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Facts & Myths

Myth: Marijuana is a Gateway Drug. Even if marijuana itself causes minimal harm, it is a dangerous substance because it leads to the use of "harder drugs" like heroin, LSD, and cocaine.

Fact: Marijuana does not cause people to use hard drugs. What the gateway theory presents as a causal explanation is a statistic association between common and uncommon drugs, an association that changes over time as different drugs increase and decrease in prevalence. Marijuana is the most popular illegal drug in the United States today. Therefore, people who have used less popular drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and LSD, are likely to have also used marijuana. Most marijuana users never use any other illegal drug. Indeed, for the large majority of people, marijuana is a terminus rather than a gateway drug.
  • Morral, Andrew R.; McCaffrey, Daniel F. and Susan M. Paddock. “Reassessing the marijuana gateway effect.” Addiction 97.12 (2002): 1493-504.
  • United States. National Household Survey on Drug Abuse: Population Estimates 1994. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1995.
  • National Household Survey on Drug Abuse: Main Findings 1994. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1996.
  • D.B. Kandel and M. Davies, “Progression to Regular Marijuana Involvement: Phenomenology and Risk Factors for Near-Daily Use,” Vulnerability to Drug Abuse, Eds. M. Glantz and R. Pickens. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 1992: 211-253.
Myth: Marijuana's Harms Have Been Proved Scientifically. In the 1960s and 1970s, many people believed that marijuana was harmless. Today we know that marijuana is much more dangerous than previously believed.

Fact: In 1972, after reviewing the scientific evidence, the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse concluded that while marijuana was not entirely safe, its dangers had been grossly overstated. Since then, researchers have conducted thousands of studies of humans, animals, and cell cultures. None reveal any findings dramatically different from those described by the National Commission in 1972. In 1995, based on thirty years of scientific research editors of the British medical journal Lancet concluded that "the smoking of cannabis, even long term, is not harmful to health."
  • United States. National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse. Marihuana: A signal of misunderstanding. Shafer Commission Report. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1972.
  • “Deglamorising Cannabis.” Editorial. The Lancet 356:11(1995): 1241.
Myth: Marijuana Causes an Amotivational Syndrome. Marijuana makes users passive, apathetic, and uninterested in the future. Students who use marijuana become underachievers and workers who use marijuana become unproductive.

Fact: For twenty-five years, researchers have searched for a marijuana-induced amotivational syndrome and have failed to find it. People who are intoxicated constantly, regardless of the drug, are unlikely to be productive members of society. There is nothing about marijuana specifically that causes people to lose their drive and ambition. In laboratory studies, subjects given high doses of marijuana for several days or even several weeks exhibit no decrease in work motivation or productivity. Among working adults, marijuana users tend to earn higher wages than non-users. College students who use marijuana have the same grades as nonusers. Among high school students, heavy use is associated with school failure, but school failure usually comes first.
  • Himmelstein, J.L. The Strange Career of Marihuana: Politics and Ideology of Drug Control in America. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1983.
  • Mellinger, G.D. et al. “Drug Use, Academic Performance, and Career Indecision: Longitudinal Data in Search of a Model.” Longitudinal Research on Drug Use: Empirical Findings and Methodological Issues. Ed. D.B. Kandel. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 1978. 157-177.
  • Pope, H.G. et al., “Drug Use and Life Style Among College Undergraduates in 1989: A Comparison With 1969 and 1978,” American Journal of Psychiatry 147 (1990): 998-1001.
Myth: Marijuana Policy in the Netherlands is a Failure. Dutch law, which allows marijuana to be bought, sold, and used openly, has resulted in increasing rates of marijuana use, particularly in youth.

Fact: The Netherlands' drug policy is the most nonpunitive in Europe. For more than twenty years, Dutch citizens over age eighteen have been permitted to buy and use cannabis (marijuana and hashish) in government-regulated coffee shops. This policy has not resulted in dramatically escalating cannabis use. For most age groups, rates of marijuana use in the Netherlands are similar to those in the United States. However, for young adolescents, rates of marijuana use are lower in the Netherlands than in the United States. The Dutch people overwhelmingly approve of current cannabis policy which seeks to normalize rather than dramatize cannabis use. The Dutch government occasionally revises existing policy, but it remains committed to decriminalization.
  • Fromberg, E. “The Case of the Netherlands: Contradictions and Values in Questioning Prohibition.” 1994 International Report on Drugs, Brussels: International Antiprohibitionist League, 1994. 113-124.
  • Sandwijk, J.P., et al. Licit and Illicit Drug Use in Amsterdam II. Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam, 1995.
  • Gunning, K.F. Crime Rate and Drug Use in Holland. Rotterdam: Dutch National Committee on Drug Prevention. 1993.
Myth: Marijuana Kills Brain Cells. Used over time, marijuana permanently alters brain structure and function, causing memory loss, cognitive impairment, personality deterioration, and reduced productivity.

