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Despite how the data, medical research and scientific evidence in support of the legalization of cannabis continues to rush in like water down Niagara Falls, the lies, myths and deceptions around cannabis continue to persist. Backed by the misinformation campaigns of groups like SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), Big Pharma-backed politicians like Andy Harris and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, the hysterical drug war warriors like Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg, and the outlandish, unsubstantiated beliefs of millionaire activists, reefer madness and the war against cannabis continues to this day. The following are their top ten biggest lies:
Big Lie #10: Cannabis Prohibition Works
One of the greatest, most absurd tragedies of the war on drugs is that it doesn’t work. In fact, it’s been a catastrophic failure. But you’d never know that by listening to officials in the federal government. The drug war has been really good at putting human beings behind bars, but it’s been a miserable failure in preventing people from doing drugs. Despite the $1 trillion dollars that taxpayers have spent fighting the war on drugs (according to the CATO Institute, a conservative think tank), and the $51 billion we continue to spend annually, cannabis consumption for one has continued to rise over this same four-decade period. Worse still, the prohibitionists and the warriors behind the war on drugs claim they want to bring an end to the drug cartels, but prohibition is the primary reason the drug cartels continue to exist. So why do we continue to waste billions on a proven failure? Good question.
Big Lie #9: Cannabis is Addictive
There’s a statistic floating around on the internet that claims that 9% of cannabis consumers are addicted to cannabis. And while that number is exceptionally low (lower than alcohol at 23%, caffeine at 30%, or nicotine at 85%), it’s still not true. To understand why it’s not true, you have to understand the difference between psychological addiction and physical addiction. When cannabis prohibitionists make the claim that cannabis is addictive, and, therefore, dangerous, they’re betting that their audience will think cannabis is addictive in the way that heroin or alcohol is addictive (physically), not the way that chocolate or Game of Thrones is addictive (psychologically).
The difference, in a nutshell, is that illegal drugs that are physically (or physiologically) addictive are far more dangerous because they can lead to powerful withdrawal symptoms when users try to quit. The craving that a heroin, meth, or cocaine addict has, for example, can effect his or her mind and body in such a way that they will do things that would ordinarily be unthinkable in order to get more of the drug—which may include crime or violence.
Because cannabis is not physically addictive, these kinds of effects do not exist (at least not because of the cannabis). Like chocolate, cannabis can only be psychologically addictive (at least for those 9%). Of course some people can get annoyed or cranky when they don’t have their weed, just like others get without chocolate. But cannabis consumers never crave cannabis so badly that they become a menace to society, and they never experience any physical withdrawals, and, thus, never require inpatient detox.
Of course some physical addictions are minor, such as with caffeine where withdrawal symptoms usually amount to nothing more than headaches and irritability. The physical addiction with alcohol, on the other hand, can be much more serious. “Drugs like alcohol pose potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, including delirium tremens and seizures.”
Big Lie #8: Smoking Cannabis Causes Lung Cancer
Prohibitionists often argue that smoking cannabis is no different than smoking tobacco—they both cause lung cancer. Some even suggest that smoking pot is worse because cigarettes at least have filters, which makes them safer. But this is a lie. And we have the scientific evidence to prove it—including a large UCLA study in 2006 that found “no link between weed and lung cancer.” This came as a surprise to the lead researcher who reported, “We hypothesized that there would be a positive association between marijuana use and lung cancer, and that the association would be more positive with heavier use…What we found instead was no association at all, and even a suggestion of some protective effect.” This “protective effect” is consistent with the work of cannabis researcher Robert Melamede, who explains, “Components of cannabis smoke minimize some carcinogenic pathways whereas tobacco smoke enhances some.” To be sure, there are still even better options than smoking cannabis, including lozenges, and vaporizers. As former Governor Gary Johnson said about lozenges, “Couple of things hit you when you try the product. One is, wow, why would anybody smoke marijuana given this is an alternative? And then secondly, it’s just very, very pleasant. I mean, very pleasant.”
