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).
Heavy Marijuana Use Doesn’t Damage Brain
Analysis of Studies Finds Little Effect From Long-Term Use
July 1, 2003 — Long-term and even daily marijuana use doesn’t appear to cause permanent brain damage, adding to evidence that it can be a safe and effective treatment for a wide range of diseases, say researchers.
The researchers found only a “very small” impairment in memory and learning among long-term marijuana users. Otherwise, scores on thinking tests were similar to those who don’t smoke marijuana, according to a new analysis of 15 previous studies.
In those studies, some 700 regular marijuana users were compared with 484 non-users on various aspects of brain function — including reaction time, language and motor skills, reasoning ability, memory, and the ability to learn new information.
“We were somewhat surprised by our finding, especially since there’s been a controversy for some years on whether long-term cannabis use causes brain damage,” says lead researcher and psychiatrist Igor Grant, MD.
“I suppose we expected to see some differences in people who were heavy users, but in fact the differences were very minimal.”
The marijuana users in those 15 studies — which lasted between three months to more than 13 years — had smoked marijuana several times a week or month or daily. Still, researchers say impairments were less than what is typically found from using alcohol or other drugs.
“All study participants were adults,” says Grant, professor of psychiatry and director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research Center at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.
“However, there might be a different set of circumstances to a 12-year-old whose nervous system is still developing.”
10 States OK Marijuana Use
Grant’s analysis, published in the July issue of the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, comes as many states consider laws allowing marijuana to be used to treat certain medical conditions. Earlier this year, Maryland became the 10 th state to allow marijuana use to relieve pain and other symptoms of AIDS, multiple sclerosis, cancer, glaucoma, and other conditions — joining Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.
Medicinal marijuana is available by prescription in the Netherlands and a new marijuana drug is expected to be released in Great Britain later this year. In the U.S. and elsewhere, Marinol, a drug that is a synthetic form of marijuana and contains its active ingredient, THC, is available by prescription to treat loss of appetite associated with weight loss in AIDS patients.
Grant says he did the analysis to help determine long-term toxicity from long-term and frequent marijuana use. His center is currently conducting 11 studies to determine its safety and efficacy in treating several diseases.
“This finding enables us to see a marginal level of safety, if those studies prove that cannabis can be effective,” Grant tells WebMD. “If we barely find this effect in long-term heavy users, then we are unlikely to see deleterious side effects in individuals who receive cannabis for a short time in a medical setting, which would be safer than what is practiced by street users.”
Grant’s findings come as no surprise to Tod Mikuriya, MD, former director of non-classified marijuana research for the National Institute of Mental Health Center for Narcotics and Drug Abuse Studies and author of The Marijuana Medical Handbook: A Guide to Therapeutic Use. He is currently president of the California Cannabis Medical Group, which has treated some 20,000 patients with medicinal marijuana and Marinol.
‘Highly Effective Medicine’
“I just re-published a paper of the first survey for marijuana toxicity done in 1863 by the British government in India that was the most exhaustive medical study of its time in regards to possible difficulties and toxicity of cannabis. And it reached the same conclusion as Grant,” Mikuriya tells WebMD.
“This is merely confirming what was known over 100 years ago, as well as what was learned by various government findings doing similar research — marijuana is not toxic, but it is a highly effective medicine.”
In fact, marijuana was available as a medicinal treatment in the U.S. until the 1930s.
Lester Grinspoon, MD, a retired Harvard Medical School psychiatrist who studied medicinal marijuana use since the 1960s and wrote two books on the topic, says that while Grant’s finding provides more evidence on its safety, “it’s nothing that those of us who have been studying this haven’t known for a very long time.
“Marijuana is a remarkably safe and non-toxic drug that can effectively treat about 30 different conditions,” he tells WebMD. “I predict it will become the aspirin of the 21 st century, as more people recognize this.”
SOURCES: The Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, July 2003. Igor Grant, MD, professor of psychiatry, University of California, San Diego School of Medicine; director, UCSD Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research Center. Tod Mikuriya, MD, president, the California Cannabis Research Medical Group, Oakland; former director of non-classified marijuana research, the National Institute of Mental Health Center for Narcotics and Drug Abuse Studies. Lester Grinspoon, MD, professor emeritus of psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston; author, Marijuana: The Forbidden Medicine and Marihuana Reconsidered.
Long-term and even daily marijuana use doesn’t appear to cause permanent brain damage, adding to evidence that it can be a safe and effective treatment for a wide range of diseases, say researchers.