Myths


Urban legends and myths about drugs run rampant in our society.  Largely due to the underground networks surrounding the drug culture and the lack of formal education about drugs.  It is hard to tell what is and isn’t a myth.  Usually a friend or relative are the ones spreading the misinformation which makes it even more believable.  With the following guide you will have a much better compass through the murky waters of illicit drug conversation.

Things to look for:

1. Excessive detail in the description.

Does the teller of the myth go into detail above and beyond what is necessary?  Does it seem out of place in the conversation?  You are probably dealing with a myth.  Urban legends often rely on the audience’s lack of familiarity with some highly complex system medical, legal, or otherwise.
Here’s an example,

LSD makes your brain bleed and it drips blood onto your spinal cord, that is the reason people get flashbacks.

This is a great myth in many ways and one of my favorites.

Another example with along the LSD theme,

Taking LSD seven times makes you legally insane.

That’s a classic. What is the definition of “legally insane”? Who knows? The use of a specific number is a dead giveaway that this is a myth. Also the number will often change from source to source.

2. Is it intended to scare you?

Most drug myths are intended to scare you. Especially in the case of marijuana.  Here is a popular myth,

Ecstasy drains you spinal fluid.

or a more alarming variation on the myth,

Ecstasy is stored in your spinal fluid over time and when you crack your back it releases into your system.

There are many more myths about ecstasy and the spine too. People will defend these myths to the death, even though they are utterly ridiculous.

3. Does it have a punch line?

I got this one from snopes.com,

This guy goes down to the States from Canada. He comes across this amazing deal on acid, so he buys a hundredlot. He figures that it’s not likely they’ll strip search him, so he tapes the whole sheet to his stomach when he goes back. At the border he’s ordered to get out of his car and wait in a room while they search the car. He gets so freaked out, thinking that they’re going to strip search him after all, that he starts sweating. The sweat soaks the sheet taped to his body and he absorbs a hundred hits of acid through his skin. Pretty soon he thinks he’s an orange and decides he’ll have to peel himself, so he starts peeling off his clothes. To this day he’s confined to a psychiatric ward, still convinced that he’s an orange.

That is the king of drug myths. It has been regurgitated in a million different ways but the punch line is the same. I’ve heard several different versions of this one. Some say he actually started to pull off his skin thinking its an orange peel.

4. Did it happen to a friend of a friend?

Urban legend spreaders will often say that it happened to someone they know (or say they know)  to add credibility.  That is a dead giveaway that they are feeding you an urban legend.

Here’s an example,

My neighbor’s cousin wend blind from staring at the sun too long while tripping on acid.

5. Does it sound too good to be true?

There are no boring urban legends.  If it does not pique your curiosity what is the point of making up a story?

Here is an example, this one is called the after toke smoke.  It goes like this,

Smoking a cigarette after marijuana gets you 33% higher.

I can’t believe I actually found a link to this myth.  I originally heard it years ago.  This link says 27% higher which shows how it changes from teller to teller.  Exact (although made up) statistics are very common in urban legends.  If you hear different numbers from different sources you are likely dealing with an urban legend.

6. Is there a moral to the story?

Most legends, including urban legends, have a moral.  In the case of drug myths the moral is usually “don’t do drugs”.  This one is a great drug urban legend,

This story was told to me by a friend who heard it on the news on the radio about a year or so ago. It is a factual account.

There was a girl and she was baby-sitting. The parents had gone out to a very big party and had left this infant at home with this sixteen-year-old girl. So she was babysitting and they phoned just to see if everything was all right. She said, “Oh, fine. Everything’s great. The turkey’s in the oven. The mother went, “Oh, okay, fine,” and she hung up. Then she looked at her husband and went, “The turkey’s in the oven? We didn’t have a turkey!” He said, “What’s the matter?” So they decided they had better go home and see what was the matter. Maybe there was something wrong with the babysitter.They excused themselves from the party and went home. So they walked in the house and saw the baby-sitter sitting in the chair freaking out. She had put the little infant in the oven and had thought it was a turkey.

I stole that one from snopes.com.  The moral here is to make sure your babysitter is not on LSD.  Or maybe it is don’t take psychedelic drugs if you are taking care of an infant.  You get the idea.

The truth is never as interesting as the myths.  Drugs have been used for thousands of years and will continue to be used for thousands more.  The prohibition imposed dark ages around illicit drugs have left the door open for urban legends.  Don’t be fooled.


Myth: Permanent brain damage is one of the inevitable results of the use of marijuana.

