False Facts About Marijuana You Always Thought Were True

From Reefer Madness to legalization, the perception of marijuana has changed drastically over the decades. With the seemingly unstoppable march toward nationwide decriminalization and legalization moving along steadily, there’s a lot of false information floating around about everyone’s favorite Mary Jane, whether you pass on grass or are a seasoned smoker.

False: Marijuana screws with your brain, makes you crazy, and causes lung cancer

If you smoke weed, you’re running the risk forgetting everything you know, becoming psychotic and getting lung cancer. At least, that’s what the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) wanted you to believe, before being forced to remove these and other false facts from their official website in February 2017.

After a legal petition was filed by the non-profit advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, the DEA removed various misleading statements. In addition to claiming marijuana causes irreversible cognitive decline in adults, is a gateway drug, and is a primary contributor to psychosis and lung cancer, the now-removed document in question also claimed, according to Detroit Metro Times, the “legalization of marijuana, no matter how it begins, will come at the expense of our children and public safety. It will create dependency and treatment issues, and open the door to use of other drugs, impaired health, delinquent behavior, and drugged drivers.” Additionally, the claim that “marijuana causes tumors in various parts of the body” was also removed.

That sure was a lot of false facts in one document. Either they need better fact checkers, or they’re … dare we say … lying to us. Shame on you, DEA!

False: Marijuana is a gateway drug

The sticky idea that trying Mary Jane once is the first step down a long and dark path of drug abuse was perpetuated long before the days of D.A.R.E. counselors showing up to lecture your fifth-grade class. Sure, it makes sense on a very basic level—someone smokes weed, likes it, and decides they want to try harder drugs. And yes, there is a definitive correlation between smoking marijuana and using other drugs. But, as Maia Szalavitz points out in Time, correlation is not causation. For example, if “a person who smokes marijuana is more than 104 times more likely to use cocaine than a person who never tries pot,” is marijuana a gateway to cocaine? By that reasoning, Szalavitz posits, riding a bike must be a gateway to joining the Hell’s Angels, or childhood lullabies must be a gateway to being a Grateful Dead fan. We don’t have evidence of causation.

In a Congress-commissioned report, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences concluded “there is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.” 

Besides, we all know that spinning around in circles as a child until you’re dizzy is the real gateway drug.

False: Stoned driving is as bad as drunk driving

It is a common misconception by those who’ve never gone on a journey that driving under the influence of marijuana is just as bad as driving under the influence of alcohol. As science and experience shows, that’s simply not the case.

Though smoking marijuana does impair psychomotor skills, the impairment is not “severe or long-lasting.” According to a review of the scientific evidence by NORML, drivers who’ve indulged in the devil’s lettuce tend to be more self-aware of their impairment—and probably the cops—and therefore tend to drive more slowly, though often taking longer to respond properly to emergency situations. (Quick thinking has never been the stoner’s strong suit.)

Studies indicate that high drivers focus their attention on situations that may require a response, resulting in slower and more careful—though not necessarily safer—driving, while drunk drivers exhibit riskier behaviors in proportion to their level of intoxication, such as blowing through stop signs or speeding through town. There’s a reason nearly 10,000 automotive deaths are caused by alcohol each year. But please, don’t misunderstand. Stoned driving is dangerous and likely illegal even if pot is legal.

False: Marijuana causes a lack of motivation

We all remember that guy in high school who smoked a lot of weed and never really ended up doing much with his life, right? You know, the one everyone in your hometown calls a “burnout.” People who smoke weed must all end up like that guy.

Even if you don’t believe this judgmental statement, the stereotype perpetuated by television, movies, and some of your high school buddies is that the typical stoner is a bit of a couch potato, needing to peel their atrophying muscles off the couch to walk to the kitchen and grab some munchies, which they probably don’t have because they’re too lazy to go to the store. And while some potheads are lazy, so are plenty of straight shooters. Likewise, plenty of weed smokers go on to become ultra-successful, just like that your square classmate who never did anything cool but runs a Fortune 500 company now.

Loads and loads of successful people have smoked pot, and we’re not just talking about the obvious ones, like Wiz Khalifa and the pizza-grubbin’ Ninja Turtles. Presidents and comedians and legendary athletes like LeBron James and Michael Phelps have taken plenty of bong hits to the face, while uber-rich Michael Bloomberg enthusiastically enjoyed indulging in some dank buds. The list goes on and on.

