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Cannabis is one of the most praised and demonized plants in the world. No other topic stirs such an emotional response among doctors, researchers, politicians, and the general public as cannabis does. Cannabis is the most widely used drug globally. In the past few years, we’ve seen a worldwide legalization movement surrounding this plant. The public’s opinion on cannabis is changing from seeing it as an illicit, addictive drug to that of a medicinal plant with many therapeutic benefits.
Yet, as we’re coming from a period of prohibition and anti-cannabis propaganda, there is still a lot of misinformation surrounding it. Is cannabis safe? Can you experience side effects from smoking weed? Is it addictive?
Regardless of advances in research and the public’s support of the use and legalization of cannabis, several myths regarding this plant persist and aid in the continuous stigmatization of cannabis. These misconceptions become harmful when they hamper the advancements in the medical research of cannabis, as many researchers might not want to be associated with it. In turn, this does not allow us to fully uncover the medical benefits of the plant and make it a viable option for the people who need it.
In this article, we will ‘weed’ out (see what I did there?) the five most popular myths surrounding cannabis’ main component – THC - and give you the real facts.
What is THC?
First, let’s jump into what exactly THC is. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol (wow, that’s a long name. Surely you can see why it’s often abbreviated to ‘THC’) is the main psychoactive compound found in cannabis/marijuana plants. THC is the most famous of all the cannabinoids. It is known for its psychoactive effects and for its strong mental and physical therapeutic benefits. In other words, THC is the cannabis compound that makes you feel a euphoric high.
THC interacts with our body’s endocannabinoid system through cannabinoid receptors found on neurons in our brain and other organs like the heart, lungs, spleen, and liver. In turn, cannabinoid receptors will bind to neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and other endocannabinoids. These neurotransmitters affect parts of the brain that influence pleasure, happiness, stress, memory, and sensory perceptions. This is how we experience the effects and benefits of THC.
Now that we have briefly touched on what THC is (we’ll go into more depth in future articles!) let's move on to a little bit of myth-busting. Unfortunately, THC gets a bad rep thanks to a lot of misinformation out there. Let's dive into a few of the most common myths surrounding THC.
The 5 biggest myths about THC
The term cannabis or marijuana is often used when people talk about THC. This is because THC is the main component in the cannabis or marijuana plant. Plus, THC is responsible for causing the euphoric head high. So, most of the myths mentioned below are connected to marijuana use in general and not just THC.
1. THC has no medicinal value
Currently, marijuana plants that contain more than 0.3% THC are classified as Schedule 1 drugs in the United States. This classification means that cannabis has no currently accepted medicinal use. However, this is far from the truth.
In the US, the FDA has approved Marinol and Syndros, two THC-based medications used to prevent nausea in patients going through cancer chemotherapy and anorexia associated with weight loss in people suffering from AIDS. The THC found in these medicines is synthetically created. Nevertheless, it goes to show that THC has medicinal value.
Moreover, the Harvard Medical School published a review on medical marijuana, mentioning THC’s potential to help manage chronic and nerve pain, highlighting its safety compared to opioids. They also mention marijuana’s effects as a muscle relaxant, showing its potential to help people manage the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. A highly promising area of research also focuses on THC’s potential to help people with PTSD. These are just a handful of the potential medical benefits of THC.
More research is needed before we have a better idea of the benefits of THC. Thankfully, the FDA is supporting and facilitating medical research focused on the therapeutic benefits of cannabis. So, we should have more answers soon.
2. THC is a getaway drug
Cannabis is often labeled a “getaway drug”, meaning that people who use cannabis are likely to get into using other “harder” substances. This is one of the most commonly used propaganda against weed. The term was popularized in the 1980s, during the War on Drugs periods. This hypothesis is based on the idea that people who use recreational substances may start with cannabis, given that it is a widely available substance.
However, there is no data to support this theory. In fact, a 2012 study conducted in Japan where weed is not as accessible as in the US found that that 83.2% of recreational substance users did not start with using cannabis.
In addition, since 1944, the LaGuardia Committee has committed an in-depth report on the effects of cannabis and concluded that cannabis does not act as a getaway drug.
3. You can become addicted to THC
When approaching this prevalent myth, we must start by defining what drug addiction is.
According to the Addiction Center, addiction is a physical and psychological dependence on a substance that causes people to act irrationally, with no regard to the harm they may cause to themselves or others.
THC stimulates our brain cells to release dopamine, the chemical which creates the feeling of pleasure. And when our brains get a taste of something good, it’s very hard to ignore it. So, we crave it.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that this euphoric craving is not the same as being addicted.
When it comes to cannabis use, health professionals use the term “Marijuana use disorder” instead of addiction. A Marijuana use disorder is associated with dependence, not addiction. While these terms are often used interchangeably, they do not mean the same thing.
While addiction causes people to act irrationally, dependence is characterized by built-up tolerance and the experience of mild, non-life-threatening withdrawal symptoms when you stop using cannabis. This means that you can become dependent on THC, but it’s not likely you’ll be addicted.
4. THC can cause psychosis
As we mentioned above, THC may be responsible for increasing the risk of psychotic symptoms like paranoia and hallucinations. However, studies show no factor linking cannabis use with psychosis. Instead, it is shown that THC may speed up the onset of it in people with a family history of psychosis. People who have a predisposition to developing psychosis are at risk of onsetting its symptoms from other stimulating substances as well.
What’s more, a 2019 study argued that the association between THC and psychosis goes both ways. THC may worsen or speed up the onset of psychotic symptoms, but at the same time, people who suffer from psychosis are more likely to use marijuana to ease their symptoms.
5. The THC high only lasts for a few hours
While the common knowledge may indicate that a THC high mainly lasts for a few hours, studies have shown that cannabis effects last for a minimum of 24 hours.
One particular study conducted in 1985 tested airline pilots on flight simulators at various intervals after they smoked a joint containing 19 mg of THC. The experiment shows that even 24 hours later their performance showed signs of impairment - even though the pilots were not aware of their impairment.
The bottom line
Simply put, THC has many potential medicinal benefits, it won’t kill you, it won’t turn you into an addict, or get you into harder drugs.
Now that we got that out of the way, it’s important to remember that ultimately THC is a mind-altering substance. While it may have many potential health benefits, it is very important that you use it responsibly, and only if it is legal in your area.
Listen to your body after you smoke and don’t be afraid to reach out to a doctor in case you happen to experience any side effects. Also, ensure that you only purchase THC products from reputable sources so you can trust the ingredients and quality.