The Truth: While other drugs like  methamphetamine do kill brain cells marijuana has no such effect. Actually it has been recently proven to cause regeneration of brain cells which in it self was previously though impossible. (link1, link2)

tThis myth had some support 30 years ago from some “scientific” studies.  These famous examples of junk science forced monkeys to smoke excessive amounts of pot through a gas mask.  The researchers actually adminstered 63 joints worth of marijuana in five minutes with no air in between.  The monkeys began to atrophy and die after 90 days.  It is not really big news that asphyxiation kills brain cells.  Jack Herer discusses these studies in his famous book The Emporer Wears No Clothes.  According to Herer, and I agree, studies of this kind are part of a government conspiracy against marijuana.  It’s not just the US government either, look at the gutter science coming out of the UK recently, Schitzophrenia “study”.

While marijuana use does not kill normal brain cells there is another kind of brain cell it does kill.  There is a growing body of evidence that marijuana has the ability to kill brain cancer cells, while it does not affect normal cells (link1, link2).  Cannabis could acutally be the cure for cancer (study, Rick Simpson story).  Rick Simpson has been producing “hemp oil” for years at his home in Nova Scotia, Canada.  He has cured cancer in himself and many others.  Marijuana has successfully been used to cure many different kinds of cancer.  Unfortunately the medical establishment has ignored these incredible results.

Despite the fact that no real scientific study has shown any permenant brain damage supporters of prohibition still argue that marijuana kills brain cells.  The findings from the monkey studies in the 70s have not been duplicated and have been disproved by more recent studies.

Myth: Marijuana use can lead to an increased risk of schizophrenia later in life.

The Truth: This is a total media scare story.  Different sources of this myth have different numbers.  Some say you are 4.5 times more likely to become schizophrenic if you smoke pot.  This “study” from the UK claims “Smoking just one cannabis joint raises danger of mental illness by 40%”.  Pretty scary isn’t it?  Fortunately these studies are total bullshit.

There have been many studies promoting the link between cannabis use and the onset of schizophrenia.  It is not the quantity of scientific studies that matters though, it is the quality.  As stated in some of my other marijuana myth posts there are three criteria that need to be satisfied in order to prove causality, these are: Association, Temporal Antecedence and Isolation.  Association means the cause and effect must occur together, temporal antecedence means the effect must follow the cause and isolation means all other causes must be ruled out.  The first two can be shown for pretty much anything.

For example if I performed a raindance and it rained later in the day I have satisfied association and temporal antecedence but not isolation.  Therefore I cannot scientifically prove that my raindance worked.  If raindances were a controversial topic the media would  then publish the “study” and the headline would read “Recent Study Suggests that Raindance Leads to precipitation”.  Sounds ridiculous right?  Well that is exactly what has been happening with the hundreds of “studies” on cannabis and schizophrenia.

Isolation has not been proven in the marijuana-schizophrenia link.  In fact evidence to the contrary is indisputable.  Marijuana use has grown significantly in the last 30 years.  If schizophrenia was caused by marijuana use then there should be an observable rise in schizophrenia rates as well.  No such link has been established.  This study from Australia demonstrates these findings (pdf).  Before marijuana became popular less than 1% of the population was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and now that marijuana use in widespread the rate of schizophrenia diagnosis is still less than 1%.

The Report of the Senate Special Commitee on Illegal Drugs from Canada in 2002 concluded the following,

No mental pathology directly related to the overuse of cannabis has been reported, which distinguishes this substance from psychostimulants such as MDNA, cocaine or alcohol, heavy and repeated use of which can give rise to characteristic psychotic syndromes. Similarly, cannabis does not seem to precipitate the onset of pre-existing mental dysfunctions (schizophrenia, bipolar depression, etc.).

Those suffering from schizophrenia are known to use drugs.  In a recent study, 60% of people with schizophrenia were found to use psychotropic drugs and 37% would be diagnosable with a substance use disorder.  It is assumed that people with schizophrenia use drugs to overcome self-esteem issues and negative feelings due to antipsychotic medication and the condition itself.  There are studies that show that cannabis can actually be used to treat the symptoms of schizophrenia (link1, link2).  The scientifically accepted factors that contribute to the onset of schizophrenia include genetics and social situations such as childhood abuse, poverty, and racial discrimination.  Social outsiders generally cling to drug use as a means to self-medicate depression or just add a little enjoyment to their lives.

