When your friend should quit weed - but they think it’s a miracle drug

Talking to a friend about their cannabis use can be difficult, especially when they pull out the 'it's a natural plant' and 'no one ever died from it' arguments. This article gives you some hints, tips and things to think about when planning your cannabis conversation. 

So you think your friend should quit weed – but they think it’s a miracle drug.jpg

 

The conversation around cannabis has changed over the last few years. While there has always been that group of hard-core cannabis supporters – the ones who believe cannabis is a miracle plant, a cure to all that ails you, a natural gift from God – most users have seen it for what it is, a drug they use because they enjoy the feeling of being high or the way it seems to help them with stress, sleep or emotional issues.

But over the last few years in Australia, and a bit longer in places like the USA, more-and-more people, including the media, have jumped on the cannabis bandwagon, justifying use and legalisation through those same old lines about its natural, wondrous properties.

Now don’t get us wrong, cannabis may have some positive applications, particularly in medicine – though right now the jury is out on most of those. But for recreational users, this focus on medical use and choosing to ignore possible negative effects, has made it difficult to encourage young people to consider objective information about cannabis, and talking to friends and loved ones about concerns relating to their use has become a bigger challenge than ever before.

Talking to a friend about their cannabis use

If you have a friend who uses cannabis and you have become concerned about the amount they are using, how frequently they are using, or just the effects it seems to be having on them in terms of health or even personality and life choices, you may feel it’s time to talk with them.

And when we say talk, we actually mean listen. Talking to someone about their drug use can be really confronting for them, so it’s important you approach it carefully, patiently, with a plan and an aim to listen. During the conversation, the two most important things to remember are not to judge and not to set ultimatums, this can cause your friend to close off and not want to talk to you about this, or even other issues, again.

Instead, ask them questions about why they use, how they feel about their use, if they think it has any negative effects on them, if those effects outweigh the positives – just be careful not to turn it into an interrogation.

Another good idea is to tell them how their use is making you feel – focus on your concern about them, how you think cannabis has affected your friendship. If you feel you can be really honest, tell them how it’s affecting how you feel, for example, you really miss them and you also miss having someone you can rely on and talk to.

Dealing with the miracle drug argument for cannabis use

As said, cannabis may have some positive medical properties (we’ll keep you posted on developments in this area on our medicinal page), but some people – possibly your friend or family member – may have latched onto this, using it as an unfounded (and maybe not quite so honest) ‘reason’ to justify their use.

In this situation it’s important not to get impatient and jump on this argument belittling your friend, or making them feel stupid. You don’t want to start a fight or build tensions that may not be able to be fixed. It is good, however, to think about the types of arguments your friend might draw on, so you can discuss them from an informed perspective.

At NCPIC, we have more than 6,000 followers on Facebook, and hundreds-of-thousands of visitors to our website every year. Some of these followers are alcohol and other drug workers, health care providers, teachers and parents who are seeking objective information and aiming to arm themselves with tools and resources to help clients, patients or loved ones. Others are people who advocate strongly for cannabis legalisation and use (though we have no influence on the law) and contact us regularly with arguments along those same ‘wonder-drug’ lines.

Common arguments for cannabis use

To help you talk positively with your friend, we’ve gathered together some of the most common ‘talking points’ we hear and how you can prepare your response should they be raised in your conversation.

Cannabis is used medically, so it must be good for you

Use of medical cannabis in Australia is very restricted. Technically, medical cannabis is still illegal. Special, pharmaceutical preparations are available using the TGA special access scheme for very specific illnesses, and other use is restricted to terminal patients, mainly at police discretion in NSW with specific approval.

While it is used more widely in the USA, this was not an evidence-based decision, but a decision made in response to a citizen initiated vote – regardless of how informed and educated the public were or were not on the subject. There is still little-to-no high-quality evidence to support the use of cannabis as a treatment for the most of the illnesses that are covered in those states in the USA. There have been some positive study results for use of pharmaceutical preparations of THC and/or CBD with muscle spasms associated with Multiple Sclerosis, side effects from chemotherapy and severe childhood epilepsyconditions, but none for most of the other illnesses it is claimed cannabis can treat. Studies are ongoing and we’ll update our medicinal page as developments arise.

Ultimately what this means is that the use of cannabis as a medicine, in the bulk of cases, is largely uninformed and not based on quality scientific evidence, so its medical use cannot be used as a basis for the statement ‘it must be good for you’.

A really good article to check out is this JAMA published study on the evidence supporting medical cannabis use.

Cannabis cures cancer, so it can’t be bad for you

This argument is thrown around a lot. And while, like all Aussies (one of the nations most affected by cancer in the entire world) we at NCPIC would love to see a cure to cancer, regardless of what it is, as above, there is no high-quality evidence to support the claim that cannabis cures cancer.

It’s a natural plant

You can’t argue with this one, cannabis is a natural plant. But it is worth noting that poison ivy, hemlock, deadly nightshade and tobacco are also all plants – and they can do some serious harm to humans – so this argument isn’t exactly water-tight.

No one has ever died from it

Again, to-date, this is true, cannabis (like nicotine) is not known as a drug people fatally overdose on, although in the USA there are increasing numbers of poisonings from high-potent weed, especially among children and pets. In saying that, death isn’t the only negative side effect that should be considered when people contemplate using a drug or undertaking any risky activity. They should also ask themselves, can this affect my mental and physical health in negative ways?

This argument, ‘no one ever died from it’ is really grasping at straws – there are a lot of things that generally don’t kill you, but most people would prefer not to experience, for example, passing kidney stones.

