We all know too well the history of the stigma surrounding marijuana. From people telling you that it kills your brain cells, to the idea that it’s some hyper-addictive, lazy-maker drug, you’ve surely heard it all.
The name, Marijuana, was introduced to Americans during an influx of Mexican immigration in the early 1900s after the Mexican Revolution – and as such, the cannabis plant became known as Marijuana. The plant became an integral part of a political push in America to direct anger and blame toward Black and Hispanic Americans for what we now know as The Great Depression. A phenomenon not too far from what’s currently happening in US politics.
Thus began the campaign to eradicate and educate around the scourge and dangers of ‘locoweed’, a drug associated with Blacks, Hispanics, Prostitutes and, oddly enough, Jazz Musicians.
Let’s take a bit of a deeper look at the issues.
Until the mid-1800s, weed had been legal pretty much everywhere worldwide. Until colonists in Brazil, South Africa, Mauritius and various other British Colonies decided to begin outlawing what was then mostly known as ganja, due to its use amongst slaves and indentured labourers.
It’s a strange thing to think about, as a modern smoker knowing only prohibition, that Marijuana’s illegality has only taken up a very small, less than two-century portion of its rich history.
Next, came a man named Harry Anslinger. He was the director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics from 1930 to 1962, and was one of the main figures behind the first campaigns to demonize Cannabis, and spread anti-weed propaganda. Anslinger was known for keeping files on Jazz musicians, as well as being a star propagandist and fear-monger.
He eventually testified before the US Congress in an attempt to have the drug federally banned, stating, “Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind. Most marijuana smokers are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage.”. He succeeded in getting Cannabis banned countrywide, and it still remains illegal on a federal level today despite being legal in many states.
In 1936, came a film called Reefer Madness, a well-known, after-school, special-style film intending to educate parents on the dangers of ganja in order to protect their children. It was originally financed by a church group, and depicted events that would occur should high-school children become drawn into the dangerous world of Marijuana. Some of these events included hit and runs, manslaughter, suicide, a rape attempt, hallucinations and eventually, a permanent madness. Here, we can start to see where some of these truly cooked ideas on weed came from.
Now, sitting here in 2019 this is just insane to hear. It’s racist bigotry in its purest form, with equal parts nonsense and sensationalism thrown in there. This makes the stigma around Marijuana such an important boundary to break down. It’s effectively built on legs of racism, xenophobia and outright lies, and we’re sure many people with a stigma against it would reconsider their angle, or at least the extent of it, were they aware of this history.
The damage, however, had been done. When Nixon would take over the presidency in 1969, he would continue Anslinger’s onslaught against the drug in a spectacular fashion that would end up being largely ineffective, costing the US billions, and fuelling black market trade. This was more commonly known as the War on Drugs.
Thanks to all the hard work of these propagandists in the past, certain stigmas and myths around Marijuana have been extremely hard to shake. Some so much so that it’s hard to even find concrete evidence denying them.
The US government had set a standard by making Marijuana so very illegal, but also made it extremely hard to get a research or study permit on the drug. This meant that no one was able to refute the ludicrous claims until very recent years.
We’ve chosen the five most common myths around Marijuana and explained why they’re false, in order to help educate and spread awareness about the drug. It’s important that we break down these walls, and realise how damaging the history of Marijuana has been.
Not only to those who simply want to enjoy it, but to those who were associated with ‘the devil’s weed’ due to profession, skin colour, ethnicity, nationality, and a number of other reasons.
This is one of the most common myths about marijuana, and is a bit of a convoluted one. It forms the basis of most anti-marijuana education campaigns, with claims that trying marijuana will either leave you wanting or needing to progress to harder drugs.
Now, there’s no doubt that marijuana has somewhat of an association with harder drugs. If you’ve met someone who’s tried harder drugs, they’ve likely tried marijuana, and early on in their experimenting too. However, most marijuana smokers you’ve met have likely not tried harder drugs, so how does this work?
As far as we’re concerned, and many would agree, this gateway effect is one that we created by making the drug illegal. Were cannabis legal to buy, as it is now in many countries, you could simply go to the shop and buy it, end of story.
However, when it’s illegal you have to buy it on the black market. The same place where one would encounter harder drugs, and possibly even be encouraged to try them out. In this way, the gateway theory is true, but it’s certainly not an effect of marijuana itself. It’s systemic.
This theory, as unpopular as it may sound, is not fully false. However, it is largely misunderstood – as is common in addiction as a whole. Marijuana is not addictive in the same way as a drug like heroin, or nicotine. It doesn’t form a chemical dependence, the way those drugs do, leaving you ‘sick’ without it.
It can, however, be habit forming, or form a part of a polysubstance addiction – this is an addiction to being altered, no matter the mechanism, and centres around just being high all the time, as opposed to being addicted to a specific drug.