Big Lie #7: Cannabis Makes You Lazy
Much like the “reefer madness” propaganda that Attorney General Jeff Sessions continues to spew, the negative “stoner” stereotypes continue to persist, despite the fact that they are unfair and untrue. Born out of the reefer madness era, these negative stereotypes have been around for more than a half a century, but that does not make them true. Of course virtually everyone can feel unmotivated or lazy at times, particularly at the end of a long, hard day when people tend to look for ways to relax. But that does not mean that cannabis causes laziness. “At the end of the day, you have a work ethic inside you and you are either a lazy [individual] or not,” one international business lawyer told Vice. “On the whole I don’t think it affects my motivation at all. It’s actually, in some ways, quite a good way of making you focus in on something,” he added. What’s more, no study has ever identified a proven link between cannabis consumption and a lack of motivation (known by psychologists as “amotivational syndrome”), writes Owen Poindexter of AlterNet.
What is perhaps most surprising, however, at least to the uninitiated, is the recent medical and social science research that is contradicting these age-old myths. Studies now show that those who regularly consume cannabis tend to be thinner, fitter, and more active. Whereas other social science surveys reveal that cannabis consumers are not less, but actually more successful, and content—including on measures of average household income, advanced degrees, and full-time employment.
Big Lie #6: Cannabis Damages Memory
One of the most common stereotypes about cannabis is that it makes people forgetful. What’s more, the fact that cannabis can make it more challenging to encode new memories and, consequently, recall short-term memories— only while under the influence, and depending on the strain—makes it much easier to misunderstand marijuana’s effect on memory. This, of course, also makes it much easier to distort the truth.
The truth, however, is that, for adult consumers, cannabis has not been shown to have significant long-term effects on memory. Nor has it been shown to effect one’s ability to recall existing memories (even while under the influence). What’s more, studies have shown that it is possible to develop a tolerance to these negative, short-term effects. In other words, those who consume cannabis regularly are less likely to experience difficulty encoding new memories, or recalling those short-term memories while still under the influence.
On the other hand, remarkably, evidence is now emerging that suggests cannabis may be able to help people forget bad memories by disrupting the “reconsolidation” of those negative memories. This of course would be a life-transforming therapeutic effect of cannabis for those suffering from PTSD.
Equally important, contrary to what the prohibitionists would like people to believe, medical marijuana research is increasingly showing that cannabis has powerful, long-term protective effects on memory. Recent research reveals that cannabis may in fact help to prevent numerous brain diseases associated with memory, including dementia, Parkinson’s, CTE, and Alzheimer’s.
Big Lie #5: Cannabis Causes Heart Attacks
One of the big lies that has gained traction lately is that cannabis is bad for your heart, and that it can lead to heart attacks and even death among young and middle-aged users. But this is just more “reefer madness.” In fact, an international team of researchers conducted a massive study with over 5,000 subjects, followed for more than 25 years, and found that, “Compared with no marijuana use, cumulative lifetime and recent marijuana use showed no association with incident CVD (cardiovascular disease), stroke or transient ischemic attacks, coronary heart disease, or CVD mortality.”
Big Lie #4: Cannabis Legalization Increases Traffic Fatalities
No one should ever drive while under the influence of cannabis, or any other drug for that matter, including alcohol, many prescription drugs, and even some over the counter drugs that make people drowsy. It’s illegal, and it’s dangerous. Period.
To be clear, the big lie here is not that driving while high increases traffic accidents—of course driving while high may increase traffic accidents for some people, especially those who are unaccustomed to the effects of cannabis. The big lie is that the legalization of cannabis has increased traffic fatalities within those states that have legalized cannabis. This is not true. According to a study by the American Public Health Association, traffic fatalities in both Colorado and Washington remained the same over a three year period. Other studies show highway fatalities are down after cannabis legalization. Similar findings have been reported by the government itself, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration which found (PDF) that “drivers who tested positive for marijuana were no more likely to crash than who had not used any drugs or alcohol prior to driving”
The biggest deception that is driving this lie is that all those people who have marijuana in their system are being accused of “driving while stoned”—even if they haven’t actually consumed cannabis in weeks. In other words, just because someone tests positive for marijuana, does not mean they were “high” or “stoned” at the time of the test. As Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association said of a recent AAA report, “All this report really shows is that more people in Washington State are likely consuming cannabis, and thus might have some THC in their systems at the time of an accident. But since having THC in your system tells us nothing about your potential impairment, it would be like a report showing how many people involved in accidents had drunk a beer in the last week.”
