Marijuana has long been a source of great debate, with proponents touting 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 substance? No. Is cannabis a dangerous threat to personal and public health? No. With weed, as with life, the truth tends to lie in the gray areas.
Given its still-illegal status in many countries, weed is often a subject clouded (pun intended) 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 takes the first tentative steps to reevaluating its relationship with weed, it can be helpful to clear up some of the confusion surrounding the lighting of a joint or the smoking of a bowl.
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.
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 ridiculous 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 violent toward white women.
The Reality: There has never been a direct correlation between pot-smoking and increased crime rates. In fact, just the opposite is true. Anyone who's ever smoked weed will tell you that pot makes you want to melt into your couch, eat 17 bags of Doritos, and binge-watch The Simpsons. It doesn't transform you into a criminal.
Marijuana Laws Prevent Teens From Smoking
The Myth: Lawmakers who legislate anti-pot policies usually say that 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. This misconception is due, in large part, to all the "concerned citizens" who wring their hands and shout, "Won't somebody think of the children?!?"
The Reality: If a teenager wants to smoke weed, they're going to find a way to smoke weed. Instead of anti-pot laws protecting kids from (nonexistent) dangers, marijuana use by teens is at a record high. Remember that next time a lawmaker claims they are saving children from the ravages of pot.
Smoking Pot Causes Cancer
The Myth: Since most people who consume weed smoke it, it stands to reason that there must be some clearly defined link between weed-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, those who smoke pot smoke far less weed than cigarette smokers smoke cigs. Second, while Mary Jane does contain carcinogens, it doesn't contain the same high amount of other dangerous chemicals contained in cigarettes.
Weed Causes Psychosis And Other Mental Health Problems
The Myth: This one likely had its start in all the anti-pot paranoia of the 1930s. If weed — as the popular (false and racist) narrative of that time went — caused Mexican immigrants to lash out and white women to seek out sex with black men, then the drug must cause mental health issues or at least some sort of psychosis, right? Nope. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
The Reality: For a small percentage of the population, weed can induce some moderate, temporary anxiety and paranoia. But there has never been any credible evidence that marijuana causes psychosis or other mental health issues. Pot tends to relax most people, calming instead of agitating the mind and encouraging feel-good neurotransmitters to naturally flood the brain.