Three-quarters of persons with schizophrenia develop the disease between 16 and 25 years of age.  The studies that suggest that marijuana causes schizophrenia claim that pot use during adolescence will cause schizophrenia around the age 26.  That is the age that it will occur anyway.  What does marijuana use have to do with it?  Nothing.  Persons who are predisposed to schizophrenia are awkward teenagers and much more likely to use cannabis and other drugs than their peers.  It actually looks like schizophrenia causes some marijuana use!

Despite lack of evidence the media promotes these studies as true.  Headlines like this, “UK researchers to claim as that pot is causing 14% of schizophrenia cases in the UK” are scary.  These media scare stories are unfounded and designed to create widespread fear around marijuana use, also known as propaganda.  The UK is currently in the middle of a psychological war on cannabis.  Check out some of these recent claims taken from a pot-schizophrenia news story,

Professor Robin Murray, of the Institute of Psychiatry in London, warned yesterday that the risks were likely to be heightened by the increasing use of powerful skunk cannabis.

and

Cannabis has been implicated in a string of vicious killings, including the recent stabbing of fashion designer Lucy Braham.

These claims are absurd this is pure propaganda.  Unfortunately the majority of people know very little about cannabis and accept these claims as true.

Myth: Marijuana is an addictive drug.

The Truth: Not everyone has the same definition of addiction.  To some any use of an illicit drug is considered addiction, to others signs of dependency are the determining factor.  Depending on your definition marijuana could fill some of the criteria.

The generally accepted definition emphasizes preoccupation with the substance, compulsive use and frequent relapses.  Those who spend excessive time and money to get a drug may be considered pre-occupied.  As well as groups of friends who talk about nothing but the drug, or blog writers for that matter.  Users who smoke at the same time each day or can’t watch a movie without pot could be considered compulsive users.  What about relapses?  Those who continue use despite repeated attempts to quit are typical of addiction but this is a rare product of marijuana use.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the authoritative tool used by psychiatric professionals to diagnose mental disorders.  The DSM does not use the word addiction because it is too subjective.  It uses the terms dependence and abuse instead.  In the DSM a person is considered dependant if 3 of the 7 criteria are satisfied.  The criteria are

  1. Tolerance
  2. Withdrawal
  3. Use in excess of initial intention
  4. Failed attempts to decrease use
  5. Loss of time related to use
  6. Continued use despite problems
  7. Reduced activities due to use

Tolerance certainly applies to marijuana.  Some effects of pot diminish with continued use; things like dry mouth, munchies, coughing and inebriation are much less pronounced in an experienced user compared to a new user.  Once a tolerance is developed it takes more drug to get high.  The vast majority of marijuana users though will reach an equilibrium where they know the high they want and stop there.  Withdrawal means discomfort associated with absence of the drug.  Some heavy marijuana users report symptoms such as sleep disturbances, anxiety and irritability when they discontinue use abruptly.  These symptoms vary significantly from person to person and many users experience no withdrawal symptoms from marijuana.

The third symptom shows loss of control of the amount consumed.  Binge drinkers and cocaine users frequently display this symptom.  It is uncommon for a marijuana user to buy a big bag and not have any left in the house the next morning.  While some heavy users smoke huge quantities it is their intention to do so and not a loss of control.  For example Bob Marley was quoted in an interview to smoke over a pound of ganja (weed) per week.  That was no accident, he was a Ratafari and ganja  is sacrament in his religion.

The fourth symptom is also not typical of marijuana use.  While many users have a craving for the drug they also have no intention of quitting.  Few people have any trouble at all quitting marijuana use.  Number five, loss of time, is another very subjective symptom.  Marijuana is illegal worldwide and as such it takes time to track down and buy.  In contrast users of caffeine or nicotine can purchase their drug of choice at a variety of stores.  Impairment for the duration of the drug is not considered a loss of time to most users; that is often the goal.

Number six on the list is also subjective but somewhat easier to diagnose.  Any time lost from work as a result of use would qualify as well as unwanted lifestyle changes.  For example someone who previously enjoyed skiing and rock climbing but now spends most of the time laying on the couch  would qualify.  The pop culture image of a marijuana user is the burned-out couch potato but that is not the case in the vast majority of users (see Amotivational Syndrome Myth).  Arrest and or incarceration from a possession charge would not qualify because it is not the result of marijuana use but the result of prohibition.  The final symptom is continued use despite problems related to the drug.  This is another subjective symptom.  Cannabis users could experience confrontations with family members who have a strong opinion about the drug, legal problems, or increased symptoms from a pre-existing disease such as emphysema or asthma.

