Health facts and myths about Marijuana

If you don’t already smoke marijuana, I’m not going to try to convince you to start. However, I didn’t smoke my first joint until I was 25 because of a bunch of misinformation. What follows is my attempt to address all of the falsehoods I’ve been fed.

I guess you could call me a late bloomer. Before turning 25, I assumed alcohol was safer. It was legal and it wasn’t going to kill me randomly like some drug on the street. So I partook…a lot. I know now how stupid I was, but I was fed a constant stream of dare and do-nots that clumped weed with meth, gang violence, and strangers who want to touch children.

Parents and news media told me that marijuana was worse than cigarettes, would make me crazy and lazy, and would be incredibly addicting. Almost none of what I was told about weed turns out to be true. What bothers me most about that is the fact that only a handful of people were outright lying to get me to abstain; the rest thought they were telling the truth because they were repeating what the liars were saying.

So, like I said, this isn’t so much about getting you to smoke weed. It’s about spreading real information so people can make real, informed decisions.

Following is a list of so-called facts I grew up with and the little bit of truth behind each of them.

You can overdose on too much marijuana

Every time someone points out that no one has ever died of smoking pot, someone else points to various cases that claim someone did. First off, as far as I know, those cases have each been discredited as ignoring evidence that the victim’s were either also heavily dosed with other drugs (including alcohol) or predisposed to heart attacks. Second, if they want to claim someone has overdosed, ask them how much it takes to kill a person. They’ll give one of two responses.

  • Overdose doesn’t mean that it killed the person. They just mean that people take too much and have negative side effects. I call bullshit. If they use “overdose” to refer to people who had a bad trip, they are knowingly using a scare tactic. They want you to assume they meant the person died.
  • They’ll tell you some amount of weed like an ounce, a pound, 10 pounds. However, according to a 1988 DEA hearing, a person would have to ingest/inhale “1,500 pounds of marijuana within about fifteen minutes to induce a lethal response.” And that might not even be enough because, as the National Cancer Institute points out,”Because cannabinoid receptors, unlike opioid receptors, are not located in the brainstem areas controlling respiration, lethal overdoses from Cannabis and cannabinoids do not occur.“

In fact, a lot of the issues with smoking cannabis is the inhalation of smoke – not the fact that it’s cannabis smoke. And there’s always vapes, edibles, and tinctures.

Side Note: There is another study by Wayne Hall that explains that you cannot overdose on marijuana. And yet, this same study is largely misquoted by anti-marijuana supporters and used to further their anti-intellectual viewpoint. I’d suggest reading it and forming your own opinion.

Weed is addictive

The current number out there is 9. Some 9 percent of cannabis users report becoming addicted to it, and half of the 9 percent are under the age of 25. So what does this really mean?

  • 9 percent sounds big, but it’s not as big as 15 for alcohol, 17 for cocaine, 23 for heroin and 32 for nicotine.
  • It’s alarming to think that 4.5 percent (half of the 9) of the population, all under 25, report becoming addicted to marijuana. Until I read that teens who are caught with marijuana are often automatically enrolled in rehab where they are required to claim and work on a marijuana addiction in order to be released. Arguably, that means the 9 percent could be 8, or 7, or 6…or 4.5.
  • What symptoms of addiction do the stoners display? Withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, insomnia, appetite disturbance and depression. For nicotine it’s: a headache, nausea, constipation or diarrhea, falling heart rate and blood pressure, fatigue, drowsiness, and insomnia, anxiety, etc. For heroin it’s: intense craving for heroin, extreme sweating, nausea and vomiting, severe muscle aches and pains, cramping in the limbs, feelings of the heaviness of the body, extreme pain in muscles and bones, etc. According to the Hall study linked above, “The adverse health and social consequences of cannabis use reported by cannabis users who seek treatment for dependence appear to be less severe than those reported by alcohol and opioid-dependent people.”

• The medical definition of addiction is “a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain; they change its structure and how it works.” With this definition, marijuana, which DOES alter the way the brain works (temporarily), can be considered addictive if users compulsively seek and use weed despite potential harm. However, that also makes McDonald’s, candy, and sex addicting. Which is subjectively true. But we’re not banning all fast food, sweets, and sex (despite some amazingly stodgy people’s efforts), are we?

Weed has a higher chance of giving you cancer than cigarettes

This one is loosely based on a combination of science and logic. Studying the marijuana plant and its smoke has shown that it contains a lot of the same carcinogens as cigarette smoke. And some studies have reported a correlation between smoking marijuana and cancer. On the surface, it makes sense because you can smoke it just like a cigarette and stoners tend to hold the smoke in deeper/longer to get high.

