7 Myths & Misconceptions About Medical Marijuana

Photo: KKGAS

We're currently in the middle of a cannabis revolution. Slowly but surely the plant—which was once dispensed at U.S. pharmacies and used as a legitimate medicine as recently as the 1930s—has fought its way back into a positive light after years of being maligned as a dangerous, corrupting influence. State by state we are joining the long list of countries who have embraced its healing powers and stopped jailing people for growing, selling, and using it.

Cannabis has had a dark past, tainted by political manipulation, racism (black Americans are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than white Americans), and misrepresentation of its true risks and benefits. And despite the fact that cannabis is still on the list of Schedule 1 substances—next to LSD, heroin, and ecstasy—the perception of the plant is changing.

As with any big change, the decriminalization of cannabis comes with various growing pains. No matter what you believe, there are still a lot of myths and misconceptions surrounding cannabis that we need to sort out before we can have an honest conversation about it, starting with:

1. The only way to use cannabis is to smoke it.

When it comes to cannabis, joints and bongs represent only a small percentage of the ways you can consume it. The delivery method rising in popularity most rapidly is the sublingual oil, like those from Juna and CareByDesign. These products are made by extracting the cannabinoids and terpenes from cannabis and then diluting it in a healthy oil like MCT oil or olive oil. Holding the oil under your tongue for about 60 seconds makes for a quick and smoke-free delivery method. Topical cannabis products, like those from Dr. Kerklaan Therapeutics and Lord Jones, are also hitting the shelves and praised for their ability to relieve pain and even help with inflammatory skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema. We're even seeing CBD-infused beauty products—as cannabis and its derivatives have potent antioxidant qualities—green powders, and face masks.

2. All the benefits of cannabis come from THC.

Because it's responsible for the intoxicating effects of cannabis, THC is by far the most famous chemical compound (also known as a cannabinoid) found in the plant. But it is far from the only one! There are over 100 known cannabinoids, and one in particular, cannabidiol (CBD), has been getting a lot of attention as of late. CBD is non-psychoactive and that means it won't get you stoned, but it has a ton of health benefits that range from fighting chronic inflammation and easing anxiety to taming drug-resistant seizures and pain from arthritis.

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3. You have to get stoned to get the benefits of cannabis.

Photo: @2risenaturals

So now we've established that not all the health benefits of cannabis come from THC, but is it possible to use cannabis as a therapy without getting high? Well, cannabis plants are extremely diverse and can range from being very high in THC to very high in CBD with almost no THC. Because of this, there are a plethora of high-CBD, non-psychoactive products out there. Dr. Ethan Russo, a neurologist and board member of the International Cannabis and Cannabinoid Institute, wants people to know that "Cannabis is an ancient drug that has been used throughout history, even by children. There are many kinds of cannabis, some with no psychoactive effects whatsoever. There are a broad spectrum of products that can treat and improve a variety of conditions."

Anything with a ratio of about 8:1 CBD:THC or higher will be non-psychoactive and ideal for conditions like anxiety. In addition, hemp-based CBD oils that contain little-to-no THC (less than 0.3 percent to be exact) are being sold nationwide by companies like TwoRise Naturals, CW Hemp, and Thorne.

4. Medical marijuana hasn't been studied rigorously.

It's true that legal hurdles have made studying cannabis in the United States extremely difficult. To paint a picture, for a researcher to conduct a study using cannabis as a therapy, they have to get approval from three federal agencies, which means years and years of paperwork. Despite this, we still know a lot about cannabis, how it works in the body, and what conditions it might help with. In large part this is thanks to other countries—most notably Israel and Brazil—who were still moving forward on cannabis despite the stigma. Thanks to them, we know all about cannabinoids, the receptors they react with in the body, and something called the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is the larger regulatory system in the body that is affected by THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids, and the health of this system has been connected to everything from mental health issues to gut health to headaches and chronic pain.

Not to mention, there are cannabis-based pharmaceutical drugs approved in countries around the world and even in the United States. This means that cannabis has been studied extensively in clinical trials and approved by government organizations for its safety and effectiveness.

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5. Doctors don't support cannabis legalization.

Every single day, more doctors are turning to cannabis to help their patients. In fact, entire research institutions and medical groups are calling for more research and the legalization of cannabis—at least in a medical setting. Even Sanjay Gupta himself changed his mind about cannabis, releasing a documentary titled WEED in 2013 to explain his new stance. The American Medical Association is also calling for research on cannabis therapies and their safety profile.

And it's not just doctors who want legalization; about 90 percent of Americans support the legalization of cannabis under medical supervision, and 60 percent of Americans support legalization in general. Millions of Americans are suffering from health issues that could potentially benefit from cannabis; it's no surprise that they and their doctors want them to have it as an option—especially when the existing pharmaceutical options leave a lot to be desired. According to Pamela Hadfield, the co-founder of the online cannabis education platform HelloMD, "A doctor’s perception of cannabis is often swayed by an experience they may have had with a patient, a loved one, or with themselves. A negative view on cannabis may suddenly become positive when a patient with a condition that seems intractable is 'cured' or symptoms are greatly improved with fewer negative side effects. A doctor may witness a patient who was once addicted to opioids able to taper off or eliminate them altogether with cannabis; this, too, can sway a medical practitioner’s view."

6. Marijuana is dangerous and addictive.

While there are some risks associated with cannabis use—such as anxiety, fainting, and even something called toxic psychosis, which is characterized by hallucinations and paranoia—these are all temporary and due to high doses of THC. Otherwise, science supports the notion that cannabis is safer than tobacco and alcohol. Specifically: No deaths have ever been attributed to consuming much cannabis. So while there are risks associated with using too much THC, when you compare those risks to opioids—which kill about 115 Americans every single day—or alcohol—which is responsible for over 88,000 deaths a year—they seem minor in comparison.

7. Cannabis growers are drug dealers.

One of the biggest hurdles to overcome has to do with our image of people who grow cannabis. Oftentimes they are still considered dangerous drug runners when in reality they're really just farmers. Cannabis is often grown on picturesque land without pesticides, and their products are put through rigorous tests for quality, potency, and purity by a state lab. The same goes for cannabis companies! Bloom Farms is a one-for-one cannabis company that donates a meal to a person in need for every product they sell. Their founder, Michael Ray, explained that "It's critical for all businesses to take a role in supporting the communities in which they operate—whether it's a cannabis company or any other company. At Bloom Farms we are passionate about easing food insecurity. The fact that one in five children go to bed hungry in California is heartbreaking." They have already donated over 1 million meals.

In the coming years, we'll likely see cannabis embraced by more states, medical institutions, patients, and politicians. So regardless of where you stand on cannabis legalization, it's important to know the facts and dispel common myths so we can all make the most informed decision possible.

Curious about hemp-based CBD oil? Here's what leading doctors think about it.

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