Leafcann: common misconceptions about cannabis
Leafcann Group CEO Elisabetta Faenza explores harmful myths around medical and adult use cannabis.
Leafcann is aware that perhaps no other plant causes as much debate as the cannabis plant. Its usage and popularity throughout the ages has led to it being branded a super medicine by some, stigmatised as an evil on society by others; and many other points of view within that spectrum.
Regardless of advances in research and the increasing evidence base which supports the use of medicinal cannabis, several myths and misconceptions persist and occasionally gain traction in the media. Some of these stories provide light entertainment while others unfortunately harm the reputation of cannabis as a medicine.
These myths and misconceptions include how dangerous cannabis usage is, its ability to cause addiction, its function as a gateway drug and so on. This article will look at some of the more common myths and misconceptions.
Leafcann expels the myths about the dangers of cannabis use
Cannabis can kill you
You cannot overdose on cannabis like you can on other drugs such as opioids. Studies have found that a person would have to consume about 1,000 pounds per minute for 15 minutes in order to fatally overdose on cannabis. That’s 6,800kg in 15 minutes – which is highly unlikely.
Cannabis causes brain damage
Although cannabis use in adults has been found to affect a person’s motor skills, attention span and short term memory while intoxicated, it has been found that the differences between brain function of heavy users and that of non-users is minimal in the long term, with the results much better for cannabis users than those found for heavy users of alcohol and other illicit drugs.
There is a widely held misconception that cannabis, like alcohol, can kill brain cells. Heavy alcohol consumption, however, does damage the ends of neurons, making it difficult for them to relay messages to each other but does not kill brain cells.
The cannabis myth came about due to a few infamous animal experiments in which structural changes were said to be observed in brain cells of animals exposed to high doses of cannabis. Unfortunately, there are those that continue to cite the infamous RG Heath study using two Rhesus monkeys which has since been discredited. In fact, subsequent studies with more rigorous controls have found no evidence of alteration in the brains of monkeys. 1
Cannabis causes psychosis and bipolar disorder
This is a much-contested claim about cannabis. There is no question that some cannabis users have experienced psychosis. However, what is becoming more apparent is that those who have experienced some form of psychosis have been found to have a susceptibility to it. Such susceptibilities may include a person’s genetic makeup, a history of child abuse, head injuries or infections, their socioeconomic status and other factors.
Although most experts agree that cannabis use alone doesn’t trigger psychosis or conditions such as bipolar disorder, there is a possibility it could trigger psychosis in those who already have the condition. Studies have also found that cannabis is the most commonly abused drug among those diagnosed with bipolar disorder. 2 This abuse of cannabis increases the chances of an adverse reaction over time. As a counterpoint, research is now showing that medicinal cannabis has a part to play in stabilising a patient’s mood and alleviating the symptoms of depression.
Vaporising is just as bad as smoking
Smoking is not accepted as a satisfactory delivery method for any medicine amongst the medical community. While the dangers of smoking cannabis are disputed, vaporising is considered a safer way to consume cannabis. Vaporising burns cannabis below its combustion temperature and therefore does not produce smoke, leaving the user to consume cannabis just as they would through other delivery methods such as oils, edibles and tablets.
The recent spate of deaths from recreational vaporiser use were the result of poorly constructed vaporisers containing unknown poisonous chemicals. This was due to unlicensed operators working outside the regulatory environment and without proper manufacturing processes in place. Licensed medicinal cannabis manufacturers work to strict standards which provide assurance on the composition of each vaporiser and the content within them. They do not create products that are dangerous to the public.
Synthetic cannabis is better than natural cannabis
There are two elements to this misconception. Synthetic cannabis produced for medicinal purposes in a laboratory under good manufacturing practice (GMP) standards is safe to use. Each batch produced is tested to ensure it contains only what is written on the label.
However, synthetic cannabis produced for recreational use without the required checks and measures can be dangerous and should be avoided. These products are mass produced in a process that produces a liquid which is mixed with dry vegetation for the purpose of smoking. The whole process occurs with no precision or accuracy. One batch can consist of several packets that are very different in composition. Testing by authorities in the US after several people died found external agents such as faeces, rat poison and dangerous opioids.
As far as recreational use goes, the cannabis plant’s ability to intoxicate with THC is balanced, to some extent, by CBD’s ability to relax and prevent paranoia. Creating a useful synthetic THC-only product is possible in a GMP standard laboratory, but dangerous otherwise.
All medicinal cannabis products get you high
This simply is not true and is a remnant of the scaremongering once used by anti-cannabis advocates. Thankfully, greater public education has been undertaken in most countries legalising medicinal cannabis and people are more aware that it is the THC cannabinoid that has psychoactive properties and not others such as CBD. The increasing number of products with CBD in them are becoming popular, particularly because they do not have any psychoactive properties.
