A spat of articles on the dangers of marijuana have been published in recent weeks, castigating the plant in numerous ways with information that is as misleading as it is non-scientific. The root cause is a report published in early October by Professor Wayne Hall, Director of the Center for Youth Substance Abuse Research at the University of Queensland. Hall voices concerns about cannabis use by adolescents, pregnant women, and drivers out on the road—all of which we agree with. Problems arise when media outlets take this very sober and even handed report and lend their sensationalist interpretations.

Hall himself is an outspoken critic of cannabis. The report he published is not based on any new research, but rather is a survey of the experiments and studies conducted by others on the plant over the past two decades.  

Looking at the report itself, nothing shocking or new is being brought to light. Since the legalization of adult use cannabis, no one is running around arguing that adolescents or pregnant women should smoke marijuana. Everyone knows that driving while under the influence is dangerous. However, some of his findings with regards to educational attainment, mental disorders, and cognitive abilities need to be examined more closely—something these sensationalist reports did not take the time to do.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen some ridiculous claims--that marijuana is as addictive as heroin, that it makes your stupider, that it has numerous side effects, including mental illness and schizophrenia, that it is a harmful “gateway drug”, and that is limits educational ability and causes kids to drop out of school.

Almost every single one of these claims has been challenged publically in the past.

The gateway drug theory is notoriously weak—we challenged it, as have many others. Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Dr. Henry David Abrahams, contests that tobacco smoking, not cannabis, is actually far more likely to lead to drug and alcohol abuse later in life. 

With regards to there being a connection between cannabis use and how far one goes in school, other individuals looking at the same data came off with a very different conclusion. Like many of these findings in this report, there is a lack of causality. It’s still unclear whether people dropped out of school because they were smoking marijuana, or if people that drop out of school are also more likely to use with cannabis.

The correlation between cannabis use and cognitive impairment is also shaky, as there are confounding factors at work--notably, socioeconomic status.

As for the addictive nature of the drug, we are the first to admit that regular cannabis use can lead to dependency—though it’s highly unlikely. Hall writes, “The life-time risk of developing dependence among those who have ever used cannabis was estimated at 9% in the United States in the early 1990s as against 32% for nicotine, 23% for heroin, 17% for cocaine, 15% for alcohol and 11% for stimulants." So, more than 90% of people who try cannabis don’t get addicted. 

Do some people do have dysfunctional relationships with cannabis? Yes. But saying that it is as addictive as heroin, and that there are withdrawal symptoms and physical cravings, is erroneous.

With reference to whether or not these is a link between mental disorders and cannabis use, it’s difficult to tell. “If the relationship were causal, cannabis use would produce a very modest increase in [overall] incidence," he writes. From this we can conclude that if a person has pre-existing mental conditions, it may not be a good idea to use cannabis (or alcohol, or any other drug for that matter).

Other interesting points the report made of note:

  • You can't overdose from cannabis. Great news for those new to the plant.
  • Regular smoking of cannabis can be linked with chronic bronchitis. Inhaling flaming plant material tends to do that.
  • Teens, pregnant women, and those getting behind the wheel should not partake in cannabis at all. Again, this is not new news.

Cannabis is obviously a hot topic right now, and there are more than enough unscrupulous hacks out there looking to cash in on the plant’s mainstream popularity. What these journalists don’t understand, or maybe what they should consider, is that maligning cannabis not only hurts the reputation of the plant at this critical time in the public eye, but also all the medical patients who desperately need this relief. There are families uprooting their entire lives to move to states that are friendly to medical cannabis for the benefit of a child or family member. Misinterpretations and maligning stories like these that are intentionally trying to stir up controversy for their own benefit need to be expunged from public discourse. It’s our job as cannabis advocates and business professionals to show the world the benefits of this magnificent plant. And so we will.  

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