False: Marijuana is highly addictive

First of all, marijuana is addictive. Coffee is also addictive, as are cigarettes. Alcohol can certainly be addictive. What is not true, however, is that marijuana is highly addictive, like crack, amphetamines, or prescription painkillers—though this is what the Drug Enforcement Agency would like you to believe.

According to Time, only 10 percent of individuals who smoke marijuana become addicted to it—if we define addiction by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders model, which describes addiction as “the compulsive use of a substance despite ongoing negative consequences, which may lead to tolerance or withdrawal symptoms when the substance is stopped.” Ten percent is relatively low, especially when compared to the percentage of users dependent on tobacco, heroin, cocaine, and alcohol—all of which exhibit higher rates of addiction than marijuana. In addition to the comparatively lower rates of addiction, the Institute of Medicine‘s report “Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base” found that “marijuana dependence appears to be less severe than dependence on other drugs”—so you’re not going to find someone shaking and puking on the bathroom floor because they can’t get their weed fix. A heavy marijuana user trying to kick the habit might get a bit irritable, sure, but just tell them to go do some yoga and chill out.

False: Marijuana is harmless

Let’s keep it real—if you’re regularly ripping gravity bongs and smoking more blunts than Snoop Dogg, you’re probably not doing your lungs any favors.

First and foremost, the act of putting any kind of smoke in one’s lungs is going to be unhealthy. The belief that heavily smoking marijuana isn’t damaging your lungs, to some degree, is just plain silly. That’s not to say, however, that all smoke is created equal, and many studies have concluded that tobacco is far more harmful to one’s organs than weed. According to Robert Melamede’s article “Cannabis and tobacco smoke are not equally carcinogenic,” published in the Harm Reduction Journal, cannabis smoke hurts lung function and may knock lung cells into a pre-cancerous state, even if it lacks the direct causal link to cancers offered by tobacco. Marijuana, while presumably not as bad as tobacco, is still bad, as “the burning of plant material in the form of cigarettes generates a large variety of compounds that possess numerous biological activities.” Maybe you should look into vaping, bro.

Furthermore, using marijuana in any form can potentially have harmful effects on one’s brain, particularly because of THC—the stuff that gets you high. In the opinion of Dr. Sushrut Jangi in the Boston Globe: “Each hit of THC rewires the function of this critical cognitive system.”

It’s clear that marijuana has potentially harmful effects on one’s body and brain. So do alcohol, cigarettes, energy drinks, and candy. Thinking any of these things is harmless is just plain stupid. It’s all about moderation.

False: Marijuana prohibition protects kids

Some people believe the prohibition of marijuana protects children from its influence. Those people are wrong.

Kids are smoking pot more than ever, according to The New York Times, who claimed that, in 2011, one out of every 15 high schoolers was smoking weed on a daily basis. In 2012, CBS reported that kids smoke more pot than cigarettes. Roughly 70 percent of teens and adolescents believe there is no great risk in smoking weed once a month, according to VICE News. Given the number of kids smoking pot, and the use of marijuana being illegal under US federal law, it seems obvious that prohibition—more than ever—does little to protect underage individuals from the potentially harmful substance.

Conversely, it’s possible that the legalization of marijuana decreases the rate of teens using it. After Colorado passed Amendment 64 in 2012—effectively legalizing weed and treating it similarly to alcohol—usage by teens took a slight decline. That might not happen upon legalization in all parts of the United States, of course, but it’s interesting for now.

False: Marijuana is legal in Holland and Portugal

Ever had the bright idea, while stoned in your friend’s basement, of moving to the Netherlands or Portugal, just so you can smoke weed without the hassle of cops and whatnot? Well, you can—but it’s not technically as legal as you think.

In the Netherlands, cannabis is not legal, despite what many people commonly believe. The Dutch just officially turn a blind eye, having no interest in enforcing laws against shops and cafes. Growing your own plants, selling on the streets, or importing weed are all illegal offenses in the Netherlands.

Portugal is another story altogether, although some incorrectly think all drugs are legal there. Drugs in Portugal are not, in fact, legal—rather, personal use is decriminalized, punished with fines instead of jail. So smoking pot isn’t really going to land you in prison. Growing and selling weed, however, definitely will.

So, if you’re planning on moving to Holland or Portugal to smoke some weed in freedom, go ahead. Just know that it’s not entirely free, and have some extra cash saved up for that inevitable fine.

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