Edibles are the least psychoactive cannabis product
Edible forms of cannabis can come in the form of lollipops, chocolates and other sweets. This gives some people the impression that they contain low doses of THC. In fact, cannabis oil as a concentrate is used in edibles and can lead to products with strong doses of THC.
This means that care must be taken in the production process to ensure the concentrate is evenly distributed and tested. Otherwise, it may lead to very high dose products that can cause adverse reactions. Furthermore, edibles take much longer to be absorbed into the bloodstream, which can lead to some people assuming the product hasn’t worked and then opting to consume a second edible before the first takes effect.
Having two strong doses of THC in the body can, in some cases, lead to adverse reactions such as a sudden drop of blood pressure and panic attacks. Caution should be exercised with edible cannabis products.
Myths about addiction
Cannabis is addictive
This is another misconception about recreational cannabis use which is based on variable, and often unreliable, statistics. It should be noted that the risks of developing a cannabis use disorder for medicinal cannabis are minimal. Dose titration and regular consultations with a health professional ensure a patient is taking only what they need for their condition and THC levels are lower than those found in recreational use cannabis, with a few exceptions. Given cannabis’ safe history of use compared with opioids, the risks of adverse outcomes related to addiction are unlikely.
The US National Institute on Drug Abuse states that recreational cannabis use can lead to the development of problem use, known as cannabis use disorder, which in the more severe cases can take the form of addiction. 3 Estimates in the US show that around 7% to 9% of cannabis users will develop a cannabis use disorder. However, those who start using cannabis before the age of 18 are four to seven times more likely to develop a cannabis use disorder than those who start using later in life, meaning the 7% to 9% statistic is far lower for those who start using as an adult. To put this into context, around 15% of cocaine users and 24% of heroin users become clinically dependent.
Cannabis is a gateway drug
Cannabis is the most widely used, and most widely available, illicit drug in the world. Therefore, it is not uncommon for it to be the first drug used by many; although many cannabis users would have tried nicotine and/or alcohol first. It is logical that those who want to consume other drugs have tried cannabis first; however, this does not mean they are causally linked. In fact, there are more people that try cannabis and stop further drug consumption than those who go on to other drugs such as cocaine and heroin.
Correlation does not equal causation. The propensity and willingness to try drugs means that those who go on to other hard drugs after cannabis would have tried those drugs earlier if they were available. The small percentage of hard drug users compared to the substantially higher percentage of cannabis users supports the claim cannabis is not a gateway drug. 4
The situation for medicinal cannabis shows an even lesser chance of patients using it as a gateway drug. Indeed, many patients have moved on to medicinal cannabis after enduring many years of opioid use and sometimes opioid addiction. The safe history of use makes medicinal cannabis an ideal transition away from dangerous opioids.
Other myths and misconceptions
You can beat a cannabis drug test
The internet has many popular tales of how to beat a drug test. Apart from swapping urine samples there is no way to beat a urine test without raising the suspicion of testers.
Drug tests look for THC levels only and no other cannabinoids such as cannabidiol. THC binds to fat cells in the body and therefore takes longer to exit the body than other hard drugs such as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines. There is no specific rule to follow when predicting how long THC will stay in your body and everyone is different. Variable factors include how often THC has been consumed (medicinal or recreational), its concentration, the amount of body fat a person has and their lifestyle habits, and the type of drug test being conducted.
Urine tests can test for THC up to around 30 days after last consumption for a regular user and about three to four days for someone who only consumes cannabis a few times a year. Saliva tests usually only test for THC up to 24 hours after last use, although new technology now exists with some tests able to detect up to 72 hours. Hair tests are the most sensitive and can detect THC up to three months after last use.
There is no known method of beating a urine test without raising suspicion. Drinking excess water or other liquids to dilute a sample is easily detected and the myth of exercising immediately before a test will only serve to increase the level of THC as the body’s metabolism works to release THC from fat cells during intense exercise. Money spent on kits to beat drug tests is wasted because analytical laboratories now test for dilution and other agents.
Misconceptions about the difference between hemp and cannabis
There are many common misconceptions about hemp and its relationship to cannabis. These include:
- Hemp is a different plant species to cannabis;
- Hemp is the male plant and cannabis is the female plant; and
- Medicine derived from hemp (such as cannabidiol) is different to that of cannabis.
These statements are all incorrect. Hemp is a cannabis sativa cultivar. Therefore, hemp is a cannabis plant. The only difference is that hemp contains very minor traces of THC (generally well below 1% THC).
Hemp and cannabis plants can be male or female. The big difference is that only female cannabis plants are used to extract cannabinoids from the flower (for medicinal or recreational use), whereas both male and female hemp plants are used, depending on what is to be produced. Hemp fibre is used for industrial purposes and its seeds are used in food products.
