Very few drugs have a more undeserved stigma than weed.
Thanks to Reefer Madness, fear-mongering PSAs, and countless after-school specials, pot may seem like a monster drug that causes people to commit heinous acts of murder.
This mislabeling has sprouted a ton of myths and misunderstandings. We’ve stepped in to roll up these myths and set them ablaze. Come and chill with us on the futon while we break down what weed actually does and what it really, really doesn’t.
Let’s get to know the humble cannabis plant a bit better.
There are over 545 known chemical compounds in cannabis,
They work by stimulating receptors in the brain. These fire off chemical reactions that change the activity of the mind and body.
THC is behind the cerebral buzz people that often associate with a toke on a blunt. However, it’s also responsible for many of weed’s advserse effects, such as paranoia and anxiety.
CBD balances out the effects of THC. It is non-intoxicating,
Instead, researchers believe that CBD may help a person reduce anxiety,
We dived a little deeper into weed’s effects on your brain.
Cannabis won’t make you sacrifice goats to Satan overnight or directly make you a violent criminal. At the same time, weed’s not a cure-all elixir and can still cause long-term health problems if you use it too regularly.
We filtered out the stems and the seeds to leave you with only the good stuff. Bullsh*t theories around weed help neither its users nor its critics.
Myth: The munchies aren’t real
Fact: Munchies and weed used to go together like peanut butter and jelly, and Sour Patch Kids, and cookies, (no, the chocolate chip ones), and…
Seriously, though. According to a 2017 mini-review of studies, cannabis causes hunger pangs by hijacking part of the brain — the hypothalamus.
This is the area of the brain in charge of making you hungry, horny, and tired. It essentially makes you feel stuff to acknowledge what your body needs, even if your body doesn’t actually need it.
The author of the review suggests that your overwhelming urge to chow down when high comes from the triggering of reactions in this part of the nervous system.
Myth: Weed now isn’t as strong as it used to be
Fact: “The quick and dirty summary is that the concentration of THC in cannabis now is way higher than it used to be,” says Ryan Vandrey, PhD, an associate professor who studies cannabis and nicotine at Johns Hopkins University.
“People who are good at plant biology have gotten into cannabis and selectively bred plants to be higher in THC, but that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone is getting higher than their parents did in the ’60s.”
“Potency does not equal dose,” says Vandrey. “That’s something people often get confused.” In other words, pot smokers today might smoke less weed to achieve the same high.
One study examining cannabis samples in the United States between 1995 and 2014 found that potency has increased, and that modern weed is more comprised of the flower portion of the cannabis plant, which contains more THC than other parts like the leaves.
The key is knowing your limits. If you’re thinking of Musk/Grimes-esque baby names to give your pet guinea pig, for example, it might be time to slow down a little.
Myth: All weed produces the same kind of high
Fact: Most people believe there are only two species of cannabis plants: Indica and Sativa. Dispensaries also offer hybrid strains that claim to combine effects from both.
Scientists can’t fully agree on whether there are more strains.
Sativa is a tall plant with narrow leaves that is widely believed to produce a cerebral, psychoactive effect, while indica is typically shorter with wide leaves. The latter has more of a reputation for relaxing, sedate feelings for users — a “sleepy” rather than “upbeat” high.
However theres no official research into the sativa vs. indica effects. Also even if this sativa vs. indica effect difference was indeed true, there’s still no credible agency that is certifying what is sativa and what is indica.
Plus everyone processes THC differently, and one person’s “buzzy and creative” might be another’s “chilled out.”
Despite the encouraging words of your budtender, it can be tough to predict the exact reaction you’ll have to a particular strain. Researchers are continuing to explore the differences between them, including the levels of THC and CBD each contain.
Myth: Synthetic weed is safe
Fact: Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. Also, it is wrong.
Synthetic weed — also known as spice, K2, and fake weed — can be up to 100 times stronger than natural weed, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find spice that’s been through a safe manufacturing process.
Chances are, the synthetic weed circulating nowadays has used nail varnish remover and other highly toxic chemicals.
Originally created in a lab as a way to find out how cannabinoids affect the brain, synthetic weed has been marketed as a safe, legal version of weed. Needless to say, it is not.
Once the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) caught on to its extreme side effects — hallucinations, stroke, vomiting, acute psychosis, even death — it banned the substance without hesitation.
However, manufacturers can quickly create versions that are subtly different on a chemical level and then label them “not for human consumption.”
For this reason, many harmful synthetic weed products slip through the DEA’s net and into head shops and bodegas.
“It’s powerful — much more powerful than natural marijuana,” says Yasmin Hurd, PhD, a professor of neuroscience, psychiatry, and pharmacology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “It can induce psychosis, because a lot of strains don’t contain CBD, which decreases the anxiety from THC.”
There is one exception where the use of synthetic weed is safe. Dronabinol is a prescription medication approved by the FDA for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and anorexia (extreme weight loss) in patients with AIDS. Dronabinol is a synthetic form of Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the same component found in marijuana.
Because it is FDA approved, Dronabinol is highly regulated and safe for use when taken as prescribed for appropriate medical conditions.
Myth: D.A.R.E. helps kids stay away from weed
Fact: You remember D.A.R.E., right? It was the time in school where you and your buds could straight-up chill with a bunch of off-duty police officer dudes and talk the straight poop about drugs. Rad.
