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.
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. And drugs have had important roles in many different civilizations. Just ask a First Nations medicinal healer. Or Sigmund Freud. Or Timothy Leary. Or....
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. Also, 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 some sort of gateway drug. The theory goes that smoking pot is automatically going to lead one to harder, more dangerous drugs. Antidrug campaigns have used this approach for years, essentially saying that if you avoid pot, then you are more likely to avoid other drugs too.
The Reality: Marijuana is a gateway to pleasure 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." There is nothing in marijuana that suddenly makes heroin or crack look attractive. It's sort of amazing that this point even needs to be argued.
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.