Another misconception is that by growing hemp you can extract as much CBD as you can from cannabis plants. Under international law only cannabinoid derivatives extracted from the stem or seed are permissible. While CBD extracted from the flowering tops of hemp plants may be legal in some US states, the import of these products is prohibited in most nations and by the Single Convention. Increased testing by federal agencies is now leading to large fines and criminal prosecution of importers and retailers of these types of products.
- Slikker Jr W, Paule MG, Ali SF, Scallet AC, Bailey JR (1991). Chronic marijuana smoke exposure in the rhesus monkey I. Plasma cannabinoid and blood carboxyhemoglobin concentrations and clinical chemistry parameters. Fundam Appl Toxicol 17: 321–334.
- Leweke F, Koethe D. Cannabis and psychiatric disorders: it is not only addiction. Addict Biol. 2008;13(2):264–275. Review.
- US NIDA website https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/marijuana-addictive
- Drug Policy Alliance website: Debunking the Gateway Myth. http://www.drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/DebunkingGatewayMyth_NY_0.pdf
Leafcann Group Pty Ltd
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This article will appear in the second issue of Medical Cannabis Network which is out in April. Click here to get your free subscription today.
Leafcann Group CEO Elisabetta Faenza explores harmful myths around medical and adult use cannabis.
Misconceptions About Marijuana: 8 Common Weed Myths Busted
Marijuana is one of the most-talked about substances in the world.
During the previous years of decriminalization and legalization of marijuana, anti-marijuana advocates would use all means possible to diminish the positive effects that marijuana has.
On the other hand, pro marijuana movement and especially marijuana sellers would tell you anything to sell their product, and marijuana is often advertised as the heaven-sent cure for all your medical problems. As in most of the cases, the truth is somewhere in the middle and we decided to give you straight answers, once and for all.
Here is our list of 8 common myths about marijuana and the scientific facts that prove them wrong:
Marijuana leads to use of “harder” narcotics (aka the gateway drug theory)
This gateway theory is one of the best known anti-marijuana propaganda angles. Will pot smokers turn into opioid or heroin addicts?
A look at the 2017 results from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health as a sample, shows that almost 123 million Americans were users of marijuana, while only 5.3 million were heroin users.
If we assume that every heroin addict of that 5.3 million was a pot smoker first, we come to the conclusion that only 4.3% of 123 million pot smokers have tried heroin.
I’m not an expert on this, but given the low percentage this seems to be a rather weak correlation between marijuana and heroin users. The use of one substance does not always lead to the cause of an addiction to another.
Maybe the best explanation of this “undefined” correlation is not biological, but sociological and psychological. An individual who uses marijuana as a coping mechanism for their problems and negative feelings will probably seek other “stronger” drugs as well, but here the problem is not with marijuana, but the person’s inability to cope with their own emotions.
Marijuana is NOT addictive
“I am not addicted to pot, I just enjoy it a lot” – if only I had a nickel for every time I heard this one. Maybe addiction is a harsh word, because cannabis is not physically addictive and 90% of regular cannabis users will experience no withdrawal symptoms after they stop using cannabis.
However, a small portion of pot smokers can develop cannabis dependence or to use a milder term around scientific circles: cannabis use disorder. There is even a study that suggests that people who start using cannabis in their adolescence are four to seven times more likely to develop cannabis use disorder than adults.
The American Psychiatric Association has issued The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DMS-5) which presents a list of disorders that includes cannabis use disorder. In that list are the 11 criteria that are used to identify the cannabis use disorder, and if you want to know more about this you should check our other article: Is Marijuana Addictive? Here’s What the Science Says.
The bottom line is, marijuana can be addictive if you’re finding that marijuana interferes with many aspects of your life.
Marijuana kills brain cells
Brain damage stories can be traced back to the ‘70s, when Dr. Robert G. Heath published his notorious rhesus monkey study.
He heavily dosed monkeys with cannabis and reported brain damage in two of them. Later on it was disproved. The truth is, there is no evidence to support the claim that marijuana has neurotoxic effects, only minor short-term memory loss problems can occur if you smoke extremely potent weed.
When I say minor I mean: “Oh, gosh, I don’t know where I put my keys” kind of a problem. And your memory will get back to normal after the high is over.
Some preliminary research has found that cannabinoids (both THC and CBD) actually can reduce neurotoxicity and that cannabis can protect the brain from damage associated with dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Marijuana Effects on the Brain
Driving stoned is safer than driving drunk
Driving under the influence of any mind-altering substance has the potential to impair your driving skills and can lead to life-threatening situations. Comparing which of the two substances – pot or alcohol – is safer to use when they’re both dangerous for driving a vehicle, is completely ridiculous.
However, there’s one thing that should be mentioned. When you’re high, your coordination, judgment and reaction time significantly decreases. However, the “high” effect of marijuana is only due to THC (delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the psychoactive substance in marijuana.
