This is usenet
post written by Paul Hager
in July of
.At the time he was chair of the
ICLU Drug Task Force
It was his attempt to list and debunk 12 of the most
common myths about marijuana and its use. A very good post and it has circulated the net ever since.
As it was a usenet post, and its intention was to be seen
and to be passed on, to help enlighten and educate, I am
reproducing it here, in its entirety. (as archived on
The Lycaeum Drug information Archive)
From: "Paul Hager"
Subject: The FINAL corrected version of "Marijuana Myths" (20-July-93)
by Paul Hager
Chair, ICLU Drug Task Force
1. Marijuana causes brain damage
The most celebrated study that claims to show brain damage is
the rhesus monkey study of Dr. Robert Heath, done in the late
1970s. This study was reviewed by a distinguished panel of
scientists sponsored by the Institute of Medicine and the National
Academy of Sciences. Their results were published under the title,
Marijuana and Health in 1982. Heath's work was sharply criticized
for its insufficient sample size (only four monkeys), its failure
to control experimental bias, and the misidentification of normal
monkey brain structure as "damaged". Actual studies of human
populations of marijuana users have shown no evidence of brain
damage. For example, two studies from 1977, published in the
Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showed no
evidence of brain damage in heavy users of marijuana. That same
year, the American Medical Association (AMA) officially came out in
favor of decriminalizing marijuana. That's not the sort of thing
you'd expect if the AMA thought marijuana damaged the brain.
2. Marijuana damages the reproductive system
This claim is based chiefly on the work of Dr. Gabriel Nahas,
who experimented with tissue (cells) isolated in petri dishes, and
the work of researchers who dosed animals with near-lethal amounts
of cannabinoids (i.e., the intoxicating part of marijuana). Nahas'
generalizations from his petri dishes to human beings have been
rejected by the scientific community as being invalid. In the case
of the animal experiments, the animals that survived their ordeal
returned to normal within 30 days of the end of the experiment.
Studies of actual human populations have failed to demonstrate that
marijuana adversely affects the reproductive system.
3. Marijuana is a "gateway" drug -- it leads to hard drugs
This is one of the more persistent myths. A real world
example of what happens when marijuana is readily available can be
found in Holland. The Dutch partially legalized marijuana in the
1970s. Since then, hard drug use -- heroin and cocaine -- have
DECLINED substantially. If marijuana really were a gateway drug,
one would have expected use of hard drugs to have gone up, not
down. This apparent "negative gateway" effect has also been
observed in the United States. Studies done in the early 1970s
showed a negative correlation between use of marijuana and use of
alcohol. A 1993 Rand Corporation study that compared drug use in
states that had decriminalized marijuana versus those that had not,
found that where marijuana was more available -- the states that
had decriminalized -- hard drug abuse as measured by emergency room
episodes decreased. In short, what science and actual experience
tell us is that marijuana tends to substitute for the much more
dangerous hard drugs like alcohol, cocaine, and heroin.
4. Marijuana suppresses the immune system
Like the studies claiming to show damage to the reproductive
system, this myth is based on studies where animals were given
extremely high -- in many cases, near-lethal -- doses of
cannabinoids. These results have never been duplicated in human
beings. Interestingly, two studies done in 1978 and one done in
1988 showed that hashish and marijuana may have actually stimulated
the immune system in the people studied.
5. Marijuana is much more dangerous than tobacco
Smoked marijuana contains about the same amount of carcinogens
as does an equivalent amount of tobacco. It should be remembered,
however, that a heavy tobacco smoker consumes much more tobacco
than a heavy marijuana smoker consumes marijuana. This is because
smoked tobacco, with a 90% addiction rate, is the most addictive of
all drugs while marijuana is less addictive than caffeine. Two
other factors are important. The first is that paraphernalia laws
directed against marijuana users make it difficult to smoke safely.
These laws make water pipes and bongs, which filter some of the
carcinogens out of the smoke, illegal and, hence, unavailable. The
second is that, if marijuana were legal, it would be more
economical to have cannabis drinks like bhang (a traditional drink
in the Middle East) or tea which are totally non-carcinogenic.
This is in stark contrast with "smokeless" tobacco products like
snuff which can cause cancer of the mouth and throat. When all of
these facts are taken together, it can be clearly seen that the
reverse is true: marijuana is much SAFER than tobacco.