While the program had a massive surge in the ’80s and ’90s, studies show it didn’t do anything to keep kids from trying drugs and was pretty controversial.
The issue is its just-say-no approach, which meant that students never learned how to communicate with their peers and discuss drugs openly.
In 2009, the D.A.R.E. program switched up its approach to “Keeping it R.E.A.L.”, which had some more success in keeping kids away from weed by using a more realistic approach.
Myth: You can’t overdose on weed
Fact: You can, but it won’t kill you.
You first need to understand what an overdose is. It simply means you’ve taken more than the normal or recommended amount of a particular substance.
So it is possible to overdose on cannabis. Symptoms of a weed overdose include:
- loss of coordination, which can lead to severe injuries
- chest symptoms, including a rapid heart rate and chest pain
- pale skin color
- unresponsiveness to cues such as a person calling their name or touching them
- hallucinations or delusions
- blood pressure spikes
The American Addiction Centers (AAC) suggest that most people who overdose on weed do so when consuming it alongside another substance.
In a 1988 petition from the DEA, a judge wrote that for cannabis to be fatal, a person would need to consume around 15,000 pounds of the stuff in about 15 minutes.
You may be familiar with the experience of smoking a joint, summoning the energy to get out of your chair, managing it 5 minutes later, then forgetting why you stood up.
Needless to say, rolling blunts or baking brownies that contain 15,000 pounds of weed and consuming them within 15 minutes is not on the cards. It’s basically impossible to die from a weed overdose. However, even though smoking too much weed won’t kill you, it doesn’t necessarily make you stronger.
If you regularly feel awful after smoking too much, it may be doing long-term damage to your mental health. It’d be a good idea to reign in the amount of green you get through if it doesn’t make you feel good.
Myth: You can cheat a urine test
Fact: Hips don’t lie, and neither does pee. If you’ve used weed before a drug test, it’s going to show.
Tons of products market the ability to flush drugs from your system, but the only true way to “cheat” a urine test is to substitute your pee with someone else’s.
THC consumption remains detectable in a urine test for the following amounts of time, depending on a person’s level of weed consumption:
- Using weed up to 3 times per week: 3 days
- Up to 4 times per week: 5 to 7 days
- Daily: 10 to 15 days
- Multiple times per day: 30 days
“All those [detox] teas do is dilute your urine,” says Vandrey, “Most facilities now test for dilution and would flag that sample as invalid.”
Myth: Weed will make you into a criminal
Fact: If weed is illegal where you live, then, technically, yes.
However, despite the stereotype, taking a bong hit won’t instantly make you sprout an El Chapo moustache and start baying for the blood of your business rivals.
In fact, there’s never been a clear link between weed and violent crimes.
A 2014 meta-analysis of U.S. state panel data found that the level of cannabis use has no direct link to an increased number of violent crimes and property crimes.
“From the standpoint that it’s illegal to possess cannabis in a state that outlaws it, I guess it does make you a criminal,” Vandrey says, “Beyond that, there’s no reasonable sense to think any criminal activity would happen because of smoking marijuana.”
Myth: Weed is not addictive
Fact: It absolutely is. Marijuana use disorder is a real thing, and around 30 percent of people who consume marijuana regularly may have it, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The addictive potential of marijuana is linked to THC (CBD is non-addictive, and may even possess anti-addictive properties).
On a similar note, many people cite weed’s lack of withdrawal symptoms while insisting that it isn’t addictive. But they’re also wrong on that front.
It is not uncommon for regular users of cannabis who suddenly stop to experience some physical symptoms of withdrawal, including:
- mood and sleep difficulties
- decreased appetite
While cannabinoids do not have the addictive tendencies of compounds like opioids, your body will adjust to the influx of THC by desensitizing the receptors in your brain. When THC is suddenly removed, your body needs time to resensitize the receptors which no longer have THC to stimulate them.
This can play havoc with your sleep cycle, mood, and appetite for a little while.
You may have friends who never seem to appear without a joint tucked behind their ear but insist weed cannot be addictive because it’s a plant and not a drug.
It may be time to show them some cold, hard science and offer some help and understanding.
That friend might also be you. If you want to stop or cut down but are finding it difficult, you may benefit from calling the Marijuana Addiction Hotline, provided by the AAC.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) also provide a National Helpline if you need to talk to someone about your weed use.
There you have it: Weed doesn’t immediately turn you violent, it won’t kill you, and it will very likely boost your appetite.
However, you can overdose, weed addiction is real, and modern strains are more potent than ever before.
Be your own benchmark when it comes to weed use. If you already use it, listen to your body after you smoke. Is it panic you feel? Contentment? Anxiety? Creativity? If it doesn’t feel good, give yourself a tolerance break or limit your use.
If you’re thinking about using it for the first time, consider the laws in your area. You can have a far safer first experience in states and countries where weed has gone through legalization.
But cannabis is not everyone’s cup of (THC) tea, so always think twice about whether you want to start. Perhaps try CBD first so you can work out if it’s beneficial before using any intoxicating products.
In the right hands, cannabis products can be fun, relaxing, and even therapeutic. But too much of a good thing tends to present a barrier to the fun. Keep yourself informed to work out whether weed is the right vice for you.