Under the 2018 Farm Bill that was passed into legislation in the US, it is now legal to grow hemp and manufacture products containing hemp-based CBD extracts that can be safely consumed. This is because hemp-derived CBD extracts (less than 0.3% THC), aren’t psychoactive, so they don’t get you high and should be safe enough to drive depending on your overall condition.
This Is What People Search Online in Relation to Weed. Seriously.
Eating raw weed will get you high
First of all, I don’t understand why anyone would want to eat raw buds, but, then again, everyone has their own preferences.
Second of all, the answer is NO, you won’t get high by ingesting raw cannabis. You’ll only feel a slight buzz after eating a lot of weed. Why?
Let’s apply a little bit of chemistry background for this one. Raw weed contains many naturally-occurring chemicals called cannabinoids but psychoactive THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) is not one of them.
Instead, raw weed contains the non-psychoactive cannabinoid THCA (Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid) that needs to be decarboxylated (exposed to heat) to convert into THC. Only then is the psychoactive compound activated and you will experience good old “high”.
You can overdose on weed
This is a highly unlikely event. If by overdosing you mean taking a lethal amount (measured by LD50 – Median lethal dose) of cannabis, it would take somewhere between 1,270 milligrams of THC per kilogram of body weight to 666 mg/kg at once. This is equal to 557miligrams per pound to 303mg/pound.
Even if we take the lower figure, an average 155 pound (70 kg) human would have to ingest 47 grams of pure THC in a period of 15 minutes to theoretically overdose on cannabis.
The Science of Overdosing on Cannabis — No, You Can’t Die From It
Just for comparison, lethal dose of caffeine is 150-200 milligrams per kilogram (2.2 lb) of body mass, nicotine is 13–50 mg per kilogram, while aspirin LD50 is 200 mg per kilogram. In other words, it is much easier to overdose on coffee, cigarettes and aspirin than on cannabis.
Marijuana is just as harmful as cigarettes
Before we get into details why this may or may not be true, you should bear in mind that any type of smoke inhalation drastically increases the risk of lung and throat cancer.
One should note that marijuana smoke is not harmless. It contains a significant level of cancerogenic chemicals including 50% more benzopyrene and 75% more benzanthracene than cigarette smoke. It also contains tar and other volatile chemicals present in cigarettes, with a major exception of nicotine.
In addition, there are significant differences between smoking a cigarette and smoking marijuana.
First of all, there’s quantity. While a regular smoker can go through an average of 20 cigarettes per day, even a heavy marijuana smoker will not consume more than a few joints per day.
Second, there’s the way you inhale smoke. Marijuana smokers take deep and long puffs and hold their breath around four times longer than the average cigarette smoker.
So it’s hard to compare the effects of these two substances, especially when they’re often consumed together. But, there is one interesting study led by The University of California that compared the long-term effects of cigarette and marijuana smoking.
Researchers followed a group of 5,115 adults over the course of 20 years. And there was no surprise with cigarette smoking: the increased exposure to tobacco led to the consistent loss of lung capacity and function.
But the marijuana results raised more questions. It was discovered that lung capacity of pot smokers would elevate with increased exposure to marijuana up to a certain level (one joint per day for seven years or one joint per week for up to 49 years). To some extent, it seems that marijuana can be good for increasing your lung capacity.
Final verdict: marijuana is definitely not as harmful as cigarette smoking!
What Is the Healthiest Way to Smoke Weed?
Marijuana makes you creative
I am still not convinced that marijuana doesn’t make you creative. From a personal perspective, when I smoke, I have a feeling that I am more flexible and open to new perspectives, I don’t bother myself with “common man thoughts,” but rather explore the hidden patterns of the real world. I am relaxed, present “in the moment” and more concentrated on whatever I am doing.
But, it seems that this feeling of being creative while high is just an illusion, and that “feeling creative” and “being creative” are two totally different concepts.
A study from 2014. examined the effect of marijuana on a measure of creativity called divergent thinking (the ability to generate creative ideas and solutions to different problems).
The findings suggested that high potent cannabis actually impairs divergent thinking, while low potent cannabis had no impact on their creative process.
Another study also measured a difference in divergent thinking (4 divergent thinking factors: fluency, flexibility, originality and elaboration) among regular and novice marijuana users.
Results showed that smoking marijuana had no positive effect on creative thinking among novice users while it significantly reduced creativity among regular users.
They also found that the most creative were regular users when they thought that they were using marijuana, when in fact they took a placebo.
So, the final verdict on this one is still unclear and maybe the “real effect” of marijuana is not boosting your creativity but rather boosting your perception of your own creativity. However, sometimes a little confidence is all you need to move from “ground zero” and start a path to creative success.
There are a lot of misconceptions about marijuana, but which are false? We’re debunking the most common ones and set the story straight.