Big Lie #3: Cannabis Increases Crime
It’s no surprise that Attorney General Jeff Sessions hates marijuana. What is raising eyebrows, however, across the political spectrum, is his utter disregard for the facts. Perhaps more than anyone in the U.S. today, Jeff Sessions is responsible for perpetuating a number of lies about cannabis, including the despicable lie that the legalization of cannabis leads to increases in crime. What is most shameful about this lie is that the opposite is true and, therefore, Jeff Sessions’ drug war crusade is actually increasing crime, and making America more dangerous—as a number of experts have recently argued.
In contrast to what Sessions and other drug war propagandists are desperately hoping people will believe, the facts about cannabis legalization tell a very different story. In fact, according to the results of one study, using data collected by the FBI over a 16-year period, the legalization of medical marijuana “is not predictive of higher crime rates,” and may reduce some crimes, including violent crimes. “In sum,” the authors conclude, “these findings run counter to arguments suggesting the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes poses a danger to public health in terms of exposure to violent crime and property crimes. To be sure, medical marijuana laws were not found to have a crime exacerbating effect on any of the seven crime types. On the contrary, our findings indicated that MML [medical marijuana legalization] precedes a reduction in homicide and assault.”
Big Lie #2: Cannabis is a Gateway Drug
This is probably the big lie that gets the most mileage. Why? Because it’s the lie that most effectively exploits the fears of those who are ignorant about cannabis. The idea that cannabis leads to other far more dangerous and deadly drugs makes these folks imagine all types of fear-based delusions, including dooms day scenarios where legalization leads to a massive drug epidemic. In essence, the scaremongers and merchants of doom use this myth to get people thinking not about cannabis, but about drugs that truly are legitimately dangerous.
Nevertheless, this is a big lie too—a very big lie—and it’s getting pushed by some very powerful people. In fact, in a recent letter Attorney General Jeff Sessions wrote to Congress asking them to remove the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, Sessions wrote of the “historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime,” revealing his ready willingness to deceive and, writes Forbes, “showing that the attorney general has clearly imbibed our coarsest and most antiquated form of anti-marijuana propaganda: its supposed connection to crime and its status as a ‘gateway drug.’”
Nonetheless, the mythical notion that “cannabis is a gateway drug” has been thoroughly, repeatedly refuted. What’s even more interesting, however, is the building evidence that cannabis use can actually reduce the use of other, more harmful drugs, including opioids. Still more intriguing is the research that shows cannabis has a high “substitution effect,” which may in fact help to shed light on Big Pharma’s support for the war against cannabis. According to another recent study, “medical cannabis users reported significant reductions in the use of various drugs: opioids (76.7 percent of users), anti-anxiety medications (71.8 percent), migraine medications (66.7 percent), sleep medications (65.2 percent), alcohol (42 percent), and antidepressants (37.6 percent).”
The picture that is emerging from all of this research is very different from the one the pot prohibitionists would like people to see. As a team of American and Canadian clinical psychologists write (PDF), “In contrast to the proposition that cannabis may serve as a gateway is an emerging stream of research which suggests that cannabis may serve as an ‘exit drug,’ with the potential to facilitate reductions in the use of other substance[s].”
Big Lie #1: There is Nothing “Medical” About Marijuana
At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in June, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made a handful of ludicrous claims, but his assertion that “Scientists have found that there’s no accepted medical use” for cannabis stands out as being, by far, the most preposterous. It was the kind of “big lie” that would’ve made even the evil Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbles blush. To be sure, even Attorney General Sessions found cause to show a bit more restraint when he told the National Association of Attorney Generals, “I’m dubious about marijuana…maybe science will prove I’m wrong…”
What puts this lie among the worst is not just that it works to prevent people from getting the medicine they so desperately need—though that should be enough—but that there is an abundance of scientific evidence in support of the medical use of cannabis for not one or two, but a surprising array of serious conditions and diseases—many of which have been confirmed by the government’s own National Academy of Sciences, and a few which are further supported by a cannabis patent also held by the U.S. government. It is further worth noting that cannabis also happens to have one of the best safety profiles in regards to medical use. In the words of the DEA’s own chief administrative law judge Francis Young, cannabis is “one of the safest therapeutic agents known to man.”
In summary, not only does this lie contradict the federal government itself, but it also flies in the face of the U.S. Congress—which has now voted in support of “medical” marijuana (Rohrabacher–Blumenauer amendment) on three separate occasions—but also an increasing majority of states (28 states now have medical marijuana, plus another 16 allow CBD), as well as a whopping 94% of Americans.