However, these claims largely do not take into account whether the smokers:

  • Also smoked cigarettes or cigars/chew tobacco/drink alcohol
  • Mixed tobacco in with their weed
  • Used cigar wrappers, which contain traces of tobacco
  • Were already predisposed to cancer before they started smoking

I think it’s silly that this herb has been around for so very long and we know so little about it. But that’s what prohibition does. It prohibits all use of marijuana – even the study of it. So you want better answers than “It hasn’t knowingly happened yet.”? Help legalize marijuana and allow those studies to occur.

Weed kills brain cells

Usually, when I hear this claim, it’s a bold statement with no facts to back it up. However, there are studies that have been done that make the same claim. Annnnd much like the other anti-marijuana propaganda, a more careful look reveals studies where subjects were practically suffocated with weed smoke – and duh, lack of oxygen causes brain damage. Other studies subjected participants to levels of THC that far exceeds what a person (even Snoop Lion and Willie Nelson) could smoke in any given session. How is this a balanced and conclusive study?

If we force-feed a person enough water, without the right amount of sodium, that person will become water intoxicated. If they continue to drink water, they can become confused and nauseous. Eventually, severe water intoxication can lead to seizures, coma, and death. So, it’s easy enough to claim that water is completely unhealthy and dangerous to imbibe. And yet it’s necessary. And we’re not all idiots. Instead of banning water, we let people know, “Hey, don’t drink too much or maybe put some salt in it.”  But weed isn’t a basic need like water. So, when faced with fear facts like “too much weed will kill your brain cells,” some people would rather abstain and pass on that misinformation without reading further into the issue.

You need to read further into the issue. Studies that give participants more realistic levels of THC have shown no adverse affects like dying brain cells. What happens when you give participants 5-10 joints a day for months? Nothing. Except they get to get high for science.

Marijuana causes lack of motivation

And yet again, this fear/faux fact is based on a little truth. Yes, there are plenty of strains that cause a lackadaisical high that may even make you “forget” how to move or that you can move. That’s called couch-lock and it’s a well known and desirable trait of more Indica-heavy strains of weed. If you’re in pain, or just super tense, a nice body high can mellow you out and give your body much-needed relief. It’s a massage without the masseuse.

But when someone tells you that stoners are lazy, they aren’t talking about while they are stoned. They mean that stoners are lazy even while sober. And as a stoner, I’m telling you that just isn’t true. But I know my opinion isn’t enough. So let’s take an example, instead. Celebrities. There are many well-known celebrities that get publicly high. And let’s be honest. Being a celebrity isn’t just tits and money. They have super hectic schedules, tons of social commitments, and have to be on damn near 24/7. And yet people like Zack Galifianakis, Anthony Bourdain, Seth Rogan, Woody Harrelson, and yes, Tommy Chong, have had long, successful, fruitful, and busy careers. And they are all stoners. And it’s not just the celebrity stoners that seem to be making bank and keeping busy. A study in late 2013 indicated that cannabis users are more likely than non-stoners to have a college degree and tend to make higher-than-average incomes.

Could that mean that taking a few tokes a day will make me super motivated and push me into that coveted 1 percent lifestyle? Um, no. I think that if you were a lazy person before you found pot, you’ll remain that way after pot – unless you make some other life change. And if you are super motivated before you smoke that first joint, you’ll be that same person once the high wears off. Studies that claim marijuana creates lazy people often neglect to determine what a person’s level of motivation was BEFORE they started smoking weed. This study DID consider that and they concluded that differences in motivation levels between stoners and non-stoners were indistinguishable.

Besides that, not all highs have to begin and end in couch-lock.

I’m writing this post while high. I put together tedious pieces of Ikea furniture while high. When I know I have a long project ahead of me (that doesn’t require quick reflexes) weed helps keep me on task and entertained. But then again, I’m all about Sativas and that head high.

I’m not arguing that long-term use doesn’t have side affects. I believe a sustained use of any mind/body altering substance will affect a person’s ability to function “normally”, but I think the perceived effects of cannabis use is overstated. After just a few weeks of drinking coffee, I became addicted to the point of headaches when I missed a cup. And when someone came to me with that first cup, I wanted to strangle them. But when I stopped coffee, I eventually remembered I was a morning person before I became a slave to it. And the headaches eventually went away. My point is that “altering” and “normal” functionality are both subjective, malleable terms.

Weed causes lung problems

Smoking cigarettes can lead to respiratory problems. Naturally, people think that smoking a joint should do the same, since they both involve the inhalation of smoke. Some people even suggest it’s got to be worse because most joints don’t include a filter. But a 20-year study, one of the longest and most comprehensive studies done on the effects of marijuana smoke on lungs, determined that marijuana smoke does not create these expected respiratory problems. You can read a more in-depth review of that study here.

