Cannabis contains over 500 different compounds, many of which demonstrate great medical potential [*]. Some of these compounds include minor cannabinoids like CBG and CBN [*], while others include groups like terpenes, the aromatic molecules in cannabis that give it its distinct effects [*]. You can think of what we’ve learned about cannabis so far as the tip of the iceberg: it appears small from your point of view but there’s a vast new world waiting to be discovered underneath the surface.
Education is a key component of undoing the damage that’s come with the cannabis prohibition for the last 20+ years. Part of this work means undoing all of the negative stereotypes and myths that may be associated with cannabis.
Today’s post is dedicated to just that: the truth. We’re going to dispel five of the most popular cannabis myths below. Break out your favourite vape, lean back and prepare for an informative read.
The term gateway drug was first used in a research paper by Dr. Denise Kandel about 40 years ago [*]. Her work, ironically enough, actually suggested nicotine, not cannabis, was more likely to lead to the use of other harder drugs [*].
Fueled by a wave of anti-drug hysteria stirred up by conservative president Ronald Reagan, the term eventually became associated with cannabis thanks to a book published in the 80’s by Robert L. DuPont. Jr, called Getting Tough on Gateway Drugs: A Guide for the Family. The term was later picked up by anti-drug activists and the subsequent demonization of cannabis has stuck around ever since.
Research from the Drug Policy Alliance shows that “the vast majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other illicit drugs.” The National Institute for Drug Abuse also notes, “...the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, 'harder' substances.”
A report conducted by the nonprofit RAND Corporation posits a new explanation behind these facts. The report suggests drug seekers are driven by a basic “common factor” of drug-seeking behavior that is not specific to any one drug. This common factor can be environmental, familial or genetic [*].
“It has also been suggested that marijuana use precedes hard-drug use simply because opportunities to use marijuana come earlier in life than opportunities to use hard drugs,” the report states [*].
One of the most popular propaganda tools popularized by anti-drug advocates is the idea that one puff of cannabis is enough to make you crazy, psychotic or irreversibly paranoid. This idea is often referred to as “reefer madness.”
Everyone’s body responds to cannabis differently [*]. Your experience with cannabis is contingent on a variety of factors including your weight, metabolism, age and family history [*]. This is why no one can say with total certainty how any one strain will affect you [*].
A blog post published by Harvard Medical School discusses this point at length, stating that, “So far, this research shows only an association between smoking pot and developing psychosis or schizophrenia later on. That’s not the same thing as saying that marijuana causes psychosis” [*].
Cannabis may be well received by many but it is not a “one-size-fits-all” drug [*]. Certain populations are predisposed to feeling the negative effects of cannabis more than others [*]. Those who are genetically predisposed to certain illnesses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder may actually find cannabis exacerbates their condition more than helping it [*]. Cannabis use may also exacerbate feelings of psychosis or paranoia in some groups [*]. A research paper that analyzed human studies regarding cannabis and psychosis/schizophrenia suggested the likelihood of these reactions was minimal, explaining that “only a very small proportion of the general population exposed to cannabinoids develop a psychotic illness. It is likely that cannabis exposure is a ‘component cause’ that interacts with other factors to ‘cause’ schizophrenia or a psychotic disorder, but is neither necessary nor sufficient to do so alone” [*].
That does not mean one puff = insanity, nor does it mean every group is equally at risk [*].
Another popular cannabis myth is the idea that smoking cannabis can cause cancer, or is somehow worse for you than smoking cigarettes.
A 2016 paper titled, “An epidemiologic review of marijuana and cancer: an update” analyzed the link between cannabis use and cancer in 34 epidemiologic studies. It began by stating, “There is currently no consensus on whether marijuana use is associated with cancer risk” [*]. The authors of the paper went on to note that the lung cancer studies reviewed “...largely appear not to support an association with marijuana use, possibly because of the smaller amounts of marijuana regularly smoked compared to tobacco” [*]. It also cited a previous epidemiologic review of marijuana use and cancer risk from 2005, which concluded that more data was needed before anyone could truly evaluate the link between the two [*].
A 2006 study conducted at the University of California at Los Angeles also found no link between cancer and cannabis use.
A 2015 article published by The Guardian found that, unlike many parents’ fears of cannabis legalization leading to more use among teens, the exact opposite was true [*]. The article cited a study discussing how Dr. Deborah Hasin, professor of epidemiology at Columbia University Medical Center, collected data from one million adolescents across 48 states. Results found that, “...use of cannabis by adolescents was already higher in the states that have opted for medical legalisation” [*]. She continues to explain that “[their] findings provide the strongest evidence to date that marijuana use by teenagers does not increase after a state legalises medical marijuana” [*].
This unusual myth has only cropped up in the past few years thanks to the rising popularity of CBD (Cannabidiol), a non-intoxicating minor cannabinoid [*]. This myth takes on many other forms, including, “CBD doesn’t do anything,” or “CBD is a gimmick.” Some have even taken to calling it “snake oil” to denote a product being deceitfully sold as medicine.
CBD, like all cannabinoids, will work differently for each person due to their own unique body chemistry [*]. Its effects are also largely determined by the quality of the CBD you purchase. Research has shown that full-spectrum CBD products—those made from cannabis flower containing all its unique compounds—is consistently more effective as medicine than an isolated cannabinoid (isolates) [*].
While the era of cannabis prohibition may be over, its scars still remain in the form of sensationalized cannabis myths. Many of these myths have since been debunked with advances in technology and research. Keeping up to date with the state of cannabis research is the best way to understand how cannabis works within the body.