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Myths About Marijuana

The following mythology concerning marijuana is taken from the website of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML, http://www.norml.org). References for these texts may be found there.

Myth: Marijuana Leads to Harder Drugs

There is no scientific evidence for the theory that marijuana is a “gateway” drug. The cannabis-using cultures in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America show no propensity for other drugs. The gateway theory took hold in the sixties, when marijuana became the leading new recreational drug. It was refuted by events in the eighties, when cocaine abuse exploded at the same time marijuana use declined. As we have seen, there is evidence that cannabis may substitute for alcohol and other “hard” drugs. A recent survey by Dr. Patricia Morgan of the University of California at Berekeley found that a significant number of pot smokers and dealers switched to methamphetamine “ice” when Hawaii’s marijuana eradication program created a shortage of pot. Dr. Morgan noted a similar phenomenon in California, where cocaine use soared in the wake of the CAMP helicopter eradication campaign. The one way in which marijuana does lead to other drugs is through its illegality: persons who deal in marijuana are likely to deal in other illicit drugs as well.

Myth: Pot Kills Brain Cells

Government experts now admit that pot doesn’t kill brain cells. This myth came from a handful of animal experiments in which structural changes (not actual cell death, as is often alleged) were observed in brain cells of animals exposed to high doses of pot. Many critics still cite the notorious monkey studies of Dr. Robert G. Heath, which purported to find brain damage in three monkeys that had been heavily dosed with cannabis. This work was never replicated and has since been discredited by a pair of better controlled, much larger monkey studies, one by Dr. William Slikker of the National Center for Toxicological Research and the other by Charles Rebert and Gordon Pryor of SRI International. Neither found any evidence of physical alteration in the brains of monkeys exposed to daily doses of pot for up to a year. Human studies of heavy users in Jamaica and Costa Rica found no evidence of abnormalities in brain physiology. Even though there is no evidence that pot causes permanent brain damage, users should be aware that persistent deficits in short-term memory have been noted in chronic, heavy marijuana smokers after 6 to 12 weeks of abstinence. It is worth noting that other drugs, including alcohol, are known to cause brain damage.

Myth: Prohibition Reduces the Harmfulness of Pot Smoking

Whatever the risks of pot smoking, the current laws make matters worse in several respects: (1) Paraphernalia laws have impeded the development and marketing of water pipes and other, more advanced technology that could significantly reduce the harmfulness of marijuana smoke. (2) Prohibition encourages the sale of pot that has been contaminated or adulterated by insecticides, Paraquat, etc., or mixed with other drugs such as PCP, crack and heroin. (3) By raising the price of marijuana, prohibition makes it uneconomical to consume marijuana orally, the best way to avoid smoke exposure altogether; this is because eating typically requires two or three times as much marijuana as smoking.

Myth: Pot is Ten Times More Potent and Dangerous Now Than in the Sixties

The notion that pot has increased dramatically in potency is a DEA myth based on biased government data, as shown in a recent NORML report by Dr. John Morgan. Samples of pot from the early ‘70s came from stale, low-potency Mexican “kilobricks” left in police lockers, whose potency had deteriorated to sub-smokable levels of less than 0.5%. These were compared to later samples of decent-quality domestic marijuana, making it appear that potency had skyrocketed. A careful examination of the government’s data show that average marijuana potency increased modestly by a factor of two or so during the seventies, and has been more or less constant ever since. In fact, there is nothing new about high-potency pot. During the sixties, it was available in premium varieties such as Acapulco Gold, Panama Red, etc. , as well as in the form of hashish and hash oil, which were every bit as strong as today’s sinsemilla, but were ignored in government potency statistics. While the average potency of domestic pot did increase with the development of sinsemilla in the seventies, the range of potencies available has remained virtually unchanged since the last century, when extremely potent tonics were sold over the counter in pharmacies. In Holland, high-powered hashish and sinsemilla are currently sold in coffee shops with no evident problems. Contrary to popular myth, greater potency is not necessarily more dangerous, due to the fact that users tend to adjust (or “self-titrate”) their dose according to potency. Thus, good quality sinsemilla is actually healthier for the lungs because it reduces the amount of smoke one needs to inhale to get high.

Myths About Marijuana The following mythology concerning marijuana is taken from the website of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML, http://www.norml.org).

Leafcann: common misconceptions about cannabis

Leafcann Group CEO Elisabetta Faenza explores harmful myths around medical and adult use cannabis.

Leafcann is aware that perhaps no other plant causes as much debate as the cannabis plant. Its usage and popularity throughout the ages has led to it being branded a super medicine by some, stigmatised as an evil on society by others; and many other points of view within that spectrum.

Regardless of advances in research and the increasing evidence base which supports the use of medicinal cannabis, several myths and misconceptions persist and occasionally gain traction in the media. Some of these stories provide light entertainment while others unfortunately harm the reputation of cannabis as a medicine.

These myths and misconceptions include how dangerous cannabis usage is, its ability to cause addiction, its function as a gateway drug and so on. This article will look at some of the more common myths and misconceptions.