The habit-forming, or mental addiction to marijuana can be just as intense-feeling as what one might imagine another drug addiction to be. Weed has certainly ruined some lives, and taken over the lives of others. However, quitting it isn’t the same incredulous task of mind, body and discipline as quitting heroin or methamphetamine.
This is similar, in certain ways, to how some become addicted to food, video games, Netflix or nicotine-free vaping. It’s a lot easier to break the habit through distraction, lifestyle changes, keeping busy and keeping that dopamine flowing, than it is to kick a physically addictive drug habit.
As a result, this one’s a grey area – but anyone who tells you that weed is addictive in terms of “you try it once, you’re done” is totally wrong. It’s quite safe in comparison to just about all other drugs, to use in moderation and with caution.
We’re not going to beat around the bush – inhaling smoke, of any kind, is really bad for your lungs and in most cases will affect lung function. There is, however, a difference between the specific effects that tobacco smoke and cannabis smoke have on your lungs.
The chemicals in tobacco are really bad for your lungs. They have been found to damage DNA in cells, which is the main reason for issues around cancer. When carcinogens are ingested and cells become cancerous, our body has ways of stopping those cells from spreading. However, one of the effects of this change in DNA is preventing your cells from self-regulating the spread of cancer.
Furthermore, other chemicals in tobacco prevent the restorative or reparative process our cells have of fixing DNA damage. This compound effect quite literally opens a free path for carcinogens to enter our lungs and do the damage they’re built to do.
Now, Cannabis smoke also contains carcinogens, but has none of these cell-damaging side effects found in tobacco – at least not as far as we know. In fact, cannabinoids like THC and CBD have been found to be non-carcinogenic, as well as demonstrating anticancer and antioxidant properties. So, while the smoke inhalation is still quite unhealthy, you’ve got some level of protection from the carcinogens.
We’d still recommend vaping or edibles over smoking, however.
This, for the most part, is true. However, there is a third sub-species of cannabis called Cannabis Ruderalis. Ruderalis is found in Eastern Europe and Russia and known for being rather low in THC content.
It grows very small, when compared with both sativa and indica, and where sativa has long, thin leaves and indica shorter, fat ones – ruderalis has somewhere in between, where the main three leaves in the fan are more prominent, and the other two on either side are tiny.
Many ruderalis strains are high CBD, and it was historically used in Eurasian folk medicine to treat depression, and stomach issues. More recently, however, it’s discovery led to the creation of autoflowering strains.
Where sativa and indica begin the flowering stage of growth when the days begin to get shorter than the nights around autumn, ruderalis flowers based on plant age. As a result, it’s been bred into common strains over the years to create seeds that flower automatically after a certain period of time, or growth. These are known as autoflowers, and you can find almost any popular strain in an autoflower variant these days.
This is a hard one to hear for those of us who have been fighting to get people to understand that weed is not a harmful, life-destroying drug. It truly does not seem to pose any threat to society or culture, nor any great threat to one’s livelihood or wellbeing.
This does not, however, mean that it’s harmless. Being a mind-altering drug, it’s not for everyone, and everyone reacts differently to it. There are hundreds of anecdotes of people trying it once, and it triggering a latent mental issue or anxiety they previously weren’t aware of.
More common, of course, are stories of people consuming too much and having dire panic attacks, or thinking they’re dying – while funny in retrospect, this can really leave one scarred and changed as an experience.
Most realistic, though, and the one thing most stoners hate to admit, is driving impaired. While the jury is out on comparing the impairing effects of alcohol versus cannabis on drivers, there still occur accidents where being high is the culprit. No matter the substance, no one should be driving impaired – cars and roads are dangerous enough as they are, and being under the influence isn’t going to help anybody.
From a purely practical point of view, debunking these myths and replacing them with cold, hard, scientific fact is of such importance for two reasons. Firstly, to educate those interested in consuming cannabis about what the real effects, side effects and possible dangers are. Secondly, it’s so important because so many of those making laws around Marijuana are still in the mindset they were brought up in, where weed is an evil drug associated with bad people who do bad things.
From a more social perspective, it’s important to replace the myth with fact because of the racial and social aspect to the history of the drug. There are still racist effects of the history of marijuana occuring today, even in legal places, and it’s going to take a long, long time to dispel this association, even when it’s been mostly broken down.
It’s simply not fair on the people affected, nor those trying to enjoy the plant to still have this grey cloud hanging over them. We’re now living in a time where weed is becoming legal again, to the extent of it being supplied by the government in some countries, or legal to possess and cultivate for personal use like here in South Africa. It’s a changing world, yet old habits die hard, so we’ve got to work even harder to break them.
To leave you with something to think about, here’s the original 1939 ‘Reefer Madness’ film. Just take a watch, and see if you think any of the ideas perpetuated in this film could have somehow become filtered down into what is now your conservative aunt’s view on pot.