Snake Oil or Cure All? Three Common Misconceptions about Marijuana
As more states decriminalize or legalize marijuana possession and use, marijuana is in the public eye like never before. While some have been quick to embrace a substance hailed by many as a modern day magic elixir, others have condemned it for its connection to “harder” drugs and damaging effects on the brain. But is marijuana harmful or helpful? We’ve explored recent research and cut through the bias and misinformation to bring you three common misconceptions about marijuana and the surprising truths they hide.
Myth 1. THC can cure or reduce the symptoms associated with almost anything. As dispensaries open for business across California and Colorado, there seems to be no end to the list of ailments that marijuana use can treat, including migraines, menstrual cramps, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, seizures, and appetite loss. But is marijuana really capable of treating all these conditions? The truth is that relatively little research has been done on which diseases or symptoms THC helps or at what dosage these improvements are made. There is some evidence that THC has medicinal properties for some ailments, but it certainly doesn’t cure or improve all the disorders salespersons claim. There is no cure-all medicine that treats everything and works well for everyone; marijuana is no exception.
Myth 2. Marijuana is not addictive. Proponents of marijuana often claim that the drug is not addictive and as such it should be considered less dangerous than other common drugs like tobacco or alcohol. Although it’s fair to say that sustained marijuana use does not generally result in withdrawal symptoms that require medical observation, to suggest that repeated use of a substance that has primary effects on the brain is not addictive is woefully misinformed. In fact, not only is marijuana addictive, but it has a profound impact on how the brain grows and develops when used by individuals under the age of 25. Additionally, addiction is more than a biological dependence on a substance; addiction is also a pattern of brain functioning caused by behaviors that change the way the brain works. Even if marijuana lacks the more obvious hallmarks of other addictive substances, it still has the capacity to lock the user into a cycle of drug seeking behaviors.
Myth 3. Marijuana is a gateway drug. The most simplified drug education curricula encourage people not to use marijuana for fear that they may begin using “harder” drugs like heroin or painkillers. The idea that marijuana is a gateway drug is complicated. Researchers have found that marijuana use does not strongly correlate with the use of harder drugs, but they have also found that using marijuana means a person is more likely to use other drugs as a coping mechanism. In other words, if substance use of any kind is one of your primary coping mechanisms when experiencing stress or anxiety, you are more likely to supplement your use of marijuana with other substances than if you didn’t smoke marijuana at all. The relationship between marijuana and harder drugs is not one of escalation from mild to extreme drugs, but one of increased comfort with drug use as a method of moderating negative feelings.
Marijuana is neither a cure-all medicine nor a slippery slope to “hard core” drug addiction. Though it is helpful for some patients with some disorders, be careful not to over-generalize the benefits or the harm marijuana is capable of. Even if one day marijuana is no longer federally criminalized, you and the people you care for will still benefit from knowing how to separate the facts from fictions about marijuana, or any substance that is over-hyped as a cure-all.
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