The Thistle Volume 13, Number 2: Sept./Oct., 2000.


Myths About Marijuana


The following mythology concerning marijuana is taken from the website of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML, http://www.norml.org). References for these texts may be found there.

Myth: Marijuana Leads to Harder Drugs

There is no scientific evidence for the theory that marijuana is a “gateway” drug. The cannabis-using cultures in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America show no propensity for other drugs. The gateway theory took hold in the sixties, when marijuana became the leading new recreational drug. It was refuted by events in the eighties, when cocaine abuse exploded at the same time marijuana use declined. As we have seen, there is evidence that cannabis may substitute for alcohol and other “hard” drugs. A recent survey by Dr. Patricia Morgan of the University of California at Berekeley found that a significant number of pot smokers and dealers switched to methamphetamine “ice” when Hawaii’s marijuana eradication program created a shortage of pot. Dr. Morgan noted a similar phenomenon in California, where cocaine use soared in the wake of the CAMP helicopter eradication campaign. The one way in which marijuana does lead to other drugs is through its illegality: persons who deal in marijuana are likely to deal in other illicit drugs as well.

Myth: Pot Kills Brain Cells

Government experts now admit that pot doesn’t kill brain cells. This myth came from a handful of animal experiments in which structural changes (not actual cell death, as is often alleged) were observed in brain cells of animals exposed to high doses of pot. Many critics still cite the notorious monkey studies of Dr. Robert G. Heath, which purported to find brain damage in three monkeys that had been heavily dosed with cannabis. This work was never replicated and has since been discredited by a pair of better controlled, much larger monkey studies, one by Dr. William Slikker of the National Center for Toxicological Research and the other by Charles Rebert and Gordon Pryor of SRI International. Neither found any evidence of physical alteration in the brains of monkeys exposed to daily doses of pot for up to a year. Human studies of heavy users in Jamaica and Costa Rica found no evidence of abnormalities in brain physiology. Even though there is no evidence that pot causes permanent brain damage, users should be aware that persistent deficits in short-term memory have been noted in chronic, heavy marijuana smokers after 6 to 12 weeks of abstinence. It is worth noting that other drugs, including alcohol, are known to cause brain damage.

Myth: Prohibition Reduces the Harmfulness of Pot Smoking

Whatever the risks of pot smoking, the current laws make matters worse in several respects: (1) Paraphernalia laws have impeded the development and marketing of water pipes and other, more advanced technology that could significantly reduce the harmfulness of marijuana smoke. (2) Prohibition encourages the sale of pot that has been contaminated or adulterated by insecticides, Paraquat, etc., or mixed with other drugs such as PCP, crack and heroin. (3) By raising the price of marijuana, prohibition makes it uneconomical to consume marijuana orally, the best way to avoid smoke exposure altogether; this is because eating typically requires two or three times as much marijuana as smoking.

Myth: Pot is Ten Times More Potent and Dangerous Now Than in the Sixties

The notion that pot has increased dramatically in potency is a DEA myth based on biased government data, as shown in a recent NORML report by Dr. John Morgan. Samples of pot from the early ‘70s came from stale, low-potency Mexican “kilobricks” left in police lockers, whose potency had deteriorated to sub-smokable levels of less than 0.5%. These were compared to later samples of decent-quality domestic marijuana, making it appear that potency had skyrocketed. A careful examination of the government’s data show that average marijuana potency increased modestly by a factor of two or so during the seventies, and has been more or less constant ever since. In fact, there is nothing new about high-potency pot. During the sixties, it was available in premium varieties such as Acapulco Gold, Panama Red, etc. , as well as in the form of hashish and hash oil, which were every bit as strong as today’s sinsemilla, but were ignored in government potency statistics. While the average potency of domestic pot did increase with the development of sinsemilla in the seventies, the range of potencies available has remained virtually unchanged since the last century, when extremely potent tonics were sold over the counter in pharmacies. In Holland, high-powered hashish and sinsemilla are currently sold in coffee shops with no evident problems. Contrary to popular myth, greater potency is not necessarily more dangerous, due to the fact that users tend to adjust (or “self-titrate”) their dose according to potency. Thus, good quality sinsemilla is actually healthier for the lungs because it reduces the amount of smoke one needs to inhale to get high.



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The Thistle Volume 13, Number 2: Sept./Oct., 2000.