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Leafcann: common misconceptions about cannabis

Leafcann Group CEO Elisabetta Faenza explores harmful myths around medical and adult use cannabis.

Leafcann is aware that perhaps no other plant causes as much debate as the cannabis plant. Its usage and popularity throughout the ages has led to it being branded a super medicine by some, stigmatised as an evil on society by others; and many other points of view within that spectrum.

Regardless of advances in research and the increasing evidence base which supports the use of medicinal cannabis, several myths and misconceptions persist and occasionally gain traction in the media. Some of these stories provide light entertainment while others unfortunately harm the reputation of cannabis as a medicine.

These myths and misconceptions include how dangerous cannabis usage is, its ability to cause addiction, its function as a gateway drug and so on. This article will look at some of the more common myths and misconceptions.

Leafcann expels the myths about the dangers of cannabis use

Cannabis can kill you

You cannot overdose on cannabis like you can on other drugs such as opioids. Studies have found that a person would have to consume about 1,000 pounds per minute for 15 minutes in order to fatally overdose on cannabis. That’s 6,800kg in 15 minutes – which is highly unlikely.

Cannabis causes brain damage

Although cannabis use in adults has been found to affect a person’s motor skills, attention span and short term memory while intoxicated, it has been found that the differences between brain function of heavy users and that of non-users is minimal in the long term, with the results much better for cannabis users than those found for heavy users of alcohol and other illicit drugs.

There is a widely held misconception that cannabis, like alcohol, can kill brain cells. Heavy alcohol consumption, however, does damage the ends of neurons, making it difficult for them to relay messages to each other but does not kill brain cells.

The cannabis myth came about due to a few infamous animal experiments in which structural changes were said to be observed in brain cells of animals exposed to high doses of cannabis. Unfortunately, there are those that continue to cite the infamous RG Heath study using two Rhesus monkeys which has since been discredited. In fact, subsequent studies with more rigorous controls have found no evidence of alteration in the brains of monkeys. 1

Cannabis causes psychosis and bipolar disorder

This is a much-contested claim about cannabis. There is no question that some cannabis users have experienced psychosis. However, what is becoming more apparent is that those who have experienced some form of psychosis have been found to have a susceptibility to it. Such susceptibilities may include a person’s genetic makeup, a history of child abuse, head injuries or infections, their socioeconomic status and other factors.

Although most experts agree that cannabis use alone doesn’t trigger psychosis or conditions such as bipolar disorder, there is a possibility it could trigger psychosis in those who already have the condition. Studies have also found that cannabis is the most commonly abused drug among those diagnosed with bipolar disorder. 2 This abuse of cannabis increases the chances of an adverse reaction over time. As a counterpoint, research is now showing that medicinal cannabis has a part to play in stabilising a patient’s mood and alleviating the symptoms of depression.

Vaporising is just as bad as smoking

Smoking is not accepted as a satisfactory delivery method for any medicine amongst the medical community. While the dangers of smoking cannabis are disputed, vaporising is considered a safer way to consume cannabis. Vaporising burns cannabis below its combustion temperature and therefore does not produce smoke, leaving the user to consume cannabis just as they would through other delivery methods such as oils, edibles and tablets.

The recent spate of deaths from recreational vaporiser use were the result of poorly constructed vaporisers containing unknown poisonous chemicals. This was due to unlicensed operators working outside the regulatory environment and without proper manufacturing processes in place. Licensed medicinal cannabis manufacturers work to strict standards which provide assurance on the composition of each vaporiser and the content within them. They do not create products that are dangerous to the public.

Synthetic cannabis is better than natural cannabis

There are two elements to this misconception. Synthetic cannabis produced for medicinal purposes in a laboratory under good manufacturing practice (GMP) standards is safe to use. Each batch produced is tested to ensure it contains only what is written on the label.

However, synthetic cannabis produced for recreational use without the required checks and measures can be dangerous and should be avoided. These products are mass produced in a process that produces a liquid which is mixed with dry vegetation for the purpose of smoking. The whole process occurs with no precision or accuracy. One batch can consist of several packets that are very different in composition. Testing by authorities in the US after several people died found external agents such as faeces, rat poison and dangerous opioids.

As far as recreational use goes, the cannabis plant’s ability to intoxicate with THC is balanced, to some extent, by CBD’s ability to relax and prevent paranoia. Creating a useful synthetic THC-only product is possible in a GMP standard laboratory, but dangerous otherwise.