Alcohol and tobacco are way worse than cannabis, and people use those

First of all, comparison can be a concerning thing – often when people compare two things, they are aiming to show one is better or worse than the other, and this can convey that one is not negative at all.

As an example, if you compare ice and cannabis you may think ice is much worse, but it doesn’t mean cannabis has no negative side effects. People who use comparison as an excuse for using cannabis are deliberately not considering the big picture.

It’s also worthy of note many cannabis advocates will say, ‘alcohol is legal and it’s worse than cannabis, so cannabis should be legal’. And yet, we never hear, ‘alcohol should be made illegal because it is worse than cannabis’, that is, while this argument is used to suggest both should be legal, it’s never used to suggest both should be illegal.

Pharmaceuticals just want to make money out of it

Let’s be realistic, commercial pharmaceutical companies do want to make money out of cannabis – they are businesses and businesses are only successful if they make money. Pharmaceuticals are businesses that make money out of drugs. It’s also true that in general the pharmaceutical industry doesn’t always have the best reputation.

But disregarding all of that, pharmaceutical companies are actually at the forefront of bringing legal, regulatable, consistent medical cannabis to the world – if your argument is cannabis should be legal because of its medical properties, you have a similar aim to pharmaceuticals, perhaps minus the dollars attached. It should also be remembered that if it weren’t for research and development undertaken by pharmaceutical companies we wouldn’t have the life-saving drugs we depend on.

The Government is trying to keep cannabis from us, but there’s nothing wrong with it

We’ve heard various reasons for the Government trying to keep cannabis from us – everything from the Government wanting to profit from it themselves, to their deal with pharmaceutical companies to keep cannabis illegal because it cures everything and would make other drugs worthless.

But many of the reasons cannabis is illegal are much simpler (and less ‘conspiracy theory’) than that – the lack of strong, high-quality evidence to support its use, the negative side effects it can have on people, the effect on driving, inability to regulate and control consistent dosage.

Medicinal cannabis laws have started to change, and this gradual process again doesn’t support the interpretation that this it is the Government’s last attempts to reign it back in, rather, it conveys an attempt at a measured approach.

People should be able to do whatever they want as long as they aren’t hurting people

This is a tricky one, because maybe they are right. Maybe they should be able to do what they want as long as they aren’t hurting people. So who defines what 'hurting people' means? Can a heavy or dependent cannabis user be sure they aren’t hurting people?

We have thousands of concerned parents and friends contact us every year talking about relationship breakdown, theft, arguments and a range of other hurtful side effects that cannabis use can cause, not to mention the risk of road or work accidents. Is it really that harmless to those around you?

Because those lines can be blurry, it’s government’s role to balance the risks and benefits of public policy, guided by the views of the people. Currently there are low levels of support for legalisation of cannabis in Australia.

There are studies to show it isn’t linked to mental illness, respiratory illness… any negative effects

Again, this is true – but the test comes when you examine the study for its quality. Not all studies are equal – some fail to consider important confounding factors; don’t test widely enough or have big enough sample groups; include notable bias – or have a range of other flaws.

At NCPIC, we aim to provide information based on the highest-quality evidence available at the time of writing, sure this may evolve and change (in which case, so will we), but it creates consistency and a standard to work from, meaning we can’t just pick and choose the angle we take. While new studies into cannabis are starting all the time, right now, the most high-quality research suggests cannabis is linked to mental illness, respiratory illness and a number of other social, mental and physical side effects.

No other drugs are scrutinised as much as cannabis

This is one we hear a lot – ‘no pharmaceutical drugs are scrutinised even nearly as much as cannabis, yet you can pick them up at the chemist’. In this case, the simple answer is: for drugs to be available in Australia they must be approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). They require a high standard of clinical trial evidence and this is not available yet for anything other than pure pharmaceutical preparations of THC and CBD, for very limited conditions. This is not the case in the US, where many products are considered nutritional supplements for example, and are not regulated as in Australia.

‘I know people who have used cannabis for years and they are fine’

This is another one we hear a lot, along with, ‘I’ve used it for years and I have a full time job, a university masters, a family etc etc.’ Just as we all have the uncle who smoked three packs a day for 60 years and died in his sleep at 90, it is a level of risk, not an absolute guarantee that we are dealing with.

Cannabis affects everyone differently, some people experience fewer, if any side effects than others who may suffer from strong physical and mental side effects. A number of factors, including family history, play a role in this. It’s also worth considering that most of these accounts are based on self-reporting – and self-reporting comes with a lot of bias.

Cannabis has more pros than cons

This is one of our favourites as it is completely unfounded. Anyone can create a list of pros for just about anything that greatly outweighs the associated cons. Likewise, we could easily create a list of cannabis cons that outweigh the pros. But ultimately it has to come down to the evidence, and right now, the cons do outweigh the pros.

NCPIC is a centre that provides cannabis information based on the most high-quality evidence available at the time of writing. As an organisation, we do not advocate for or against legalisation of cannabis, and don’t have any role in influencing policy. Our main focuses are discouraging high-risk people, such as young people with developing brains, from taking up cannabis, and providing help and support to those people who reach out to us because of issues with their own cannabis use or that of someone close to them.

If you have reasons to add to our list, contact us here. If you want some personal guidance for talking to your friend or family member about cannabis, or this list has made you question your own reasons for use, call our counsellors at the National Cannabis Information and Help line on
1800 30 40 50.

 

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