But the part that really got me: “the study found that the lung function of most marijuana smokers actually improved slightly over time.” To be fair, the study involved “light” smokers. But, as I’ve already mentioned, quantity and moderation are a huge factor in a lot of health situations. Too much of a good thing (remember that bit about the water?) can be harmful.

And it’s not just the smoke. I’ve seen bongs made of coke cans and plastic bottles. When you begin to add harmful chemicals to the fumes you’re inhaling after heating up those chemicals, yeah, you’ll probably see side effects. It’s one reason I’m leery of bho, or butane hash oil. Sometimes, depending on the source, some butane may be left inside the wax and that is some dangerous stuff to inhale. Not to mention I’ve see that shit catch on fire in a big way when it was only supposed to become vapor.

With this one, I’d say be smart about what you’re smoking out of and how often you smoke. Besides, it becomes really boring getting high when you can’t remember what it’s like to be sober. How can you even enjoy it if you don’t remember the difference?

Today’s weed has a higher potency

Ever heard of “super pot”?  Supposedly, weed today is so much stronger than the weed of yesterday. Maybe I’m sensitive to the subject, but this “super pot” theory just smacks of hypocrisy to me. When an older (than me) person states that the weed of today isn’t the same gentle high hippies got in the 70s, I immediately wonder – is this their admission that they used to smoke pot? And are they using this scapegoat idea of “super pot” to excuse their use while condemning everyone else’s current use? Lame and transparent.

But are they right? Sort of. I’ve heard claims that weed today is 10 to 30 times stronger than weed in the 1970s. But when you look at actual numbers, weed in the 70s had maybe an average of 3-7 percent THC and weed today has an average of about 12 percent. Numbers vary a little and it’s difficult to say because testing from the 70s (or weed kept in storage all these years) doesn’t make for the most reliable numbers. But 30 times stronger? Eh, I’m not convinced.

Now we’ve somewhat agreed that the THC levels in weed today are stronger than “the good ol’ days.” What does that mean? As mentioned above, it takes “1,500 pounds of marijuana within about fifteen minutes to induce a lethal response.” So, if you normally smoke 71 blunts a day (like Snoop Lion claims) and you multiply that by 30 times (just going with the highest percentage people claim), that’s 2130 joints made from weed in the 1970s. Now, let’s say you roll big blunts that contain 5 grams – NO, let’s make that 10 grams of weed (I usually smoke 2 gram joints). That’s a total of 21,300 grams of weed. Or, 46.9 pounds of weed. First of all, that’s not close to 1,500 pounds of weed. Second, please don’t even try to tell me you can smoke all of that in 15 minutes. That’s not even taking into account how much smoke is wasted (unless you smoke the entire blunt in a continuous inhale or something).

My point?

Even weed that’s 30 times the potency isn’t going to kill you. So who cares if it’s stronger? And OK, you can dab wax that has THC percentages near the high 90s. The question again is can you possibly smoke enough to kill you?

So yeah, you pass out and sleep peacefully. Nothing like the dangers of over drinking. And just because you MIGHT be able to smoke “too much,” is that enough to make the substance illegal? I think it’d be smarter to outlaw your stupidity in trying that stunt. There are Darwin awards for a reason.

Finally, I’d also like to point out that the above THC levels from the 70s and today are averages. There are strains from the 70s that had much lower and much, much higher THC levels. So just because the average strain might have been “weaker” doesn’t mean people didn’t have access to some great, dank stuff. And the hippies survived. Mostly.

Weed causes shortened memory

Many studies have been done to analyze the short-term memory loss caused by cannabis. Our brains have a difficult time storing short term memories while we’re high, very much like being drunk. You’ll be in the middle of a sentence and completely forget what your point (or even topic) was. This means that using weed as a studying tool isn’t always a great idea. The misconception is that smoking marijuana somehow impairs your memory-making abilities in a more permanent fashion – even when you’re sober. However, like the paranoia, munchies, couch-lock, and singular focus, the short-term memory loss is a temporary side affect and characteristic of being high. Once you’re sober, your brain goes back to remembering things in a more normal fashion.

As for long-term memory loss, the jury is still waaaay out. For casual users, it’s easy to see that their memory retention is normal while sober. But for those chronic users, they stay high so often, suffering from normal short-term memory loss, that they don’t actually get a chance to make the long-term memories – let alone determine whether they can retain them.

TLDR?

There are a lot of studies concerning cannabis that are being misused and misquoted. Ask questions, do your own research (at least read from different sources) and try to get to know some real facts, rather than swallowing all the scare tactics dressed up as pseudo facts.

By the way, this post does not address the legality of weed. So be smart; know your local laws.

Know More?

What do you think? Is marijuana the most dangerous drug out there? Leave a comment below.

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