All medicinal cannabis products get you high

This simply is not true and is a remnant of the scaremongering once used by anti-cannabis advocates. Thankfully, greater public education has been undertaken in most countries legalising medicinal cannabis and people are more aware that it is the THC cannabinoid that has psychoactive properties and not others such as CBD. The increasing number of products with CBD in them are becoming popular, particularly because they do not have any psychoactive properties.

Edibles are the least psychoactive cannabis product

Edible forms of cannabis can come in the form of lollipops, chocolates and other sweets. This gives some people the impression that they contain low doses of THC. In fact, cannabis oil as a concentrate is used in edibles and can lead to products with strong doses of THC.

This means that care must be taken in the production process to ensure the concentrate is evenly distributed and tested. Otherwise, it may lead to very high dose products that can cause adverse reactions. Furthermore, edibles take much longer to be absorbed into the bloodstream, which can lead to some people assuming the product hasn’t worked and then opting to consume a second edible before the first takes effect.

Having two strong doses of THC in the body can, in some cases, lead to adverse reactions such as a sudden drop of blood pressure and panic attacks. Caution should be exercised with edible cannabis products.

Myths about addiction

Cannabis is addictive

This is another misconception about recreational cannabis use which is based on variable, and often unreliable, statistics. It should be noted that the risks of developing a cannabis use disorder for medicinal cannabis are minimal. Dose titration and regular consultations with a health professional ensure a patient is taking only what they need for their condition and THC levels are lower than those found in recreational use cannabis, with a few exceptions. Given cannabis’ safe history of use compared with opioids, the risks of adverse outcomes related to addiction are unlikely.

The US National Institute on Drug Abuse states that recreational cannabis use can lead to the development of problem use, known as cannabis use disorder, which in the more severe cases can take the form of addiction. 3 Estimates in the US show that around 7% to 9% of cannabis users will develop a cannabis use disorder. However, those who start using cannabis before the age of 18 are four to seven times more likely to develop a cannabis use disorder than those who start using later in life, meaning the 7% to 9% statistic is far lower for those who start using as an adult. To put this into context, around 15% of cocaine users and 24% of heroin users become clinically dependent.

Cannabis is a gateway drug

Cannabis is the most widely used, and most widely available, illicit drug in the world. Therefore, it is not uncommon for it to be the first drug used by many; although many cannabis users would have tried nicotine and/or alcohol first. It is logical that those who want to consume other drugs have tried cannabis first; however, this does not mean they are causally linked. In fact, there are more people that try cannabis and stop further drug consumption than those who go on to other drugs such as cocaine and heroin.

Correlation does not equal causation. The propensity and willingness to try drugs means that those who go on to other hard drugs after cannabis would have tried those drugs earlier if they were available. The small percentage of hard drug users compared to the substantially higher percentage of cannabis users supports the claim cannabis is not a gateway drug. 4

The situation for medicinal cannabis shows an even lesser chance of patients using it as a gateway drug. Indeed, many patients have moved on to medicinal cannabis after enduring many years of opioid use and sometimes opioid addiction. The safe history of use makes medicinal cannabis an ideal transition away from dangerous opioids.

Other myths and misconceptions

You can beat a cannabis drug test

The internet has many popular tales of how to beat a drug test. Apart from swapping urine samples there is no way to beat a urine test without raising the suspicion of testers.

Drug tests look for THC levels only and no other cannabinoids such as cannabidiol. THC binds to fat cells in the body and therefore takes longer to exit the body than other hard drugs such as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines. There is no specific rule to follow when predicting how long THC will stay in your body and everyone is different. Variable factors include how often THC has been consumed (medicinal or recreational), its concentration, the amount of body fat a person has and their lifestyle habits, and the type of drug test being conducted.

Urine tests can test for THC up to around 30 days after last consumption for a regular user and about three to four days for someone who only consumes cannabis a few times a year. Saliva tests usually only test for THC up to 24 hours after last use, although new technology now exists with some tests able to detect up to 72 hours. Hair tests are the most sensitive and can detect THC up to three months after last use.

There is no known method of beating a urine test without raising suspicion. Drinking excess water or other liquids to dilute a sample is easily detected and the myth of exercising immediately before a test will only serve to increase the level of THC as the body’s metabolism works to release THC from fat cells during intense exercise. Money spent on kits to beat drug tests is wasted because analytical laboratories now test for dilution and other agents.

Misconceptions about the difference between hemp and cannabis

There are many common misconceptions about hemp and its relationship to cannabis. These include:

  • Hemp is a different plant species to cannabis;
  • Hemp is the male plant and cannabis is the female plant; and
  • Medicine derived from hemp (such as cannabidiol) is different to that of cannabis.

