Cannabis has long been a source of great debate. Proponents often tout its harmlessness and medicinal properties, while opponents cite its possible health risks and enduring status as a prohibited Schedule I drug. Even the term "marijuana" is controversial, and has racist origins dating back to the early 20th century. But both sides of the argument have fallen for some common misconceptions about pot. Is weed a perfect or innocuous substance? No. Is cannabis a dangerous threat to personal and public health? No. The truth tends to lie in the gray areas.
Given its still-illegal status in many countries, weed is often a subject clouded by misinformation, often perpetuated by outspoken figures who took strong, unfounded stances against the substance. These pot myths illustrate that there are some very basic things people misunderstand about marijuana, what it is, and what it can do. As the US has taken the first tentative steps to reevaluating its relationship with cannabis, it can be helpful to clear up some confusion.
Here's a rundown of marijuana myths you should stop believing. Oh, and don't call it marijuana, either, unless it's the medicinal stuff.
The Myth: All this marijuana legalization is just an excuse for people to smoke up. There's no real value in getting high, and the jury is still out on whether pot even has effective medicinal properties. Weed is a drug, and drugs serve no important purpose.
The Reality: Marijuana has very real medicinal benefits. In treating or allaying the symptoms of illnesses as diverse as epilepsy, cancer, fibromyalgia, and multiple sclerosis, weed can be a lifesaver. It is also helpful for those with social anxiety or panic disorder.
The Myth: Pot is pot. It all smokes the same and gets you high. This is another common, misguided perception about weed, usually the perspective of one who has little experience with pot or an unevolved understanding of the infinite strains and varieties of pot out there today.
The Reality: Not all pot is created equal. While THC (an active, naturally occurring ingredient in all types of weed) acts essentially the same way on the brain, the intensity and experience of the effects can differ wildly between different strains. The other active, naturally occurring ingredients in each strain produce varying sensations and experiences. According to the Scientific American, via High Times: "What sets strains apart from one another - the cause of their unique characteristics - is everything else that's in the plant: other cannabinoids, scent, and smell-determining terpenes."
The Myth: For decades, Americans have been inundated with the idea that marijuana is a gateway drug. The theory goes that smoking pot will likely, or even automatically, lead one to harder, more dangerous drugs. Antidrug campaigns have used this approach for years, essentially saying that if you avoid pot, you're more likely to avoid other substances, too.
The Reality: Marijuana is a gateway to being high and nothing more. There is ample research to back this up. According to Newsweek, "The vast majority of marijuana users do not go on to hard drugs." Chemically, there is nothing in marijuana that makes stronger narcotics seem more attractive.
The Myth: Lawmakers who legislate anti-pot policies usually say they're trying to protect children and teenagers from the dangers of weed. And then there are programs like D.A.R.E., endlessly promoted in schools... and remarkably ineffective.
The Reality: If a teenager wants to smoke weed, they're usually going to find a way to smoke weed. Instead of anti-pot laws protecting kids from the drug, marijuana use among teens has increased in the 2010s, at times even reaching record levels.