Like it or not, marijuana use has increased exponentially since President Nixon declared a war no drugs in 1971.
Today, marijuana — or weed, pot, cannabis, Mary Jane — is the third most popular recreational drug in the United States, behind only alcohol and tobacco. Upward of 24 million people have used it, based on the latest estimates, with 14 million using it regularly. But despite a growing warmth toward the drug, and two states (Washington and Colorado) legalizing its recreational use, there are still some people on the fence about its safety and usefulness. So, to educate you nonbelievers out there, here are five marijuana myths debunked.
It’s a Gateway Drug
This may be the biggest farce cooked up by marijuana opponents, but it makes sense. People who have tried marijuana may eventually go on to try harder drugs in search of a stronger high, and their experimentation leads them down a dangerous path toward addiction. But the science behind whether or not this is true overwhelmingly shows that it’s not.
“Because it is the most widely used illicit drug, marijuana is predictably the first illicit drug most people encounter,” a report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) said. “In the sense that marijuana use typically precedes rather than follows initiation of other illicit drug use, it is indeed a ‘gateway’ drug.
But because underage smoking and alcohol use typically precede marijuana use, marijuana is not the most common and is rarely the first ‘gateway’ to illicit drug use. There is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.”
So what is the cause of other illicit drug use? As the IOM report suggested, other studies have also implicated alcohol and tobacco use as gateway drugs. But an alternative gateway may just be the trials and tribulations some kids face while growing up. “Whether marijuana smokers go on to use other illicit drugs depends more on social factors like being exposed to stress and being unemployed — not so much whether they smoked a joint in the eighth grade,” Dr. Karen Van Gundy, an associate professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire, told CBS News.
Although smoking weed won’t mess with a person’s body too much, it can cause a couple of the same issues that tobacco smokers experience, with the most likely one being respiratory problems. Ailments like bronchitis may sometimes develop as users inhale the tars from the rolling papers in joints and blunts. Because of this, eating marijuana-infused foods or smoking from a vaporizer, which heats the weed up just enough to release the THC (its active ingredient), may be healthier.
Smoking weed and getting behind the wheel is also relatively dangerous, with a number of studies this year finding that teens who drove while high were likely to get in crashes. One of the studies found that the number of people who crashed their cars while high tripled over the past 10 years.
A person who drives while high can be up to two times more likely to crash. When accounting for teens only, another study concluded that a teen’s lack of driving experience paired with marijuana’s (or alcohol’s) effects led many teens to drive recklessly, even when not impaired, thus increasing their risk of a crash.
When it comes to more serious illnesses, marijuana may have more benefits than harms (we’ll get into that later). Despite a controversial study earlier this year suggesting it causes brain damage, other studies have shown no correlation, let alone cause. “Results indicated no significant effect of cannabis use on global neurocognitive performance,” one 2012 study said. Other opponents argue it can cause lung cancer, a condition not one study has found a link to yet.
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