These statements are all incorrect. Hemp is a cannabis sativa cultivar. Therefore, hemp is a cannabis plant. The only difference is that hemp contains very minor traces of THC (generally well below 1% THC).

Hemp and cannabis plants can be male or female. The big difference is that only female cannabis plants are used to extract cannabinoids from the flower (for medicinal or recreational use), whereas both male and female hemp plants are used, depending on what is to be produced. Hemp fibre is used for industrial purposes and its seeds are used in food products.

Another misconception is that by growing hemp you can extract as much CBD as you can from cannabis plants. Under international law only cannabinoid derivatives extracted from the stem or seed are permissible. While CBD extracted from the flowering tops of hemp plants may be legal in some US states, the import of these products is prohibited in most nations and by the Single Convention. Increased testing by federal agencies is now leading to large fines and criminal prosecution of importers and retailers of these types of products.

References
  • Slikker Jr W, Paule MG, Ali SF, Scallet AC, Bailey JR (1991). Chronic marijuana smoke exposure in the rhesus monkey I. Plasma cannabinoid and blood carboxyhemoglobin concentrations and clinical chemistry parameters. Fundam Appl Toxicol 17: 321–334.
  • Leweke F, Koethe D. Cannabis and psychiatric disorders: it is not only addiction. Addict Biol. 2008;13(2):264–275. Review.
  • US NIDA website https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/marijuana-addictive
  • Drug Policy Alliance website: Debunking the Gateway Myth. http://www.drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/DebunkingGatewayMyth_NY_0.pdf

Elisabetta Faenza
CEO
Leafcann Group Pty Ltd
+61 414 447 275
[email protected]
www.leafcann.com.au

This article will appear in the second issue of Medical Cannabis Network which is out in April. Click here to get your free subscription today.

Leafcann Group CEO Elisabetta Faenza explores harmful myths around medical and adult use cannabis.

9 Myths About Weed That Simply Aren’t True

Very few drugs have a more undeserved stigma than weed.

Thanks to Reefer Madness, fear-mongering PSAs, and countless after-school specials, pot may seem like a monster drug that causes people to commit heinous acts of murder.

This mislabeling has sprouted a ton of myths and misunderstandings. We’ve stepped in to roll up these myths and set them ablaze. Come and chill with us on the futon while we break down what weed actually does and what it really, really doesn’t.

Let’s get to know the humble cannabis plant a bit better.

There are over 545 known chemical compounds in cannabis, Gonçalves J, et al. (2019). Cannabis and its secondary metabolites: Their use as therapeutic drugs, toxicological aspects, and analytical determination. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6473697/ but the two stars of the show are cannabinoids called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

They work by stimulating receptors in the brain. These fire off chemical reactions that change the activity of the mind and body.

THC is behind the cerebral buzz people that often associate with a toke on a blunt. However, it’s also responsible for many of weed’s advserse effects, such as paranoia and anxiety.

CBD balances out the effects of THC. It is non-intoxicating, Li H, et al. (2018). The non-psychoactive phytocannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD) attenuates pro-inflammatory mediators, T cell infiltration, and thermal sensitivity following spinal cord injury in mice. DOI: 10.1016/j.cellimm.2018.02.016 meaning that CBD does not make you high.

Instead, researchers believe that CBD may help a person reduce anxiety, Fernández-Ruiz J, et al. (2013). Cannabidiol for neurodegenerative disorders: Important new clinical applications for this phytocannabinoid? DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2125.2012.04341.x and animal studies suggest CBD could be helpful with things like inflammation and depression. Silote GP. (2019). Emerging evidence for the antidepressant effect of cannabidiol and the underlying molecular mechanisms. DOI: 10.1016/j.jchemneu.2019.04.006

We dived a little deeper into weed’s effects on your brain.

Cannabis won’t make you sacrifice goats to Satan overnight or directly make you a violent criminal. At the same time, weed’s not a cure-all elixir and can still cause long-term health problems if you use it too regularly.

We filtered out the stems and the seeds to leave you with only the good stuff. Bullsh*t theories around weed help neither its users nor its critics.

Myth: The munchies aren’t real

Fact: Munchies and weed used to go together like peanut butter and jelly, and Sour Patch Kids, and cookies, (no, the chocolate chip ones), and…

Seriously, though. According to a 2017 mini-review of studies, cannabis causes hunger pangs by hijacking part of the brain — the hypothalamus. Koch M. (2017). Cannabinoid receptor signaling in central regulation of feeding behavior: A mini-review. DOI: 10.3389%2Ffnins.2017.00293

This is the area of the brain in charge of making you hungry, horny, and tired. It essentially makes you feel stuff to acknowledge what your body needs, even if your body doesn’t actually need it.

