There are 975 different pieces of cannabis-related legislation currently moving through state and federal legislatures. The topic of legalization has even made it onto the national election stage. This has meant some furious lobbying for and against each piece of legislation. It is no surprise, then, that there is a tremendous amount of evidence available on each side of the debate. Unfortunately, not all of that information is reliable.

Cannabis myths are nothing new, but they are now even more widespread. To help you sift through the all of the information and misinformation available we’ve debunked five of the most common myths about cannabis.

Myth #1: Cannabis is entirely harmless

Not exactly and not always. Numerous studies have confirmed that cannabis is safer than alcohol and tobacco and much safer than many hard drugs. However, heavy use of marijuana can be very harmful. There are several reasons for this.

Smoking marijuana has risks that are similar to smoking cigarettes. It contains carcinogens and can also lead to bronchitis and other more serious respiratory illnesses. Of course, smoking is not the only way to ingest marijuana, but there are risks with other methods as well.

There is increasing evidence that cannabis edibles are leading to a rise in marijuana-related emergency room visits. It’s difficult to know how much cannabis is ingested with edibles. Because people metabolize it at very different rates, it is difficult to assess just when marijuana will become toxic to them. Overconsumption can lead to a host of problems, including the potential for cannabis-induced psychosis, which creates paranoia, confusion and hallucinations in users.

Various studies have also linked cannabis use to psychiatric disorders, heart disease and stroke. Since it does produce a sense of euphoria or a high, it also presents a safety risk for drivers or anyone working in a safety-sensitive position. In fact, consuming marijuana before driving puts users at twice the risk of causing a crash that results in severe injury or death.

Myth #2: Cannabis is not addictive

This is also false. While cannabis is considerably less addictive than many harder drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamines, it is possible to become addicted to marijuana. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), approximately 10% of users will become addicted to marijuana. If consumption starts before the age of 18, the rate rises to almost 17%. The rate of addiction increases even further for people who use cannabis several times a week.

People who are addicted to cannabis may develop a craving or a strong tolerance of the drug, which leads them to need more of it to achieve a high. This results in the same withdrawal symptoms that are often associated with other drugs, including:

  • Mood changes
  • Irritability
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Loss of focus
  • Feelings of depression
  • Diminished appetite

THC is the substance in marijuana that has the most substantial effect on the brain, and it is believed that THC also dictates dependency. There is growing concern among health professionals that the safety of illegal marijuana and its potential to foster addiction as the amount of THC in marijuana has increased three-fold in the last 25 years.

Myth #3: All cannabis gets you “high”

This isn't correct. Yes, cannabis can get you high. However, its potential to do so is dependent on a single ingredient called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). If cannabis contains no or minimal THC, it will not create the same sense of euphoria. It will not get you high. This is the case with cannabidiol (CBD) infused products, which do not usually contain the THC found in other marijuana products.

CBD is a natural compound found in both cannabis and hemp. It can help people relax and has several positive health effects, but it is not intoxicating. Cannabis is still a controlled substance, and the only way to legally consume CBD is in a hemp-derived product. These products must contain no more than 0.03 per cent THC.

Myth #4: You can’t overdose on cannabis

False. Although cannabis overdoses are generally not lethal, you can still definitely overdose on cannabis. The most common symptoms of a cannabis overdose include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Extreme confusion
  • Paranoia
  • Short-term psychosis

Much of the risk from cannabis overdose comes from related injuries such as a motor vehicle accident, falls or poisoning. Most of these effects will dissipate as the impact of cannabis wears off. However, they can take several hours to diminish.

The risks of a cannabis overdose increase dramatically with edible use as it is often difficult for users to accurately gauge how much of the drug they have ingested. The risks are also increased with the use of synthetic cannabinoids, as they are known to have a much more powerful effect on the brain.

Myth #5: Marijuana is a gateway drug

This too is false. There is no evidence definitively linking marijuana use to the use of harder drugs, particularly by human beings. Much of the mythology that labelled marijuana as a gateway drug stemmed from something called the Gate Drug Theory. This theory suggested that people go through a linear sequence of stages that begins with the consumption of socially acceptable and legal drugs and proceed to more illegal, less socially acceptable consumption. The problem is very few people actually progress through these steps to harder drugs.

Some people who start using marijuana early in life do go on to abuse alcohol or other drugs. However, the reason may not be cannabis. Instead, the person’s social environment and life experiences may be putting them at risk for drug-taking. There may also be a genetic predisposition to drug use. Drugs like marijuana, tobacco and alcohol may be more accessible to them early on.

Most experts agree that current research on the question is insufficient, and further research is needed.

Stay in the know

Cannabis laws are changing rapidly, as are the potential effects on your workplace. It is critical to know the facts to make the right decisions for your workers.