Marijuana Myths, Cannabis FactsDec 23, 2014 12:17PM ● By Dustin Sulak, DO
Whatever our political stance or lifestyle choice, from marijuana prohibitionist to daily smoker, we all share one thing—we live in a time when marijuana’s place in our laws, economies and communities is changing rapidly. Following are some of the common myths about marijuana, along with the facts.
Marijuana kills brain cells and lowers IQ.
Interestingly, a 2007 review article in The Neuroscientist reveals that cannabis does just the opposite; it promotes the growth and development of new brain cells. No other class of compounds has demonstrated the neuroprotective effects of cannabis. Very promising animal studies show that treating brain injuries, including newborn babies lacking oxygen and victims of stroke and head trauma, all sustain less damage and heal faster if they are given cannabinoids, the substances found in cannabis, or their synthetic counterparts. Cannabinoids also protect the brain from slower forms of injury, like Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis, especially when used in the correct dosage.
While cannabis can cause some temporary cognitive changes, such as a decrease in short term memory, these changes are reversible when an adult stops using cannabis.
Marijuana makes you “stoned” or “high”.
Smoking or ingesting marijuana can cause a psychoactive effect, which most people describe as a pleasant euphoria and enhancement of the senses, but it can include less desirable features like sedation and paranoia. Pleasant or uncomfortable, a growing number of patients want the medical benefits of cannabis without any intoxication or impairment in function. They want to use it while working, safely driving and more. This is both possible and practical. After decades of selective breeding to produce the most intoxicating strains of cannabis sought after by recreational users and dealers in the underground market, medical cannabis breeders are now producing strains that emphasize the health benefits and reduce or eliminate the psychoactivity.
Smoking marijuana causes cancer.
A large study in 2006 cited in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention showed that heavy cannabis users have an equal or lower rate of lung and respiratory tract cancers than non-users, even though cannabis smoke has been proven to contain cancer-causing products of combustion. How is this possible? Cannabinoids possess potent anti-cancer properties. This has been known since the 1970s, but more recently cannabinoids have become a major focus of the pharmaceutical industry’s anti-cancer drug development.
While smoking cannabis is unlikely to cause cancer, it can irritate the respiratory tract, especially in sensitive individuals. Most patients and responsible adult cannabis users are turning to non-smokable delivery methods: vaporizers allow users to inhale the medicinal component of the herb without any smoke, tinctures and liquid extracts are safe and convenient, and topically applied cannabis salves are reported to reduce pain and inflammation.
Marijuana is addictive and is a gateway to other drugs.
Marijuana dependence does exist, but is not common. A study reported in Experimental Clinical Psychopharmacology found that only 9 percent of those that try marijuana develop dependence compared to, for example, 24 percent of those that try heroin. Furthermore, marijuana dependence is much safer; the withdrawal effects are mild and similar in intensity to caffeine withdrawal. Most people don’t have any trouble stopping using cannabis, when and if they need to.
Recent research demonstrates that cannabis actually serves as an exit drug, rather than a gateway drug. In 2009, Harm Reduction Journal reported that of 350 medical cannabis users in California, 40 percent of the subjects used cannabis as a substitute for alcohol, 26 percent as a substitute for illicit drugs and 66 percent as a substitute for prescription drugs. Any time a person can replace a safer substance, like cannabis, for a more harmful substance, such as alcohol, it is a step in the right direction.
Marijuana makes people hungry and fat.
It is common to hear that marijuana causes “the munchies”, and it’s widely known that cannabis can help AIDS and cancer patients reduce nausea and promote appetite, to their great benefit. Most users report enhanced taste and pleasure while eating under the influence of cannabis. Surprisingly, a 2011 study of 52,000 participants in the American Journal of Epidemiology showed people that smoke cannabis at least three times a week, compared with those that don’t use it at all, are one third less likely to be obese. While cannabinoids affect brain centers related to pleasure and eating, they also affect the hormones of metabolism, and if used correctly, can potentially restore balance to individuals who are both underweight and overweight.
Marijuana makes people mentally unstable.
While scientists debate whether or not cannabis can actually cause or trigger the onset of mental illness, if it can, it’s extremely rare, according to a 2009 article in the journal Addiction. It is much more common for cannabis to actually help mental illness such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar, and even schizophrenia, especially when used appropriately under the guidance of a healthcare professional.
Over all, marijuana has gotten a bad name due to decades of prohibition and reefer madness-like thinking—in fact, the word “marijuana” was first used in U.S. policy to marginalize mexican immigrants in the early 1900s. As our society works to help this misunderstood plant find its appropriate place in our laws, using its botanical name, cannabis, helps dispel the myths and invokes the truth made available by thousands of scientists and researchers: cannabis has a lot to offer humanity.
Dustin Sulak, DO, is director of education for Integr8 Massachusetts and chief medical director at Integr8 Health in Maine. For more information, visit Integr8Mass.com.