The author of the review suggests that your overwhelming urge to chow down when high comes from the triggering of reactions in this part of the nervous system.

Myth: Weed now isn’t as strong as it used to be

Fact: “The quick and dirty summary is that the concentration of THC in cannabis now is way higher than it used to be,” says Ryan Vandrey, PhD, an associate professor who studies cannabis and nicotine at Johns Hopkins University.

“People who are good at plant biology have gotten into cannabis and selectively bred plants to be higher in THC, but that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone is getting higher than their parents did in the ’60s.”

“Potency does not equal dose,” says Vandrey. “That’s something people often get confused.” In other words, pot smokers today might smoke less weed to achieve the same high.

One study examining cannabis samples in the United States between 1995 and 2014 found that potency has increased, and that modern weed is more comprised of the flower portion of the cannabis plant, which contains more THC than other parts like the leaves. ElSohly MA, et al. (2016). Changes in cannabis potency over the last two decades (1995-2014): Analysis of current data in the United States. DOI: 10.1016%2Fj.biopsych.2016.01.004

The key is knowing your limits. If you’re thinking of Musk/Grimes-esque baby names to give your pet guinea pig, for example, it might be time to slow down a little.

Myth: All weed produces the same kind of high

Fact: Most people believe there are only two species of cannabis plants: Indica and Sativa. Dispensaries also offer hybrid strains that claim to combine effects from both.

Scientists can’t fully agree on whether there are more strains. Schwabe AL, et al. (2019). Genetic tools weed out misconceptions of strain reliability in Cannabis sativa: implications for a budding industry. DOI: 10.1186/s42238-019-0001-1 Perhaps they should just share a tub of gummies and learn to get along.

Sativa is a tall plant with narrow leaves that is widely believed to produce a cerebral, psychoactive effect, while indica is typically shorter with wide leaves. The latter has more of a reputation for relaxing, sedate feelings for users — a “sleepy” rather than “upbeat” high. Pearce DD, et al. (2014). Discriminating the effects of Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica: A web survey of medical cannabis users. DOI: 10.1089/acm.2013.0190

However theres no official research into the sativa vs. indica effects. Also even if this sativa vs. indica effect difference was indeed true, there’s still no credible agency that is certifying what is sativa and what is indica.

Plus everyone processes THC differently, and one person’s “buzzy and creative” might be another’s “chilled out.”

Despite the encouraging words of your budtender, it can be tough to predict the exact reaction you’ll have to a particular strain. Researchers are continuing to explore the differences between them, including the levels of THC and CBD each contain.

Myth: Synthetic weed is safe

Fact: Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. Also, it is wrong.

Synthetic weed — also known as spice, K2, and fake weed — can be up to 100 times stronger than natural weed, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find spice that’s been through a safe manufacturing process.

Chances are, the synthetic weed circulating nowadays has used nail varnish remover and other highly toxic chemicals.

Originally created in a lab as a way to find out how cannabinoids affect the brain, synthetic weed has been marketed as a safe, legal version of weed. Needless to say, it is not.

Once the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) caught on to its extreme side effects — hallucinations, stroke, vomiting, acute psychosis, even death — it banned the substance without hesitation. Courts J et al. (2016). Signs and symptoms associated with synthetic cannabinoid toxicity: A systematic review. DOI: 10.1177/1039856216663733

However, manufacturers can quickly create versions that are subtly different on a chemical level and then label them “not for human consumption.”

For this reason, many harmful synthetic weed products slip through the DEA’s net and into head shops and bodegas.

“It’s powerful — much more powerful than natural marijuana,” says Yasmin Hurd, PhD, a professor of neuroscience, psychiatry, and pharmacology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “It can induce psychosis, because a lot of strains don’t contain CBD, which decreases the anxiety from THC.”

Did we mention that synthetic weed is not safe?

Myth: D.A.R.E. helps kids stay away from weed

Fact: You remember D.A.R.E., right? It was the time in school where you and your buds could straight-up chill with a bunch of off-duty police officer dudes and talk the straight poop about drugs. Rad.

While the program had a massive surge in the ’80s and ’90s, studies show it didn’t do anything to keep kids from trying drugs and was pretty controversial. Lynam D, et al. (1999). Project DARE: No effects at 10-year follow-up. DOI: 10.1037//0022-006x.67.4.590

The issue is its just-say-no approach, which meant that students never learned how to communicate with their peers and discuss drugs openly.

