Many adult medical marijuana users may have been surprised to see marijuana legalized, especially within their lifetime. Why is that? Because myths of supposed “dangers” surrounding marijuana have been long ingrained in most Americans, be it through after school specials or early education. This is not to say that marijuana is completely harmless; rather, the spread of misinformation about marijuana has led to marijuana myths and misunderstandings of it, and in turn a lack of progress surrounding it making it difficult for safe and legal marijuana use to move forward. So let’s do a little marijuana myth-busting, as the more truth we know about marijuana is all the better!
Myth: Marijuana is Gateway Drug
One of the long-standing myths about marijuana is that it is a gateway drug, meaning that the use of marijuana will lead to the use of harder substances (cocaine, ecstasy, etc..). This term was popularized in the 1980s as a means of politicized fearmongering to keep people from using marijuana. With that in mind, the myth that marijuana is a gateway drug has been largely debunked by leading health experts, including the CDC. There is simply not enough real evidence to support the claim that the use of marijuana leads to the use of harder substances. To learn more about the debunking of this claim, check out our previous blog: The Gateway Theory: Why It’s Wrong.
Myth: Marijuana is an Addictive Substance
One of the issues with the myth of marijuana as an addictive substance is that it is not necessarily a cut and dry yes or no, and that it is important to consider what marijuana dependency looks like. Marijuana is not a physically addictive substance, however, in some cases, it can become psychologically addictive and be abused (there is a significant difference between use and abuse). That being said, marijuana’s dependence liability is much lower than that of other substances, including alcohol, tobacco, and opioids (and in many cases, may even be a treatment for opioid use disorder), with less than 10% of users exhibiting marijuana dependence (Source). While this is not to downplay the existence of marijuana use disorder, it does demonstrate that such dangerous abuse is not especially common, and with regulation and education, marijuana can most certainly be consumed in a safe and responsible manner.
Myth: Marijuana is Just as Dangerous as Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Hard Drugs
Marijuana is not 100% completely harmless, but the effects of use are not nearly as severe as those associated with alcohol, tobacco, and hard drugs, and having it categorized as a schedule 1 drug is quite frankly a bit absurd. As previously mentioned, the rates of addiction to marijuana are significantly lower than that of tobacco, alcohol, opioids, and other hard drugs, and what’s more, is that it is extremely unlikely to become deadly. It is well known that tobacco use can greatly increase your risk of cancer, with it being linked to most lung cancers, while comparatively, marijuana is often used to help cancer patients through their treatment process. Additionally, while you can overconsume marijuana, this results in unpleasant (paranoia, anxiety, raciness), but not deadly effects, that dissipate with time. Overdosing on harder substances, opioids, and alcohol can be fatal, as they interact with the brain’s opioid center in a way that MMJ does not. On top of that, according to the CDC, excessive alcohol use is responsible for over 95,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, and there were about 67,367 opioid-related deaths in 2018. The number of deaths where marijuana was the primary cause is zero.
Myth: Marijuana is a 100% Harmless Cure-All Medicine
Simply put, it would be gravely irresponsible to say that marijuana is a cure-all medication that is one size fits all for everyone to use. Marijuana is most beneficial when it is used safely and responsibly. We know that everyone responds differently to marijuana, that there can be a period of trial and error to find out which products work best, and there is the possibility of some uncomfortable side effects (anxiety and paranoia). That being said, there are also certain conditions and individuals that marijuana is not suitable for, such as schizophrenia, heart disease, those with a history of marijuana use disorder, and those who are pregnant and breastfeeding. Marijuana has a great deal of potential medical benefits, but it is important both that more research is done and that moving to marijuana-based treatment is always discussed with a doctor. Marijuana use or potential medical marijuana use should always be discussed with a doctor to ensure that it is used in a way that will be of most use and benefit to the patient.
The bottom line is that the myths surrounding marijuana do more harm than good. The widespread misinformation that comes from these myths keep people from knowing the reality of marijuana and how to use it safely. The progress that can come from a clear understanding of marijuana, it’s potential, and how it affects individuals is immeasurable, with potential social and legal reforms that can benefit members of our community. While marijuana myths may be still taking some time to die out, on a personal level you can always stay informed and be sure that you are consulting your doctor so that you get the most out of your medical marijuana use.
Disclaimer: These statements have not been reviewed for accuracy by the FDA. As always, seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers when considering trying a new treatment. Do not start or stop taking any medications without speaking to your doctor first.