Leafcann expels the myths about the dangers of cannabis use

Cannabis can kill you

You cannot overdose on cannabis like you can on other drugs such as opioids. Studies have found that a person would have to consume about 1,000 pounds per minute for 15 minutes in order to fatally overdose on cannabis. That’s 6,800kg in 15 minutes – which is highly unlikely.

Cannabis causes brain damage

Although cannabis use in adults has been found to affect a person’s motor skills, attention span and short term memory while intoxicated, it has been found that the differences between brain function of heavy users and that of non-users is minimal in the long term, with the results much better for cannabis users than those found for heavy users of alcohol and other illicit drugs.

There is a widely held misconception that cannabis, like alcohol, can kill brain cells. Heavy alcohol consumption, however, does damage the ends of neurons, making it difficult for them to relay messages to each other but does not kill brain cells.

The cannabis myth came about due to a few infamous animal experiments in which structural changes were said to be observed in brain cells of animals exposed to high doses of cannabis. Unfortunately, there are those that continue to cite the infamous RG Heath study using two Rhesus monkeys which has since been discredited. In fact, subsequent studies with more rigorous controls have found no evidence of alteration in the brains of monkeys. 1

Cannabis causes psychosis and bipolar disorder

This is a much-contested claim about cannabis. There is no question that some cannabis users have experienced psychosis. However, what is becoming more apparent is that those who have experienced some form of psychosis have been found to have a susceptibility to it. Such susceptibilities may include a person’s genetic makeup, a history of child abuse, head injuries or infections, their socioeconomic status and other factors.

Although most experts agree that cannabis use alone doesn’t trigger psychosis or conditions such as bipolar disorder, there is a possibility it could trigger psychosis in those who already have the condition. Studies have also found that cannabis is the most commonly abused drug among those diagnosed with bipolar disorder. 2 This abuse of cannabis increases the chances of an adverse reaction over time. As a counterpoint, research is now showing that medicinal cannabis has a part to play in stabilising a patient’s mood and alleviating the symptoms of depression.

Vaporising is just as bad as smoking

Smoking is not accepted as a satisfactory delivery method for any medicine amongst the medical community. While the dangers of smoking cannabis are disputed, vaporising is considered a safer way to consume cannabis. Vaporising burns cannabis below its combustion temperature and therefore does not produce smoke, leaving the user to consume cannabis just as they would through other delivery methods such as oils, edibles and tablets.

The recent spate of deaths from recreational vaporiser use were the result of poorly constructed vaporisers containing unknown poisonous chemicals. This was due to unlicensed operators working outside the regulatory environment and without proper manufacturing processes in place. Licensed medicinal cannabis manufacturers work to strict standards which provide assurance on the composition of each vaporiser and the content within them. They do not create products that are dangerous to the public.

Synthetic cannabis is better than natural cannabis

There are two elements to this misconception. Synthetic cannabis produced for medicinal purposes in a laboratory under good manufacturing practice (GMP) standards is safe to use. Each batch produced is tested to ensure it contains only what is written on the label.

However, synthetic cannabis produced for recreational use without the required checks and measures can be dangerous and should be avoided. These products are mass produced in a process that produces a liquid which is mixed with dry vegetation for the purpose of smoking. The whole process occurs with no precision or accuracy. One batch can consist of several packets that are very different in composition. Testing by authorities in the US after several people died found external agents such as faeces, rat poison and dangerous opioids.

As far as recreational use goes, the cannabis plant’s ability to intoxicate with THC is balanced, to some extent, by CBD’s ability to relax and prevent paranoia. Creating a useful synthetic THC-only product is possible in a GMP standard laboratory, but dangerous otherwise.

All medicinal cannabis products get you high

This simply is not true and is a remnant of the scaremongering once used by anti-cannabis advocates. Thankfully, greater public education has been undertaken in most countries legalising medicinal cannabis and people are more aware that it is the THC cannabinoid that has psychoactive properties and not others such as CBD. The increasing number of products with CBD in them are becoming popular, particularly because they do not have any psychoactive properties.

Edibles are the least psychoactive cannabis product

Edible forms of cannabis can come in the form of lollipops, chocolates and other sweets. This gives some people the impression that they contain low doses of THC. In fact, cannabis oil as a concentrate is used in edibles and can lead to products with strong doses of THC.

This means that care must be taken in the production process to ensure the concentrate is evenly distributed and tested. Otherwise, it may lead to very high dose products that can cause adverse reactions. Furthermore, edibles take much longer to be absorbed into the bloodstream, which can lead to some people assuming the product hasn’t worked and then opting to consume a second edible before the first takes effect.

Having two strong doses of THC in the body can, in some cases, lead to adverse reactions such as a sudden drop of blood pressure and panic attacks. Caution should be exercised with edible cannabis products.

Myths about addiction

Cannabis is addictive

This is another misconception about recreational cannabis use which is based on variable, and often unreliable, statistics. It should be noted that the risks of developing a cannabis use disorder for medicinal cannabis are minimal. Dose titration and regular consultations with a health professional ensure a patient is taking only what they need for their condition and THC levels are lower than those found in recreational use cannabis, with a few exceptions. Given cannabis’ safe history of use compared with opioids, the risks of adverse outcomes related to addiction are unlikely.