In 2009, the D.A.R.E. program switched up its approach to “Keeping it R.E.A.L.”, which had some more success in keeping kids away from weed by using a more realistic approach.

Myth: You can’t overdose on weed

Fact: You can, but it won’t kill you.

You first need to understand what an overdose is. It simply means you’ve taken more than the normal or recommended amount of a particular substance.

So it is possible to overdose on cannabis. Symptoms of a weed overdose include:

  • anxiety
  • paranoia
  • dizziness
  • loss of coordination, which can lead to severe injuries
  • chest symptoms, including a rapid heart rate and chest pain
  • pale skin color
  • unresponsiveness to cues such as a person calling their name or touching them
  • hallucinations or delusions
  • blood pressure spikes
  • headache

The American Addiction Centers (AAC) suggest that most people who overdose on weed do so when consuming it alongside another substance.

In a 1988 petition from the DEA, a judge wrote that for cannabis to be fatal, a person would need to consume around 15,000 pounds of the stuff in about 15 minutes.

You may be familiar with the experience of smoking a joint, summoning the energy to get out of your chair, managing it 5 minutes later, then forgetting why you stood up.

Needless to say, rolling blunts or baking brownies that contain 15,000 pounds of weed and consuming them within 15 minutes is not on the cards. It’s basically impossible to die from a weed overdose. However, even though smoking too much weed won’t kill you, it doesn’t necessarily make you stronger.

If you regularly feel awful after smoking too much, it may be doing long-term damage to your mental health. It’d be a good idea to reign in the amount of green you get through if it doesn’t make you feel good.

Myth: You can cheat a urine test

Fact: Hips don’t lie, and neither does pee. If you’ve used weed before a drug test, it’s going to show.

Tons of products market the ability to flush drugs from your system, but the only true way to “cheat” a urine test is to substitute your pee with someone else’s.

THC consumption remains detectable in a urine test for the following amounts of time, depending on a person’s level of weed consumption:

  • Using weed up to 3 times per week: 3 days
  • Up to 4 times per week: 5 to 7 days
  • Daily: 10 to 15 days
  • Multiple times per day: 30 days

“All those [detox] teas do is dilute your urine,” says Vandrey, “Most facilities now test for dilution and would flag that sample as invalid.”

Myth: Weed will make you into a criminal

Fact: If weed is illegal where you live, then, technically, yes.

However, despite the stereotype, taking a bong hit won’t instantly make you sprout an El Chapo moustache and start baying for the blood of your business rivals.

In fact, there’s never been a clear link between weed and violent crimes.

A 2014 meta-analysis of U.S. state panel data found that the level of cannabis use has no direct link to an increased number of violent crimes and property crimes. Morris RG, et al. (2014). The effect of medical marijuana laws on crime: Evidence from state panel data, 1990-2006. DOI: 10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0092816

“From the standpoint that it’s illegal to possess cannabis in a state that outlaws it, I guess it does make you a criminal,” Vandrey says, “Beyond that, there’s no reasonable sense to think any criminal activity would happen because of smoking marijuana.”

Myth: Weed is not addictive

Fact: It absolutely is. Marijuana use disorder is a real thing, and around 30 percent of people who consume marijuana regularly may have it, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The addictive potential of marijuana is linked to THC (CBD is non-addictive, and may even possess anti-addictive properties).

On a similar note, many people cite weed’s lack of withdrawal symptoms while insisting that it isn’t addictive. But they’re also wrong on that front.

It is not uncommon for regular users of cannabis who suddenly stop to experience some physical symptoms of withdrawal, including:

  • irritability
  • mood and sleep difficulties
  • decreased appetite
  • cravings
  • restlessness

While cannabinoids do not have the addictive tendencies of compounds like opioids, your body will adjust to the influx of THC by desensitizing the receptors in your brain. When THC is suddenly removed, your body needs time to resensitize the receptors which no longer have THC to stimulate them.

This can play havoc with your sleep cycle, mood, and appetite for a little while.

You may have friends who never seem to appear without a joint tucked behind their ear but insist weed cannot be addictive because it’s a plant and not a drug.

It may be time to show them some cold, hard science and offer some help and understanding.

That friend might also be you. If you want to stop or cut down but are finding it difficult, you may benefit from calling the Marijuana Addiction Hotline, provided by the AAC.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) also provide a National Helpline if you need to talk to someone about your weed use.

Using weed safely means understanding how it works. Cannabis is neither a miracle drug nor the Devil incarnate. We blaze the myths.