7 Myths About Marijuana and Your Health
1. I can’t become addicted to marijuana
In 2010, marijuana’s addiction rate meant that 4.5 million Americans met the criteria for abuse and dependency. That accounts for more marijuana addicts in the United States than Americans addicted to prescription pain relievers, cocaine, tranquilizers, hallucinogens, and heroin combined.
Marijuana may not be as addictive as tobacco or heroin, but 1 in every 6 teens (and 1 in every 11 adults) who ever try marijuana will become addicted to it. Just as with alcohol and tobacco, most chronic marijuana users who attempt to stop ‘cold turkey’ will experience an array of withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, restlessness, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and/or cravings. These are classic signs of dependency. Marijuana is about as addictive as alcohol. Teens are particularly vulnerable to addiction, since their brains are being primed and are under rapid development until age 25. So it’s no surprise that more youth are in treatment for marijuana dependence than for alcohol or any other drug combined.
2. Today’s marijuana is the same old Woodstock weed my parents used
Although your parents may have smoked once, twice, or even 50 times during their adolescence, the marijuana they smoked was over ten times weaker, and therefore less harmful, than the marijuana found today.-Kevin A. Sabet
The main psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana, THC, has significantly increased in potency during the past 50 years: in the 1960s and 1970s, THC levels smoked by baby boomers averaged around 1%, increasing to just under 4% in 1983, and more than tripling in the subsequent 30 years to around 14% in 2011. This increase in potency is similar to comparing a ‘lite’ beer a day to a dozen shots of vodka. What are the consequences of intensified marijuana potency? Emergency Room admissions for marijuana-related reactions increased nearly twenty five-fold between 1991 and 2008, while the actual number of users stayed the same. Although your parents may have smoked once, twice, or even 50 times during their adolescence, the marijuana they smoked was over ten times weaker, and therefore less harmful, than the marijuana found today. In fact, the kind of marijuana often smoked by today’s teens – which has upwards of 20-30 percent THC – was totally unheard of just two decades ago.
3. Smoking marijuana once in a while won’t harm me as a teen
Research shows that teens who smoke marijuana once a week over a two-year period are almost six times more likely than nonsmokers to drop out of school and over three times less likely to enter college.
In a study of over 1,000 people in 2012, scientists found that using marijuana regularly before the age of 18 results in an average IQ of six to eight fewer points at age 38 relative to those who did not use before 18. These results still held for those who used regularly as teens, but stopped after 18.
Less than half of American teens perceive a “great risk” in smoking marijuana once a week or twice a week. Yet, regular marijuana use can have serious consequences on adolescents. Research shows that teens who smoke marijuana once a week over a two-year period are almost six times more likely than nonsmokers to drop out of school and over three times less likely to enter college. Even more seriously, marijuana use is strongly associated with stunted emotional development. In particular, females who smoke marijuana show a great vulnerability to heightened risk of anxiety attacks and depression. According to a study published in the British Medical Journal, daily use among adolescent girls is associated with a fivefold increase in the risk of depression and anxiety. Moreover, youth who begin smoking marijuana at an earlier age are more likely to have an impaired ability to experience normal emotional responses. The link between marijuana use and mental health extends beyond anxiety and depression. Marijuana users have a six times higher risk of schizophrenia, are significantly more likely to development other psychotic illnesses.
4. Marijuana is not tobacco – it won’t harm my lungs
For most people, common sense would suggest that drawing smoke into the lungs isn’t natural, and whether it’s tobacco smoke or marijuana smoke, there are bound to be some health consequences. The fact is, according to the American Lung Association, marijuana smoke contains 50-70% more carcinogenic smoke than tobacco. In addition, marijuana users often inhale more deeply and hold their breath longer than tobacco smokers do, further extending the lungs’ exposure to dangerous smoke. Other respiratory consequences of marijuana use include airflow obstruction, increased prevalence of acute and chronic bronchitis, and a potential disposition to developing lung cancer (though a precise link to cancer has not been found). Moreover, a 2007 study found that the airflow obstruction effects of smoking a marijuana joint are comparable to smoking two and a half to five cigarettes. Marijuana is not tobacco – it many ways it just might be worse.
5. I can’t die from marijuana use
Dabbing involves inhaling very strong concentrates of marijuana, called Butane Hash Oil, which often exceed 80% of THC content. Users can inhale so much concentrated smoke at once that they pass out. Even regular cannabis smokers, who have been using the drug for years, often express shock and astonishment after dabbing, often referring to it as ‘the crack of marijuana.’
Our notion of drug-related deaths comes from people overdosing on large amounts of drugs such as crack/cocaine, heroin, or prescription drugs, and then dying shortly after. Like tobacco, one cannot “overdose and die” from marijuana, but it is possible to suffer acute panic attacks and other major short term health risks from smoking or eating marijuana (that is why almost 400,000 emergency room admissions a year are related to marijuana ). Additionally, an alternate form of inhaling marijuana, called ‘dabbing’, which has recently grown in popularity, is responsible for a rising number of marijuana-related overdoses and 911 calls.
6. Marijuana is medicine
Many plants, including marijuana, have medicinal properties. But that doesn’t mean that in order to derive those medicinal benefits, we should smoke or ingest its raw, crude form. After all, we don’t smoke opium to get the benefits of morphine. A distinction must be made between raw, crude marijuana and marijuana’s components. But ‘medical’ marijuana, as it stands today, has turned into a sad joke.
Though smoked or ingested marijuana is not medicine, marijuana has medicinal properties that have been developed into FDA-approved medicines. Dronabinol (also known as Marinol®) is a capsule containing lab-made THC and is widely available at pharmacies to treat nausea/vomiting from cancer chemotherapy. Also, an orally administered spray to treat spasticity from MS (called Sativex®) is already approved in Canada and in Europe, and is currently being studied in the US. The process of developing marijuana-based medicines is underway, although it needs improvement.
The average medical marijuana ‘patient’ in California is a 32-year old white male, with a history of substance abuse, and no history of life-threatening illness. Of all these patients, 88% had tried marijuana before age 19, and 75% and 50% had used cocaine and methamphetamine, respectively, in their lifetime. In Colorado and Oregon, less than 4% reported using medical marijuana to treat cancer, HIV/AIDS, or glaucoma. Furthermore, the proportion of patients in theses states using medical marijuana to treat ‘chronic pain’ are 96% and 91%, respectively. These statistics are consistent throughout the country.
The expansion of medical marijuana laws throughout the US in the last few decades has borne with it damaging consequences. Research shows that residents of states with medical marijuana laws have abuse and dependence rates almost twice as high as states with no such laws, and teen use rates are significantly higher in states with medical marijuana laws compared to other states. Moreover, youth perception rates of the harmful effects of marijuana have significantly decreased in states that have legalized medical marijuana. But who can blame them? The current system of medical marijuana in the United States is sending out the message to teens that ‘If smoked pot is medicine and sanctioned by the state, then it must be safe to use.’
7. Marijuana will make me a more focused and better driver
A common misconception, particularly among youth, is that cannabis use does not impair one’s performance. But in reality, getting high on marijuana and operating a vehicle isn’t much different from getting drunk and trying to drive. A recent study on marijuana use and driving over the past two decades concludes that high drivers are twice as likely as other drivers to be involved in a car accident, and this risk increases with increased frequency of use and higher doses of marijuana. Another study found that regular marijuana users are almost ten times more likely to be in a car crash than nonusers. Marijuana use impairs a driver’s sense of spatial location, time, and speed, making them more like to follow cars too closely and to swerve in and out of lanes. Marijuana use may impair one’s performance differently than alcohol use does, but it impairs it nonetheless.
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