420 Day: Popular Marijuana Myths Go Up in Smoke

woman smoking 420 potHappy 420, or as you may call it, National Marijuana Day! Oh, that crazy drug that appeals to aging hippie Baby Boomers and today's college kids alike. Although it seems to bring different generations and types of people together, public perception of pot seems to be extremely polarized, too. Staunch supporters see it as a miracle drug, while those who oppose its use and legalization condemn it as an addictive and harmful substance. The truth lies somewhere between these two extremes.

So, in honor of the popular plant plenty of pot smokers will be honoring today, I thought I'd come up with some of the most widely-spread misconceptions about weed's effect on health ...


MYTH: Marijuana causes cancer. Not sure where this myth came from, being that pot is actually effective for relief in people trying to cope with harsh cancer treatments. But someone (maybe those DARE folks?) has been spreading the rumor that smoking pot can lead to lung cancer, just like cigarettes.

TRUTH: Various independent studies have disproved that smoking pot causes lung cancer. What's more, some actually found that marijuana decreased tumor growth by as much as 50 percent!

MYTH: Marijuana causes brain damage. This one seems to be as old as the day is long. The common stereotype that even pot smokers themselves will laugh about. "All that weed killed my brain cells, man!"

TRUTH: Now, a couple of old hippie potheads I know very well may be a little slow on the uptake at times, but for that, I blame personality tics, astrology (you know Pisces can be all over the place), and senility -- not pot. Science has proven as well that even heavy (long-term and even daily) marijuana use doesn't lead to brain damage. Researchers found only a "very small" impairment in memory and learning among long-term marijuana users. Score.

MYTH: Pot is a "gateway drug." Toke up one day, shoot up the next. That's what naysayers may say. Guess what else is a gateway drug? Coffee. It leads to harder stuff, like Red Bull. 

TRUTH: Again, this seems like it was a cockamamie fable made up to make sure youngins don't get stoned. A study that analyzed data from the U.S. National Household Survey on Drug Abuse found that teens who tried hard drugs were predisposed to do so whether or not they tried marijuana. I've never heard of anyone who tried pot and that's why he or she moved on to harder stuff. For the most part, it seems pot smokers stick with pot.

MYTH: Smoking pot is addictive. This frequently trotted-out-to-teens myth makes me think of those old-timey black and white anti-"Mary Jane" propaganda movies like Reefer Madness!

TRUTH: "Addictive" is the wrong word here. "Dependence" may be more fitting. And that, experts know, is not the result of anything in the marijuana itself. In other words, it doesn't have a compound that is similar to nicotine, and there are little to no withdrawal symptoms. If someone seems "hooked" on the herb, it's because he or she has an addictive personality or leans on pot to self-medicate.

MYTH: Marijuana impairs the immune system. As with any drug, there are rumors floating around that smoking up will inevitably wreck your ability to fight off illness.

TRUTH: No one really knows for sure what, if any, effect pot has on immunity. Studies have shown it affects the immune system in some way, but researchers couldn't tell you what. And there are no human studies to date that connect that effect with increased infection. So, I wouldn't worry about it too much, man.

What's another myth you've heard about smoking pot?

Image via ashton/Flickr

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