6. Legal marijuana would cause carnage on the highways
Although marijuana, when used to intoxication, does impair
performance in a manner similar to alcohol, actual studies of the
effect of marijuana on the automobile accident rate suggest that it
poses LESS of a hazard than alcohol. When a random sample of fatal
accident victims was studied, it was initially found that marijuana
was associated with RELATIVELY as many accidents as alcohol. In
other words, the number of accident victims intoxicated on
marijuana relative to the number of marijuana users in society gave
a ratio similar to that for accident victims intoxicated on alcohol
relative to the total number of alcohol users. However, a closer
examination of the victims revealed that around 85% of the people
intoxicated on marijuana WERE ALSO INTOXICATED ON ALCOHOL. For
people only intoxicated on marijuana, the rate was much lower than
for alcohol alone. This finding has been supported by other
research using completely different methods. For example, an
economic analysis of the effects of decriminalization on marijuana
usage found that states that had reduced penalties for marijuana
possession experienced a rise in marijuana use and a decline in
alcohol use with the result that fatal highway accidents decreased.
This would suggest that, far from causing "carnage", legal
marijuana might actually save lives.
7. Marijuana "flattens" human brainwaves
This is an out-and-out lie perpetrated by the Partnership for
a Drug-Free America. A few years ago, they ran a TV ad that
purported to show, first, a normal human brainwave, and second, a
flat brainwave from a 14-year-old "on marijuana". When researchers
called up the TV networks to complain about this commercial, the
Partnership had to pull it from the air. It seems that the
Partnership faked the flat "marijuana brainwave". In reality,
marijuana has the effect of slightly INCREASING alpha wave
activity. Alpha waves are associated with meditative and relaxed
states which are, in turn, often associated with human creativity.
8. Marijuana is more potent today than in the past
This myth is the result of bad data. The researchers who made
the claim of increased potency used as their baseline the THC
content of marijuana seized by police in the early 1970s. Poor
storage of this marijuana in un-air conditioned evidence rooms
caused it to deteriorate and decline in potency before any chemical
assay was performed. Contemporaneous, independent assays of
unseized "street" marijuana from the early 1970s showed a potency
equivalent to that of modern "street" marijuana. Actually, the
most potent form of this drug that was generally available was sold
legally in the 1920s and 1930s by the pharmaceutical company
Smith-Klein under the name, "American Cannabis".
9. Marijuana impairs short-term memory
This is true but misleading. Any impairment of short-term
memory disappears when one is no longer under the influence of
marijuana. Often, the short-term memory effect is paired with a
reference to Dr. Heath's poor rhesus monkeys to imply that the
condition is permanent.
10. Marijuana lingers in the body like DDT
This is also true but misleading. Cannabinoids are fat
soluble as are innumerable nutrients and, yes, some poisons like
DDT. For example, the essential nutrient, Vitamin A, is fat
soluble but one never hears people who favor marijuana prohibition
making this comparison.
11. There are over a thousand chemicals in marijuana smoke
Again, true but misleading. The 31 August 1990 issue of the
magazine Science notes that of the over 800 volatile chemicals
present in roasted COFFEE, only 21 have actually been tested on
animals and 16 of these cause cancer in rodents. Yet, coffee
remains legal and is generally considered fairly safe.
12. No one has ever died of a marijuana overdose
This is true. It was put in to see if you are paying
attention. Animal tests have revealed that extremely high doses of
cannabinoids are needed to have lethal effect. This has led
scientists to conclude that the ratio of the amount of cannabinoids
necessary to get a person intoxicated (i.e., stoned) relative to
the amount necessary to kill them is 1 to 40,000. In other words,
to overdose, you would have to consume 40,000 times as much
marijuana as you needed to get stoned. In contrast, the ratio for
alcohol varies between 1 to 4 and 1 to 10. It is easy to see how
upwards of 5000 people die from alcohol overdoses every year and no
one EVER dies of marijuana overdoses.
WHAT IS THE ICLU DRUG TASK FORCE?
The Indiana Civil Liberties Union (ICLU) Drug Task Force is
involved in education and lobbying efforts directed toward
reforming drug policy. Specifically, we support ACLU Policy
Statement number 210 which calls for the legalization of marijuana.
We also support an end to the drug war. In its place, we favor
"harm reduction" strategies which treat drug abuse as what it is --
a medical problem -- rather than a criminal justice problem.
The Drug Task Force also works to end urine and hair testing
of workers by private industry. These kinds of tests violate
worker privacy to no good purpose because they detect past use of
certain drugs (mostly marijuana) while ignoring others (e.g., LSD)
and cannot detect current impairment. In situations where public
and worker safety is a legitimate concern, we advocate impairment
testing devices which reliably detect degradation of performance
without infringing upon worker privacy.
For more information about the activities of the Drug Task
Force, call the ICLU at (317) 635-4059 or call Paul Hager at (812)
333-1384 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org on the InterNet.
