The evidence-based science behind common cannabis questions
Having grown up in Utah, where the culture is mostly conservative and where cannabis is illegal, I was raised with many misconceptions about this widely used plant. Still today I encounter common questions from friends and family who are less experienced with ganja.
In The Cannabis Health Index, a book by Dr. Uwe Blesching that I lovingly refer to as the "Cannabis and Mindfulness Bible", he includes the most comprehensive collection of scientific cannabis research that I've come across. To begin Dr. Blesching gives a detailed history and profile of the cannabis plant and addresses some of the most common questions with the best evidence-based science that exists. Below are some of the most common that I’ve personally come across.
Is cannabis a “gateway drug”? Growing up in elementary school, the D.A.R.E. program taught me that cannabis was a drug that would undoubtedly lead me to other, more dangerous drugs like heroine, meth, etc... In reality, a recent study of more than 4,000 cannabis smokers concluded that cannabis use leads to a decrease in the use of alcohol, tobacco, and hard drugs.
Is cannabis bad for the lungs? It's easy to understand the concern behind inhaling smoke from burned plant matter into the lungs. However, on a study of 2,252 people, smoking only cannabis was actually found to have a mildly lung-protective effect and was not associated with an increased risk of cancer. In fact, cannabis oil produces therapeutic effects in patients with CPOD and asthma.
In cannabis bad for the heart? Endocannabinoid receptors are present in the heart and thus are involved in regulating heart function. According to the research Dr. Blesching compiled, THC can increase one's heart rate but not to a dangerous extent. In fact, numerous studies have shown that THC, CBD, and CBN have potentially potent cardio-protective properties.
Can cannabis kill you? While a study done on rats concluded that the human weight equivalent needed to cause death was 30lbs of cannabis in 15 minutes, a more recent study conducted in 2004 concluded that a more realistic lethal dose of cannabis was closer to 1,384.5 lbs smoked in 15 minutes. As U.S. Attorney General Dr. Joycelyn Elders puts it, "Unlike many of the drugs we prescribe every day, marijuana has never been proven to cause a fatal overdose."
How does cannabis effect teenage brain development?
A Duke University concludes that while cannabis use by adults has no effect on intelligence, cannabis dependency may contribute to reduced IQ test scores later in life. This is the only study that’s been done on the long term effect of cannabis use on the adolescent brain, so it’s probably best to assume possible correlation until more is known and wait to consume until legal age.
Is cannabis addictive? Both opponents and proponents of medical cannabis have numerous studies to support their arguments, but they generally agree on the fact that if dependency occurs, it is a psychological addiction, rather than a physical one (unlike tobacco, alcohol, and heroin). Any risk of dependency can be mitigated, however, if the cannabis is consumed mindfully and with intention.