then went on cocain. As you mentioned it's a gateway drug to the people who has interests in stronger drugs.