1) Marijuana and Health, Institute of Medicine, National Academy
of Sciences, 1982. Note: the Committee on Substance Abuse and
Habitual Behavior of the "Marijuana and Health" study had its
part of the final report suppressed when it reviewed the
evidence and recommended that possession of small amounts of
marijuana should no longer be a crime (TIME magazine, July 19,
1982). The two JAMA studies are: Co, B.T., Goodwin, D.W.,
Gado, M., Mikhael, M., and Hill, S.Y.: "Absence of cerebral
atrophy in chronic cannabis users", JAMA, 237:1229-1230, 1977;
and, Kuehnle, J., Mendelson, J.H., Davis, K.R., and New,
P.F.J.: "Computed tomographic examination of heavy marijuana
smokers", JAMA, 237:1231-1232, 1977.
2) See Marijuana and Health, ibid., for information on this
research. See also, Marijuana Reconsidered (1978) by Dr.
3) The Dutch experience is written up in "The Economics of
Legalizing Drugs", by Richard J. Dennis, The Atlantic Monthly,
Vol 266, No. 5, Nov 1990, p. 130. See "A Comparison of
Marijuana Users and Non-users" by Norman Zinberg and Andrew
Weil (1971) for the negative correlation between use of
marijuana and use of alcohol. The 1993 Rand Corporation study
is "The Effect of Marijuana Decriminalization on Hospital
Emergency Room Episodes: 1975 - 1978" by Karyn E. Model.
4) See a review of studies and their methodology in "Marijuana
and Immunity", Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, Vol 20(1),
Jan-Mar 1988. Studies showing stimulation of the immune
system: Kaklamani, et al., "Hashish smoking and T-
lymphocytes", 1978; Kalofoutis et al., "The significance of
lymphocyte lipid changes after smoking hashish", 1978. The
1988 study: Wallace, J.M., Tashkin, D.P., Oishi, J.S.,
Barbers, R.G., "Peripheral Blood Lymphocyte Subpopulations and
Mitogen Responsiveness in Tobacco and Marijuana Smokers",
1988, Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, ibid.
5) The 90% figure comes from Health Consequences of Smoking:
Nicotine Addiction, Surgeon General's Report, 1988. In Health
magazine in an article entitled, "Hooked, Not Hooked" by
Deborah Franklin (pp. 39-52), compares the addictives of
various drugs and ranks marijuana below coffeine. For current
information on cannabis drinks see Working Men and Ganja:
Marijuana Use in Rural Jamaica by M. C. Dreher, Institute for
the Study of Human Issues, 1982, ISBN 0-89727-025-8. For
information on cannabis and actual cancer risk, see Marijuana
and Health, ibid.
6) For a survey of studies relating to cannabis and highway
accidents see "Marijuana, Driving and Accident Safety", by
Dale Gieringer, Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, ibid. The
effect of decriminalization on highway accidents is analyzed
in "Do Youths Substitute Alcohol and Marijuana? Some
Econometric Evidence" by Frank J. Chaloupka and Adit
Laixuthai, Nov. 1992, University of Illinois at Chicago.
7) For information about the Partnership ad, see Jack Herer's
book, The Emperor Wears No Clothes, 1990, p. 74. See also
"Hard Sell in the Drug War", The Nation, March 9, 1992, by
Cynthia Cotts, which reveals that the Partnership receives a
large percentage of its advertizing budget from alcohol,
tobacco, and pharmaceutical companies and is thus disposed
toward exaggerating the risks of marijuana while downplaying
the risks of legal drugs. For information on memory and the
alpha brainwave enhancement effect, see "Marijuana, Memory,
and Perception", by R. L. Dornbush, M.D., M. Fink, M.D., and
A. M. Freedman, M.D., presented at the 124th annual meeting of
the American Psychiatric Association, May 3-7, 1971.
8) See "Cannabis 1988, Old Drug New Dangers, The Potency
Question" by Tod H Mikuriya, M.D. and Michael Aldrich, Ph.D.,
Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, ibid.
9) See Marijuana and Health, ibid. Also see "Marijuana, Memory,
and Perception", ibid.
10) The fat solubility of cannabinoids and certain vitamins is
well known. See Marijuana and Health, ibid. For some
information on vitamin A, see "The A Team" in Scientific
American, Vol 264, No. 2, February 1991, p. 16.
11) See "Too Many Rodent Carcinogens: Mitogenesis Increases
Mutagenesis", Bruce N. Ames and Lois Swirsky Gold, Science,
Vol 249, 31 August 1990, p. 971.
12) Cannabis and alcohol toxicity is compared in Marijuana
Reconsidered, ibid., p. 227. Yearly alcohol overdoses was
taken from "Drug Prohibition in the United States: Costs,
Consequences, and Alternatives" by Ethan A. Nadelmann,
Science, Vol 245, 1 September 1989, p. 943.
paul hager email@example.com
"The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is reason."
-- Thomas Paine, _The Age of Reason_