3 Pervasive Lies About Marijuana And The Stunning Truth
Most people are familiar with Reefer Madness, the 1936 propaganda film that stained the reputation of marijuana for decades. Now, we’ve gotten smart enough to know that smoking weed won’t turn us into flesh-eating zombies, but there are still a variety of lies and half-truths out there that deserve to be brought into the light. Here are just a few of those lies- and the science that disproves them.
1. Smoking Weed Kills Brain Cells
You remember the good old ‘it kills brain cells’ argument. Let’s look at this a bit more closely. In 1974, Dr. Robert Galbraith Heath received funding from the US government to perform the Heath/Tulane University study. Dr. Heath forced Rhesus Monkeys to smoke marijuana every day for 90 days, then performed autopsies on their brains and found that they possessed significant cell damage compared to the non-smoking monkeys. For years, this study was cited as ‘proof’ that smoking marijuana killed brain cells.
What they didn’t tell us was that Dr. Heath forced the monkeys to smoke the equivalent of 30 joints per day, every day, for three months. They also didn’t mention that the smoke was administered through a gas mask, which didn’t allow the monkeys to breathe oxygen for up to five minutes at a time. So, he essentially proved that oxygen deprivation kills brain cells, which we already knew.
The truth is that marijuana may actually enhance your brain. A study published in The International Journal Of Neuropsychopharmacology found that marijuana may cause neurogenesis, the growth and regeneration of brain cells, in the hippocampus. Your hippocampus is responsible for regulating emotion and cognitive function. This isn’t the first time we’ve discovered these facts. In 2005, a Canadian study discovered that THC, the component of marijuana that gets you ‘high’ actually encourages brain cell growth.
2. Smoking Marijuana Is Worse Than Smoking Cigarettes
In the 1970’s, a series of studies were performed on the carcinogenic effects of marijuana. The Berkeley studies concluded that smoking marijuana was more harmful to the lungs than smoking cigarettes. There’s just one problem with these results. They were smoking the wrong part of the plant. The researchers were comparing the effects of smoking the broad cannabis leaf instead of the flowers, which contain significantly less carcinogenic tar. Also, they didn’t take into account that marijuana smokers don’t smoke as much as tobacco users, who can smoke up to 60 cigarettes per day.
Donald Tashkin, Professor of Pulmonology at UCLA published a study in 2005 which shows that marijuana definitely does not produce lung cancer. Tashkin has been studying marijuana use for over 30 years. His earlier work in the 1970’s indicated that pot-smoking could lead to cancer, but needed more research. He surveyed over 1,200 people in the Los Angeles area extensively and discovered absolutely no correlation between smoking weed and developing lung cancer. In fact, based on his research, cannabis may actually provide some protection against the disease.
3. Marijuana Is Addictive
Okay, so this one isn’t really a lie- it’s a gross exaggeration of the truth. According the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), addiction is, “a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry.” It goes further by saying that addiction is “characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response.”
Translation: you can be addicted to anything. You are the variable factor in most cases of addiction.
Now that we’ve pointed out the obvious, let’s take a look at physical dependence- the measureable factors which make a substance more or less addictive. One study compares the addictive properties of various drugs by measuring 5 key factors: Dependence, Withdrawal, Tolerance, Reinforcement and Intoxication. Based on these criteria, marijuana may be just as addictive as caffeine (less dependant, but more intoxicating). It is less than half as addictive as nicotine and only a third as addictive as alcohol. These figures were released in 1994 by Jack E. Henningfield, PhD in an article about nicotine addiction.
Another popular study published in the 1990’s compares the dependency and addictiveness of marijuana, alcohol and tobacco. The findings indicate that 9% of marijuana users are likely to become addicted. Compare this to the 14% of alcohol users who are addicted and 24% of tobacco users who become addicted. Nine percent is actually very low.
Marijuana opponents have used a variety of tactics over the years to convince us that weed is bad. Truthfully, it may be one of the most healing and beneficial plants on earth. It’s time to set aside old ideas about marijuana- smoking pot won’t make us into zombies, we won’t go brain-dead and we’re just as likely to become addicted to weed as diet coke.