Cannabis Myths You Should Really Stop Believing

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. On the other side of that, there have long been many celebrity cannabis connoisseurs who have tried to preach the benefits of the drug. 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.

  • Pot Is Just An Excuse To Get High And Has No 'Real' Medicinal Properties

    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.

  • You Get The Same High From All Types Of Pot

    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."

  • Weed Is A 'Gateway Drug'

    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.

  • Marijuana Laws Prevent Teens From Smoking

    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.

  • Smoking Pot Causes Cancer

    The Myth: Since most people who consume weed smoke it, it stands to reason there must be some clearly defined link between pot-smoking and cancer. After all, you're still smoking a substance, and smoking cigarettes causes cancer, so smoking pot must do the same. Any kind of smoking is a one-way ticket to cancer.

    The Reality: There are some carcinogens in pot smoke, and carcinogens are never good - that much is true. But is there a definite correlation between smoking weed and developing cancer? No. First of all, pot-smokers smoke far less pot than cigarettes smokers smoke cigs, so just on simple volume the two activities are not in the same range. Second, while Mary Jane does contain carcinogens, it doesn't contain the same high amount of other dangerous chemicals contained in cigarettes.

  • Weed Will Make You A Criminal

    The Myth: Weed has been demonized as a path straight to debauchery, lawlessness, and a life of crime. This mythology is rooted in paranoia from the 1930s, in which racism played a major role in cracking down on marijuana laws. Newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst spread the rumor that Mexican immigrants were dangerous because of marijuana use. There were also claims that pot caused white women to become sexually involved with men of color and that it made men of color more aggressive toward white women.

    The Reality: There has never been a direct correlation between pot-smoking and increased crime rates. In fact, studies suggest just the opposite is true - in large part because having legal access to medical marijuana means users deal less frequently with drug traffickers. According to the study published by The Economic Journal, violence and illegal drug trafficking go hand in hand. The drug itself does not transform its users into violent criminals.