The criteria for determining drug dependence in the DSM are vague.  Out of the seven symptoms, some don’t apply to marijuana and others are open to interpretation.  Tolerance is the only one that is common in all marijuana users.  The case for marijuana dependence is weak and that is reflected in real-world marijuana use.

Abuse symptoms are even less objective than dependence symptoms.  The DSM requires only one of the four symptoms to diagnose abuse.  These are:

  1. Interference with major obligations
  2. Intoxication in an unsafe setting
  3. Legal problems
  4. Continued use in the face of troubles

Number one can include impairment at work/school or neglect of children due to use of the drug.  Number two often includes driving under the influence but studies show that marijuana users drive slower and are more cautious then non-stoned drivers (Study).  Legal problems have nothing to do with the substance itself and because of its inclusion in the list all use of an illicit drug is considered abuse.  If yogurt was made illegal today your breakfast would be considered abuse.  The final symptom is the same as it is for dependence.

Marijuana definitely fills some of these criteria but the DSM abuse criteria are way to subjective.  Many marijuana users smoke every day and in spite of legal problems, are they abusing it or simply using it?  There are people who do abuse marijuana but they represent roughly 6% of all users.  Marijuana abuse is a phenomenon not a problem.

Scientific studies have been conducted which compare the relative addictive effects of drugs including Heroin, Cannabis, Nicotine, Caffeine and others.  In two prominent studies marijuana was ranked last.  I graphed the data from one study (Hilts, 1994).

In a different study (Franklin, 1990) experts ranked 18 drugs on how easily they hook people.  Marijuana ranked 14th behind all the previously mentioned drugs.  The only ones that ranked lower were MDMA, mushrooms, LSD and mescaline.  This data is echoed in real life as only a small proportion of people who have tried marijuana go on to use it regularly.  Nearly 50% the US and Canada population over the age of 12 has tried pot at least once in their lives while 10% of the US and 14% of Canada’s population use cannabis on at least a monthly basis.

One of the arguments that proponents of this myth use is that large numbers of marijuana users are admitted to treatment every year.  What they don’t tell you is that they are given an ultimatum in court to take treatment or prison time.  The US Department of Health and Human Services admits that 37% of the estimated 288,000 thousand people who entered drug treatment for pot in 2007 had not reported using it in the 30 days previous to their admission.  Not only does this practice create phony statistics (used for anti-drug propaganda) it also allows a completely meaningless industry to thrive.  I’m doing a future post on the corrupt marijuana treatment industry.

Advocates of prohibition will often admit that pot is not addictive but instead they say it is “habit forming”.  What the fuck is that?  Habit forming is a reference to psychological instead of physical addiction.  It is even more vague than the description of addiction.  The habit forming argument is a total cop-out.  Is it that hard to imagine that people can use a drug because they like it and for that reason alone?

So is marijuana addictive?  The data show that it is not but the subjective nature of the word and diagnosis allow some wiggle room.  Millions of people around the world enjoy cannabis in a responsible way with no problems related to addiction.  Marijuana is easier to quit than coffee.  If all use is abuse then we’re all drug abusers.  Maybe our definitions of addiction, dependence and abuse say more about us a a society than about the drugs themselves.

Myth: Marijuana use causes permanent short-term memory loss.

neuronen-m-synapse

The Truth: Marijuana does cause short-term memory impairment but only when you are high. Just like how alcohol impairs your balance when you are drunk but not the rest of your life. Studies show that chronic smoking of marijuana does not produce major changes in general cognitive abilities like intelligence, memory and the ability to learn. Unfortunately there are marijuana users who help perpetuate this myth.

A study in Jamaica of 30 chronic users and 24 non-users investigated cognitive effects of long-term pot use (Bowman & Pihl 1973). The users smoked an average of 20 joints per day for at least 10 years. The testing took place in many environments from homes, huts to public places. The mobile approach ensured that even the most impaired individuals could participate. The study included many tests of reaction time, learning, perception and memory. The investigators determined that chronic marijuana consumption had no effect on cognitive abilities.

A more recent study looked at mental functioning of 1300 cannabis users in Baltimore over 11 years (Lyketsos; Garrett; Liang; Anthony 1999). The study used the Mini-Mental State Examination to examine the participants. There were no significant differences in cognitive decline between heavy users, light users, and nonusers of cannabis. Read it HERE.

Other studies show that the brain adapts to the acute memory effects (while you’re high) of cannabis.  A laboratory experiment on rats and mice show that short-term memory in the rats dropped initially in the 35 day examination but recovered to pre-drug levels by the end.  This study also shows some interesting stuff regarding cannabinoid effect of the hippocampus.  Read it HERE.  The acute short-term memory effect subsides after prolonged use.  Long time marijuana users will also confirm these results.

