12 of the Biggest Myths About Marijuana Debunked
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For decades, cannabis opponents controlled the messaging around the popular plant and cultivated any number of lies about its effects. This built up a powerful stigma against marijuana, the effects of which have not worn off. The racist, expensive and failed U.S. war on drugs continues to rage on. The criminalization of cannabis users and distributors remains a top priority in that war. The government stubbornly classifies it as a dangerous Schedule I substance with no medical value, despite stacks of evidence to the contrary.
While many acknowledge the truth about cannabis—that it is healthier than alcohol and more effective than pharmaceutical drugs in treating a number of illnesses—and more than half of all Americans want it legalized, marijuana myths are still repeated in some mainstream circles. Legalization opponents, determined to ignore the evidence, are grasping to justify their outdated position.
But the evidence is in, and the arguments against legalization simply don’t hold up. As more people feel comfortable discussing the actual facts about marijuana, the falsehoods that dominated much of the 20th century are dissipating from the zeitgeist.
Here are a dozen marijuana myths that persist to some degree today, and the facts that debunk them.
Myth #1: Stoned driving is as bad as drunk driving.
Drunk driving kills 28 people a day in America, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Studies have not found similar results for driving while high, and it’s not even clear that marijuana even increases the number of traffic accidents. That’s not to say that marijuana doesn’t affect driving ability—for many people it does. However, marijuana use is as likely as anything to make people more cautious than usual, which is an asset while driving. This same cautiousness makes some high people opt not to drive at all. Furthermore, as Sanjay Gupta explains in his documentary Weed, daily pot smokers seem to be less impaired on the road after smoking than occasional users.
Myth #2: Legalization wouldn’t hurt the drug cartels.
The most obvious and direct way that legalizing marijuana in the United States would save lives is through weakening drug cartels. While the United States is mostly insulated from the horrors of Sinaloa, Los Zetas and the other powerful and violent cartels, they are a scourge on Mexico and much of Central and South America. The cartels don’t just trade in marijuana, they are essentially armed gangs that will make money in any way they can, including extortion, human trafficking, and selling other drugs and contraband. But estimates put marijuana at 30-50% of cartel revenue. Were legal sellers in the United States to effectively steal their largest market, the cartels would continue to exist, but they would be able to fund fewer soldiers and bribe fewer politicians. The bloodshed they visit on each other and on countless civilians would be similarly reduced.
Myth #3: Marijuana causes brain damage.
This one resurfaced lately, based largely on one recent study in France. The study looked at the brains of 20 heavy cannabis users and compared them to 20 non-smokers (all participants were 18-25). Their brains showed differences in areas related to cognitive and emotional processing. The media ran with those results, claiming that marijuana reorganizes your brain. As the study authors explain, their results do not show this. Rather, they show a correlation, with no clear indication whether cannabis changes brain structure or if people with certain brain structures are more likely to enjoy marijuana. It should also be noted that the sample size of the study is very small, and that the study does not examine long-term effects of cannabis use. And, even if cannabis use does cause changes in the brain over time, there is no evidence to show whether those changes are positive or negative.