The US National Institute on Drug Abuse states that recreational cannabis use can lead to the development of problem use, known as cannabis use disorder, which in the more severe cases can take the form of addiction. 3 Estimates in the US show that around 7% to 9% of cannabis users will develop a cannabis use disorder. However, those who start using cannabis before the age of 18 are four to seven times more likely to develop a cannabis use disorder than those who start using later in life, meaning the 7% to 9% statistic is far lower for those who start using as an adult. To put this into context, around 15% of cocaine users and 24% of heroin users become clinically dependent.

Cannabis is a gateway drug

Cannabis is the most widely used, and most widely available, illicit drug in the world. Therefore, it is not uncommon for it to be the first drug used by many; although many cannabis users would have tried nicotine and/or alcohol first. It is logical that those who want to consume other drugs have tried cannabis first; however, this does not mean they are causally linked. In fact, there are more people that try cannabis and stop further drug consumption than those who go on to other drugs such as cocaine and heroin.

Correlation does not equal causation. The propensity and willingness to try drugs means that those who go on to other hard drugs after cannabis would have tried those drugs earlier if they were available. The small percentage of hard drug users compared to the substantially higher percentage of cannabis users supports the claim cannabis is not a gateway drug. 4

The situation for medicinal cannabis shows an even lesser chance of patients using it as a gateway drug. Indeed, many patients have moved on to medicinal cannabis after enduring many years of opioid use and sometimes opioid addiction. The safe history of use makes medicinal cannabis an ideal transition away from dangerous opioids.

Other myths and misconceptions

You can beat a cannabis drug test

The internet has many popular tales of how to beat a drug test. Apart from swapping urine samples there is no way to beat a urine test without raising the suspicion of testers.

Drug tests look for THC levels only and no other cannabinoids such as cannabidiol. THC binds to fat cells in the body and therefore takes longer to exit the body than other hard drugs such as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines. There is no specific rule to follow when predicting how long THC will stay in your body and everyone is different. Variable factors include how often THC has been consumed (medicinal or recreational), its concentration, the amount of body fat a person has and their lifestyle habits, and the type of drug test being conducted.

Urine tests can test for THC up to around 30 days after last consumption for a regular user and about three to four days for someone who only consumes cannabis a few times a year. Saliva tests usually only test for THC up to 24 hours after last use, although new technology now exists with some tests able to detect up to 72 hours. Hair tests are the most sensitive and can detect THC up to three months after last use.

There is no known method of beating a urine test without raising suspicion. Drinking excess water or other liquids to dilute a sample is easily detected and the myth of exercising immediately before a test will only serve to increase the level of THC as the body’s metabolism works to release THC from fat cells during intense exercise. Money spent on kits to beat drug tests is wasted because analytical laboratories now test for dilution and other agents.

Misconceptions about the difference between hemp and cannabis

There are many common misconceptions about hemp and its relationship to cannabis. These include:

  • Hemp is a different plant species to cannabis;
  • Hemp is the male plant and cannabis is the female plant; and
  • Medicine derived from hemp (such as cannabidiol) is different to that of cannabis.

These statements are all incorrect. Hemp is a cannabis sativa cultivar. Therefore, hemp is a cannabis plant. The only difference is that hemp contains very minor traces of THC (generally well below 1% THC).

Hemp and cannabis plants can be male or female. The big difference is that only female cannabis plants are used to extract cannabinoids from the flower (for medicinal or recreational use), whereas both male and female hemp plants are used, depending on what is to be produced. Hemp fibre is used for industrial purposes and its seeds are used in food products.

Another misconception is that by growing hemp you can extract as much CBD as you can from cannabis plants. Under international law only cannabinoid derivatives extracted from the stem or seed are permissible. While CBD extracted from the flowering tops of hemp plants may be legal in some US states, the import of these products is prohibited in most nations and by the Single Convention. Increased testing by federal agencies is now leading to large fines and criminal prosecution of importers and retailers of these types of products.

References
  • Slikker Jr W, Paule MG, Ali SF, Scallet AC, Bailey JR (1991). Chronic marijuana smoke exposure in the rhesus monkey I. Plasma cannabinoid and blood carboxyhemoglobin concentrations and clinical chemistry parameters. Fundam Appl Toxicol 17: 321–334.
  • Leweke F, Koethe D. Cannabis and psychiatric disorders: it is not only addiction. Addict Biol. 2008;13(2):264–275. Review.
  • US NIDA website https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/marijuana-addictive
  • Drug Policy Alliance website: Debunking the Gateway Myth. http://www.drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/DebunkingGatewayMyth_NY_0.pdf

Elisabetta Faenza
CEO
Leafcann Group Pty Ltd
+61 414 447 275
[email protected]
www.leafcann.com.au

This article will appear in the second issue of Medical Cannabis Network which is out in April. Click here to get your free subscription today.

Leafcann Group CEO Elisabetta Faenza explores harmful myths around medical and adult use cannabis. ]]>