Pubdate: Fri, 08 Jan 2016
Source: Kootenay News Advertiser (CN BC)
Copyright: 2016 Kootenay News Advertiser
Author: Dean Nicholson


As the federal government begins the process of moving towards 
legalizing marijuana, East Kootenay Addiction Services Society will 
be presenting a number of articles to generate discussion about 
marijuana and what changes to marijuana laws could mean. This article 
will look at some of the common beliefs about marijuana and separate 
the myths from the facts.

Marijuana is the most popular illicit drug used worldwide.  Because 
of its popularity, and in part because of the push to change the 
legal status of marijuana in Western countries, there are many 
statements made about marijuana in the media and on the internet that 
sound factual but may not be accurate.

Myth 1: Marijuana is a plant, it's natural and therefor it's safe.

Truth: People often use this argument when comparing marijuana to 
man-made chemical drugs like Ecstasy, Crystal Meth or Fentanyl. Just 
because marijuana grows out of the ground doesn't make it 
automatically safe. There are lots of plants that can kill or cause 
serious illness. Marijuana naturally has a large number of active 
compounds which can affect everything from brain function, 
development of the fetus, and lung functioning. Marijuana today is 
often grown in controlled settings with fertilizers and other 
chemicals to increase the productivity. These chemicals aren't at all 
natural. Remember that all substance use has potential risks and no 
drug is perfectly safe.

Myth 2: Marijuana is a gateway drug. If you start smoking marijuana 
you'll move on to harder drugs.

Truth: This one is mostly a myth. Most people who try or use 
marijuana don't go on to use other drugs. There is nothing in 
marijuana that automatically makes people want to try other drugs. It 
is true that most people, who report using drugs like cocaine, or 
opioids or amphetamines, also report that they used marijuana before 
they started these drugs. That doesn't mean marijuana caused them to 
use those drugs. After alcohol, marijuana is typically the first drug 
that young people experiment with if they are going to experiment. 
There can be many reasons why a small group of people will progress 
from using marijuana to using other drugs. They can include genetic 
vulnerabilities, personality factors, history of trauma, and 
environmental factors. It is true that if young people smoke 
marijuana they have a greater chance of being exposed to people using 
other drugs, but it does not mean they will automatically use them.

Myth 3: No one has ever died from a marijuana overdose, therefore 
it's safer to use.

Truth: It probably is true that no one has actually overdosed by 
using marijuana. It doesn't seem to affect the body that way. That 
doesn't mean people haven't died while under the influence of 
marijuana through motor vehicle crashes and other accidents caused 
because people's judgment, coordination and motor control were 
impaired by marijuana.  Marijuana also acts to increase the effects 
of other drugs. People who use marijuana while using alcohol, cocaine 
or other drugs could be at greater risk from overdosing from those 
drugs. Just like alcohol, there are safer times, places and ways to 
use marijuana, and there are ways which are riskier.

Myth 4: Marijuana is not addictive.

Truth: Marijuana is addictive, both physically and psychologically. 
Some of the confusion around this belief arises because of confusion 
with the word 'addiction'. A better word might be dependency.  One of 
the reasons people often don't recognize marijuana dependency is that 
it is often not as obvious as alcohol or cocaine dependency, where 
the negative problems tend to be more obvious and show up earlier. 
Regular use of marijuana can cause dependency in which people 
experience a strong need to use marijuana in order to feel o.k. This 
can be accompanied by increased use, more thought and time spent 
focussed on using, using at times and places that would not be 
socially appropriate, and using despite having negative consequences. 
Withdrawal symptoms can occur when someone has been using heavily for 
a period of time. These can include irritability, anxiety, difficulty 
falling asleep, lack of appetite, restlessness, depression and 
occasionally abdominal pain. A recent! report suggested that 
marijuana users have a 16% risk of developing dependency. This was 
slightly lower than alcohol (23%) or cocaine (21%) but still means 
that one out of six people who use marijuana could be at risk for 
developing a more serious problem.

There are many other mistaken ideas about the risks and benefits of 
marijuana use. Unfortunately there is no shortage of websites and 
blogs talking about marijuana, many of which sound authoritative but 
which give information which may be inaccurate or flat-out wrong. The 
following Canadian organizations all have excellent websites which 
offer factual, research-based information on the risks and benefits 
of marijuana:

Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse:

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health:

Centre for Addiction Research of British Columbia:

For more information about marijuana please contact your local East 
Kootenay Addiction Services office.

Dean Nicholson, M.A., Executive Director, East Kootenay Addiction Services
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