Fact: None of the medical tests currently used to detect brain damage in humans have found harm from marijuana, even from long term high-dose use. An early study reported brain damage in rhesus monkeys after six months exposure to high concentrations of marijuana smoke. In a recent, more carefully conducted study, researchers found no evidence of brain abnormality in monkeys that were forced to inhale the equivalent of four to five marijuana cigarettes every day for a year. The claim that marijuana kills brain cells is based on a speculative report dating back a quarter of a century that has never been supported by any scientific study.
  • Heath, R.G., et al. “Cannabis Sativa: Effects on Brain Function and Ultrastructure in Rhesus Monkeys.” Biological Psychiatry 15 (1980): 657-690.
  • Ali, S.F., et al. “Chronic Marijuana Smoke Exposure in the Rhesus Monkey IV: Neurochemical Effects and Comparison to Acute and Chronic Exposure to Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in Rats.” Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior 40 (1991): 677-82
Myth: Marijuana Impairs Memory and Cognition. Under the influence of marijuana, people are unable to think rationally and intelligently. Chronic marijuana use causes permanent mental impairment.

Fact: Marijuana produces immediate, temporary changes in thoughts, perceptions, and information processing. The cognitive process most clearly affected by marijuana is short-term memory. In laboratory studies, subjects under the influence of marijuana have no trouble remembering things they learned previously. However, they display diminished capacity to learn and recall new information. This diminishment only lasts for the duration of the intoxication. There is no convincing evidence that heavy long-term marijuana use permanently impairs memory or other cognitive functions.
  • Wetzel, C.D. et al., “Remote Memory During Marijuana Intoxication,” Psychopharmacology 76 (1982): 278-81.
  • Deadwyler, S.A. et al., “The Effects of Delta-9-THC on Mechanisms of Learning and Memory.” Neurobiology of Drug Abuse: Learning and Memory. Ed. L. Erinoff. Rockville, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse 1990. 79-83.
  • Block, R.I. et al., “Acute Effects of Marijuana on Cognition: Relationships to Chronic Effects and Smoking Techniques.” Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior 43 (1992): 907-917.
Myth: Marijuana Causes Crime. Marijuana users commit more property offenses than nonusers. Under the influence of marijuana, people become irrational, aggressive, and violent.

Fact: Every serious scholar and government commission examining the relationship between marijuana use and crime has reached the same conclusion: marijuana does not cause crime. The vast majority of marijuana users do not commit crimes other than the crime of possessing marijuana. Among marijuana users who do commit crimes, marijuana plays no causal role. Almost all human and animal studies show that marijuana decreases rather than increases aggression.
  • Fagan, J., et al. “Delinquency and Substance Use Among Inner-City Students.” Journal of Drug Issues 20 (1990): 351-402.
  • Johnson, L.D., et al. “Drugs and Delinquency: A Search for Causal Connections.” Ed. D.B. Kandel. Longitudinal Research on Drug Use: Empirical Findings and Methodological Issues. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1978. 137-156.
  • Goode, E. “Marijuana and Crime.” Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding, Appendix I. National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1972. 447-453.
  • Abram, K.M. and L.A. Teplin. “Drug Disorder, Mental Illness, and Violence.” Drugs and Violence: Causes, Correlates, and Consequences. Rockville: National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1990. 222-238.
  • Cherek, D.R., et al. “Acute Effects of Marijuana Smoking on Aggressive, Escape and Point-Maintained Responding of Male Drug Users.” Psychopharmacology 111 (1993): 163-168.
  • Tinklenberg, J.R., et al. “Drugs and criminal assaults by adolescents: A Replication Study.” Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 13 (1981): 277-287.
Myth: Marijuana Interferes With Male and Female Sex Hormones. In both men and women, marijuana can cause infertility. Marijuana retards sexual development in adolescents. It produces feminine characteristics in males and masculine characteristics in females.

Fact: There is no evidence that marijuana causes infertility in men or women. In animal studies, high doses of THC diminish the production of some sex hormones and can impair reproduction. However, most studies of humans have found that marijuana has no impact of sex hormones. In those studies showing an impact, it is modest, temporary, and of no apparent consequence for reproduction. There is no scientific evidence that marijuana delays adolescent sexual development, has feminizing effect on males, or a masculinizing effect on females.
  • Parents Resource Institute for Drug Education. Marijuana and Cocaine. Atlanta, GA: PRIDE, 1990.
  • Center for Substance Abuse Prevention. Female Adolescents and Marijuana Use; Fact Sheet for Adults. Rockville: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1995.
  • Center for Substance Abuse Prevention. Marijuana: Tips for Teens. Rockville:U. S. Department of Health and Human-Services, 1995.
  • Swan, Neil. “A Look at Marijuana’s Harmful Effects.” NIDA Notes. 9:2 (1994): 16.
  • Clinton, President Bill. Speech at Framingham High School. Framingham, Massachusetts. 20 Oct. 1994.
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