Cannabis is a controversial substance, and it has been for more than a century. Yet, cannabis is also a substance that has evolved with humankind for thousands upon thousands of years. In all that time, humans have developed many theories about how cannabis works — and many of those theories are utterly false.
Myths About Cannabis



While many untrue cannabis myths are used unfairly in arguments against cannabis legalization, other myths are perpetuated because they place pot in a positive light. For the sake of clarity, here are a few more cannabis myths and the evidence-based truths that contradict them.

Cannabis Kills Brain Cells

Throughout the 20th century, studies on cannabis strove to better understand the drug’s short- and long-term effects — but because of cannabis prohibitions, access to cannabis was limited, and many researchers were denied funding for cannabis-related projects. As a result, much of the cannabis research conducted between the 1940s and 1990s was self-funded, and studies tended to be unreasonably small.

Such was the case for Dr. Robert G. Heath’s monkey studies, which purported to find brain damage in three monkeys subjected to heavy doses of cannabis. Though the researcher himself called for more robust research into the phenomenon, many anti-cannabis organizations immediately utilized his findings to spread the myth that cannabis use irreparably harms the brain. Yet, attempts to replicate the study have yielded no similar results. In no animal trial since Heath’s has any brain damage been noted, even amongst the highest doses of cannabis exposure.

In fact, more recent research has found that cannabis could have neuroprotective properties, especially in those who have suffered trauma to the brain. These findings could open the door to cannabis-based treatments for those experiencing brain damage, to include those with neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.

Prohibition Keeps Cannabis Users Safe

There is a persistent belief that restricting access to cannabis helps reduce the harm caused by cannabis. However, this assumes that cannabis is as inherently dangerous as other narcotics, which is demonstrably untrue; consistently, cannabis research confirms that cannabis does not damage the body or mind comparably to opiates or even legal recreational substances like alcohol.

Meanwhile, prohibition radically reduces cannabis users’ access to safe and reliable weed and paraphernalia. When cannabis bans are in place, the government does not regulate cannabis products and tools. As a result, criminal enterprises are at liberty to participate in any number of unscrupulous acts in production and distribution, to include cutting cannabis with dangerous substances like fentanyl and PCP. Prohibiting cannabis only serves to transform a relatively harmless drug into a potentially deadly one.

In contrast, legal cannabis dispensaries must undertake significant testing of their products to ensure consumer safety. It is incredibly unlikely that any dangerous compound will make its way into a Fort Collins dispensary thanks to legalization and regulation.


Cannabis Addiction Isn’t Real

Though cannabis is much safer than other narcotic substances, it isn’t completely without risk. In particular, it is possible to develop a cannabis abuse problem — just as it is possible to become addicted to almost any substance or behavior. The most recent edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Medical Disorders details Cannabis Use Disorder, which is largely marked by uncontrolled consumption habits and unwanted effects, like cravings and withdrawals.

Because cannabis doesn’t create a physical addiction as other narcotics do, substance abuse with cannabis isn’t nearly as common or worrisome as it is with drugs like opiates. Still, all cannabis users should become familiar with the signs and symptoms of abuse and work to avoid risky behaviors in their own cannabis habits.

Cannabis Eases Anxiety

One of the more common medical applications for cannabis is in the treatment of anxiety. Indeed, plenty of research has found some benefits to using cannabis in cases of severe anxiety disorders, especially social anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that cannabis is appropriate for all patients who experience nervousness or fear.

Many users attest that cannabis consumption can worsen feelings of anxiety. Indeed, higher doses of THC are strongly associated with physical and psychological anxiety reactions, like paranoia and increased heart rate. Worse, those who benefit from cannabis consumption in anxiety treatment can find their anxiety condition worsen when cannabinoids are not present in their system. This could signal the beginning of a cannabis use disorder.

Most mental health professionals do not advocate strongly for using cannabis treatment in cases of clinical anxiety because the risks of worsening the condition are too great. Those suffering from anxiety should talk to experts about how to use cannabis safely and seek alternative treatment to keep feelings of anxiety in check.

We still have plenty to learn about cannabis — how it affects our physical bodies, our mental health and our public policy. Fortunately, as we bust myths about cannabis, we come closer to developing cannabis policies and practices that are safe for everyone.