Cannabis plant : Myths and facts

Dr Sona A Pungavkar
We think it’s time to separate the myths and facts circulating about this sacred plant and we hope this article helps to bring about an informed perspective regarding some of these questions, which may be lingering in the mind of many interested readers.
Myth: Eating raw marijuana plant can cause a high.
Fact: Consumption of raw Cannabis plant does not have any effecton getting high. Marijuana is effective when heated and combined with a fatty substance (like butter / oil) for oral consumption.
Myth: Marijuana is a dangerous plant.
Fact: Several studies have shown that marijuana is far less harmful with virtually no negative side effects than alcohol, tobacco, opium, opium based medications and pharmaceutical drugsas well as cocaine and heroin.
Myth: Marijuana is an opening whichallows access to other drugs – “a gateway”.
Fact: It is a drug commonly found and used traditionally all over the world and hence, it comes as easy to be the first point of exposure to a group of people who would like to try different substances for effects on the mind. Several reports, including one from the Institute of Medicine states “no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.”
Myth: The increase in food intake and increased laughing spells do not occurwith Cannabis use.
Fact: Intake of Cannabis causes two predictable effects. Increased food intake and laughter without much instigation. Reasons thought to be behind these reactions, include increase in sensitivity to taste and smell, which causes the food to taste better and a mild confusional state, causing mood elevation.
Myth: Smoking pot is worse for your lungs than cigarettes
FACT: When inhaling the smoke from Cannabis, the harm is caused by the smoke rather than the plant itself and is equivalent to air pollution, which can harm the lungs. The contents of the Cannabis plant do not cause direct harm to the lung tissue, as can be the effect of cigarettes. No scientific study  suggests that casual use is dangerous to health.
Myth: Marijuana use leads to dependence or addiction
Fact: This is a tough myth to crack. However, there is no real proof that Cannabis is addictive. Specifically, it is possible to become dependent on marijuana, a dependencywhich  has a lot to do with an individual’s mental makeup and overall state of mind. It is similar to someone becoming dependent on using a mobile phone or playing video games. Clinical dependency rates of marijuana are much less than cocaine, heroin or alcohol and cigarettes that top the chart list of addictions. So it’s unjust to label marijuana as physiologically and inherently addictive.
Myth: Using marijuana leads to crime and delinquency
Fact: Research suggests cannabis reduces aggression and hence users are less likely to commit crimes. Use of cannabis is higher among offenders than non-offenders, but that cannot lead to the assumption that Cannabis induces criminal behavior. Also, because of the stringent laws, possession of cannabis alone is enough for a person to be labeled as a criminal, which is a flaw.
Myth: Apathy and a lack of motivation can be an effect of Cannabis.
Fact: Long term abuse of any substance can reduce a person’s capacity to function normally and is not specific for Cannabis. High doses administered over a long period of days or weeks, has not shown decreased motivation or poor performance. If at all, the users have sharpened senses and clearer though processes.
Myth :Use of Cannabis can cause memory loss and decreased mental ability
Fact: Tests have shown that cannabis diminishes short term memory which is part of the magic of this plant, by reducing over-excited firing of neurons in the brain due to stress and overthinking.
Cannabis slows down this incoherent firing and interrupts the excessive information flow to bring the body into homeostasis in turn allowing the cannabinoids to start rejuvenating the body back to health, which would otherwise not be possible in the presence of the stress hormones circulating in the body,resulting from the external influences beyond our control. No scientific evidence exists to suggest that it is a long- term or permanent problem when sober. In fact, current clinical studies have shown the effects of cannabis on treatingAlzheimer’s disease by reducing inflammation in the brain, so that puts the question to rest.
Myth:Overdosing on marijuana is a possibility.
Fact: This is a complete no – no and can happen only in theory. One has to intakemore than 40,000 thousand times the usual dose of Cannabis, in one sitting, in order to get the level which can be lethal. To provide a visual description, the heap of the Cannabis plant would have to be as tall as the Empire State Building, for example, and a person would need to take in the smoke from the entire heap, which obviously cannot be practical, and therefore impossible. THERE HAVE BEEN ZERO DEATHS ASSOCIATED WITH TAKING CANNABIS ALONE, GLOBALLY.
Myth:All Cannabis plants have same effects.
The effects of individual strains vary greatly. A relaxing feeling all over the body is the experience while using Indica strains, while a mental high is the effect of the sativa strains. Hybrids cause a combination effect.
Myth: Legalizing marijuana is not good for the country 
Fact: Let’s take an example from the west, where the drug is legalized. It is seen that there is revenue generation and creation of jobs with more taxes getting added to the government treasury from the emerging industries, around the plant. This can be used towards community development. All this can happen, without increase in crime rates, as has been shown in the places where legalization has already happened.
Myth:  The jury is still out on the beneficial effects of medical marijuana
Fact: In a large survey conducted in 2014,  mostdoctors agreed that marijuana should either be fully legalized or at least allowed for medicinal reasons.
 It works as an alternative to opioids for pain management, some components have been found to inhibit cancer growth, and control seizures in patients with refractory epilepsy, inaddition to many other uses. With more than half the world legalizing medical marijuana in one form or another, we, in India, could come to one conclusion - something which can help our patients in a cost-effective way and improve their quality of life, must be legally available.
Cannabis Health and Sciences continues the crusade to expedite the legalization of the miracle plant for medicinal use.
The writer is DNB, DMRD, MR Consultant, Global Hospitals, MR Consultant, S.L.Raheja- Fortis Associate Hospital, Head of Imaging, Kohinoor Hospital, Medical Director SDRC National RAKSHA Co-ordinator - IRIA Mumbai and can be reached at 9820285556
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