Marijuana does not make you dumb or ruin your short-term memory.  The myth was created and perpetuated by the anti-drug groups which continues to this day.  If this myth were true 14% of Canada and 10% of the United States would live by a system of notes, photographs, and tattoos like the guy in Memento.  As mentioned in the Amotivational Syndrome Myth, college students who smoke cannabis demonstrate comparable or even higher grades than their cannabis abstinent classmates, and are more likely to pursue a graduate degree (SOURCE).

Myth: Using marijuana for a long time makes some people lose interest in school, work, relationships and other activities.

stoner

The Truth: The origins of this myth go back to the 1960s.  It has been engrained in the pop culture image of a pot smoker; lazy, burned out loser.  It has been a common theme in all the recent anti-pot ads.  Despite evidence to the contrary concern over marijuana’s effect on motivation continues today.

The definition of motivation changes with different cultures around the world.  Not everyone who is motivated reflects the stereotypical Western values of motivation:  does well in school, works hard for their boss or performs in lab tests.  Some of the most successful people in the world are high school drop-outs including Richard Branson, Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, Ronald Reagan, Wright brothers and Albert Einstein.  Yet these are the criteria often used in testing of amotivational syndrome.

Clinical depression shares basically the same set of symptoms (fatigue, poor concentration, apathy).  There are a sub-set of pot smokers who are self-medicating their depression.  This group is far from the majority of users though.  To prove cannabis as a cause of such a syndrome takes the same criteria used in the Gateway Theory Myth (Association, Temporal Antecedence and Isolation).  Marijuana use must precede and correlate with amotivation to cause it.  The symptoms must not have any other causes such as depression or personality.  There have been several studies that try to show these criteria but they all failed.

Laboratory studies of humans and primates offer very little support for amotivational syndrome.  School performance does not vary with pot consumption in college students.  Employment data show no links between marijuana use and lower wages, poor work performance or job turnover.  No studies show the pervasive lethargy, dysphoria, and apathy that the myth claims should appear in all heavy users.  Some studies actually show that marijuana users are more likely to go on to earn a graduate degree.

Myth : One joint is equal to [12, 5, 20] cigarettes.

cigarette_burning_

The Truth: One joint is equal to no cigarettes.  This myth is very strongly defended by the prohibition camp.  There are many news articles from reputable sources, and some even citing scientific studies, that support this myth.  These studies focus on one aspect such as lung cancer or emphysema.  An article in the Washington Post uses the results of a recent study to support the myth saying “Smoking just one marijuana joint is the same as smoking five cigarettes in terms of the damage it does to your lungs, a new study found”.  See the article here.

The study claims that a cannabis user who smokes one joint per day has the same risk of lung cancer as a pack a day cigarette smoker.  The study gave questionnaires to a select group and used statistical analysis to calculate the relative risk.  In this study we are not comparing apples to apples.  First of all there is no standard size of a joint, they vary in weight from .2 g to 2 g or more.  The tobacco smokers in the study also did not all smoke the same amount. The methods of smoking a cigarette and a joint are also not the same.  A pot user will hold in a toke longer than a tobacco smoker and each user will hold it for different amounts of time.  Also joints are not filtered and cigarettes are.  The researchers did not have data to back up an exact comparison of joints to cigarettes and the study did not make that claim.  The exact one to five ratio was declared by the newspaper article writer.

There are few studies of this kind but the ones that show marijuana is more dangerous then tobacco are the minority.  Studies that investigate the relationship between cannabis and  cancer are much more numerous and the vast majority show that there is no link between the two.  A recent study at UCLA shows no link between cannabis and lung cancer and in fact shows an increased risk in tobacco users.  Not one case of lung cancer has been ever been successfully linked to marijuana use.  Marijuana is actually a popular medicine for cancer patients.  There are studies that show that marijuana can actually slow tumor growth and even regenertate brain cells (links: tumors, brain cells).  Studies even show that due to marijuana’s ability to clear the lungs of smog, pollutants, and cigarette smoke, it may actually reduce your risk of emphysema, bronchitis, and lung cancer.  Over 45,000 Canadians die from smoking tobacco each year, do you know how many die from marijuana? Not a single one. Nobody has ever died from marijuana. It takes hundreds of pounds in one sitting to OD which is physically impossible to do. Marijuana is not addictive and does not cause cancer. There are medical marijuana users all over the globe but how many cancer patients are using cigarettes for medicine?

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