Like it or not, marijuana use has increased exponentially since President Nixon declared a war no drugs in 1971. Today, marijuana — or weed, pot, cannabis, Mary Jane — is the third most popular recreational drug in the United States, behind only alcohol and tobacco. Upward of 24 million people have used it, based on the latest estimates, with 14 million using it regularly. But despite a growing warmth toward the drug, and two states (Washington and Colorado) legalizing its recreational use, there are still some people on the fence about its safety and usefulness. So, to educate you nonbelievers out there, here are five marijuana myths debunked.
It’s a Gateway Drug
This may be the biggest farce cooked up by marijuana opponents, but it makes sense. People who have tried marijuana may eventually go on to try harder drugs in search of a stronger high, and their experimentation leads them down a dangerous path toward addiction. But the science behind whether or not this is true overwhelmingly shows that it’s not.
“Because it is the most widely used illicit drug, marijuana is predictably the first illicit drug most people encounter,” a report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) said. “In the sense that marijuana use typically precedes rather than follows initiation of other illicit drug use, it is indeed a ‘gateway’ drug. But because underage smoking and alcohol use typically precede marijuana use, marijuana is not the most common and is rarely the first ‘gateway’ to illicit drug use. There is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.”
So what is the cause of other illicit drug use? As the IOM report suggested, other studies have also implicated alcohol and tobacco use as gateway drugs. But an alternative gateway may just be the trials and tribulations some kids face while growing up. “Whether marijuana smokers go on to use other illicit drugs depends more on social factors like being exposed to stress and being unemployed — not so much whether they smoked a joint in the eighth grade,” Dr. Karen Van Gundy, an associate professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire, told CBS News.
Although smoking weed won’t mess with a person’s body too much, it can cause a couple of the same issues that tobacco smokers experience, with the most likely one being respiratory problems. Ailments like bronchitis may sometimes develop as users inhale the tars from the rolling papers in joints and blunts. Because of this, eating marijuana-infused foods or smoking from a vaporizer, which heats the weed up just enough to release the THC (its active ingredient), may be healthier.
Smoking weed and getting behind the wheel is also relatively dangerous, with a number of studies this year finding that teens who drove while high were likely to get in crashes. One of the studies found that the number of people who crashed their cars while high tripled over the past 10 years. A person who drives while high can be up to two times more likely to crash. When accounting for teens only, another study concluded that a teen’s lack of driving experience paired with marijuana’s (or alcohol’s) effects led many teens to drive recklessly, even when not impaired, thus increasing their risk of a crash.
When it comes to more serious illnesses, marijuana may have more benefits than harms (we’ll get into that later). Despite a controversial study earlier this year suggesting it causes brain damage, other studies have shown no correlation, let alone cause. “Results indicated no significant effect of cannabis use on global neurocognitive performance,” one 2012 study said. Other opponents argue it can cause lung cancer, a condition not one study has found a link to yet.
With the majority of drugs being addicting — alcohol, tobacco, heroin, cocaine, etc — it’s easy to go ahead and say that marijuana’s addicting, too. But it’s a little more complex than that, and no, it’s not addicting. But users can develop a dependence, or a bad habit of lighting up. According to a 1994 study on the topic, however, only four percent of users develop this dependence. Compared to weed, alcohol and tobacco dependence was found among 14 and 24 percent of study participants. In a more recent study from 2007, only about nine percent of users developed dependency to the drug, whereas 15 and 24 percent of cocaine and heroin users went back again and again.
Breaking any habit can be really difficult, a recent study showed, but it’s possible with some dedication.
It Makes Users Lazy
The stereotypical stoner is all too real, unfortunately. At 30 years old, he still lies in his parents’ home, unemployed, smoking weed in his room while playing video games. Although marijuana users may never get rid of the reputation of being lazy, some evidence points to it not affecting a person’s motivation at all.
But first, supporting evidence that it does get people lazy. A study from July looked at the brains of 19 users and measured concentrations of dopamine, the chemical linked to reward, pleasure, and motivation. They found that longtime and frequent users, who tended to have more THC in their bodies were also the ones who had lower levels of dopamine in their brains. The researchers suggested that marijuana could cause a controversial — and not entirely official condition — called “amotivational syndrome,” characterized by laziness.
But amotivational syndrome may affect other non-marijuana users just as much. One study published in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors found that the syndrome affected about five to six percent of the population, both users and nonusers. These findings were later supported by another study, which also found there was no difference in motivation.
What it comes down to is, if you’re lazy when you smoke weed, you were probably lazy before, too.
It Has No Medicinal Purpose
To say marijuana has no possible health benefits is to deny hundreds, if not thousands, of pages' worth of proof. Simply looking at this Collective Evolution article will point you in the direction of 20 studies proving its cancer-fighting benefits. According to the National Cancer Institute, cannabinoids may inhibit tumor growth by causing cell death, blocking its growth, and blocking the development of blood vessels that aid in metastasis. These marijuana ingredients may also help reduce inflammation in the colon, reducing colon cancer risk, as well as killing some kinds of breast cancer cells. And that’s only cancer.
Marijuana has also been implicated in treating glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, PTSD, anxiety, and a host of other conditions. Its medical use has already been approved in 23 states, even as leading politicians begrudgingly admit its benefits.
As more states sign on for medical marijuana and local governments notice the revenue pulled from recreational weed — sales in Colorado are expected to reach $1 billion during this fiscal year — it’s likely to become a slippery slope toward the end of prohibition.