5 outrageous claims about weed

A lot of people who sit on the pro-cannabis side of the fence look at historic anti-cannabis materials such as ‘Reefer Madness’ and label it as outrageous propaganda designed to stigmatise cannabis and its users. And let’s be honest, it was. It was typical of the time it was created, and took ‘cannabis education’ (and we use the term loosely) to an extreme and often unrealistic place.

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A lot of people who sit on the pro-cannabis side of the fence look at historic anti-cannabis materials such as ‘Reefer Madness’ and label it as outrageous propaganda designed to stigmatise cannabis and its users. And let’s be honest, it was. It was typical of the time it was created, and took ‘cannabis education’ (and we use the term loosely) to an extreme and often unrealistic place.

And while messages like those aren’t exactly helpful in educating people, neither are the often equally outrageous claims made by those who want to have cannabis use legalised.

Though like many plants, it is feasible some components of cannabis may be used to treat this, or sooth that, we’ve counted up to 50 illnesses it is now claimed cannabis can cure – with no quality evidence to support the vast majority of claims. Some might argue hope alone is a positive for sufferers of serious illnesses, but for others who jump on board and don’t see the results they expected, the only outcome is deteriorating health and progression of their illness.

With people like Belle Gibson now being held legally accountable for the harm her ‘cannabis cure’ claims could have caused, it’s important we all recognise when claims are exactly that, just claims.

The direction of research is changing, and in coming decades we may learn more about the unique components of the complex cannabis plant than we’ve ever known before, changing what we believe about it now. But we often wonder – does it help or hinder the cannabis legalisation cause when so many unfounded claims are made so frequently? Would it seem more credible if advocacy groups had come together, decided on just one, or even a handful of illnesses ‘cannabis cures’ and stuck with them as their team line?

Here are some of the claims that certainly taint cannabis education, but may also weaken the pro-cannabis agenda.

1) Cannabis cures cancer

If there was a magical substance that could cure all cancer, don’t you think we’d be hearing a whole lot more about it and a whole lot less about cancer deaths – and not just on niche websites knocked up in five minutes? That’s the kind of news that makes the front page of every newspaper in the world. Now, this is not to say future cannabis research won’t reveal positive effects for some kinds of cancer, or side-effects of cancer (or its other treatments), but the idea that it cures all cancer (a claim we hear daily) is clearly outrageous and impossible.

While research is continuing, right now, there is no hard, high-quality evidence to support the idea cannabis cures cancer – but there is some promising evidence for its use in alleviating some side effects of chemotherapy. And though many tout its ‘anti-tumour’ properties as proof, the same has been said about broccoli, garlic, spinach and green onions – so undoubtedly, much more research is needed. We hope there is a cure for cancer very soon, no matter what it is, but for the moment, there is little-to-no evidence to support this claim.

2) Cannabis is safe – my uncle uses it and he’s fine

In research terms, a ‘study’ like this is called ‘n = 1’. In every day terms, it’s simply called an anecdote. And while these have their place in spurring on new theories and future studies, they are certainly not the basis for medicine or policy.

Relying on the testimony of one person about their self-reported lack of problems from using a drug is not a fail-safe – it comes with a lot of bias and a failure to identify and consider confounding factors, not to mention the fact he is just one man and we are all different. Perhaps this uncle of yours didn’t have any psychotic episodes or obvious mental health issues, but there may have been some respiratory problems along the way from bong use, subtle mental health problems that have been exacerbated, or even financial problems or legal problems related to weed use. Or he might be like those many millions of tobacco smokers across the ages who missed out on lung or cardiovascular disease – is it worth the risk of increasing your chances of a bad outcome to play the odds?

3) Cannabis is less harmful than alcohol … or heroin… or ice or… (insert other drug here)

Comparison is the root of all evil. Ok, we know we changed that old saying, but in our line of work, comparison is something that can be dangerous and create confusion and misinformation.

Cannabis is a drug that can have unpredictable side effects, and can cause different responses in different people on different occasions – there’s no rule for how every person will feel when they use it. For those who experience negative side effects, the list of possibilities is long – psychosis, anxiety, paranoia, nausea – just to name a few.

The thing is, saying alcohol or other drugs are worse than cannabis doesn’t take away from the fact that it can have the negative side effects listed above. Knowing you might feel worse on ice doesn’t make cannabis side effects any better when you experience them. Comparing one substance with another, and identifying one as not as harmful, can send a message that it’s not harmful at all – and that’s really dangerous to teens who are considering using drugs.

4) It’s a plant and God gave it to us, so it must be safe

Here’s a list of some other plants in that category: deadly nightshade, hemlock (poison parsley), belladonna lily, death cap mushrooms, lantana, stinging nettle, tobacco… Just because it grows in the ground doesn’t make it safe.

These days, most cannabis sold in Australia is produced hydroponically, often grown as quickly as possible to maximise profit, using fertilisers, moldicides and pesticides. If it is then smoked in homemade bongs with plastic, blue tack, garden hose or aluminium cans, a whole extra level of toxicity is added. You can read more about cannabis and contamination here: https://ncpic.org.au/professionals/publications/factsheets/cannabis-contamination/

5) Cannabis is not addictive and it’s easy to quit

While some people may give up cannabis without a hassle, thousands of people contact us every year because they are struggling to quit. You can become dependent on cannabis. A condition known as Cannabis Use Disorder has also been identified and it has both mental and physical signs and symptoms. You can read more about it in our factsheet: cannabis and dependence.

For some people quitting weed is easy and they can manage cold turkey, for others it may take many attempts and a lot of support to get through the sleepless nights, anxiety, irritability, nausea and cravings.

It’s no surprise a lot of people feel strongly about cannabis – whether they are for it or against it – so it’s always important to think about any claims that are made and review the evidence supporting (or maybe not supporting) them.

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