Cannabis Myths and Misconceptions

Despite an abundance of research and evidence generated over the past 70+ years by thousands of scientists, doctors, and clinicians around the world, popular and professional discourse around cannabis remains mired in a murky pool of myths, misconceptions, and straight ahead lies. On this page, I provide a brief overview of some of the most common and pernicious of these falsehoods and suggest resources with more accurate, sound information.

*table of contents with links to below sections


Cannabis as a "drug"

  • Myth: Cannabis is a dangerous and/or addictive drug
  • Reality: Assuming one has a high-quality, organic cannabis product and properly/carefully/respectfully consumes this product in a safe place, cannabis is largely safe and not directly addicting. After the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's two year rescheduling hearing (1986-1988), the DEA's Chief Administrative Law Judge ruled that cannabis is "one of the safest therapeutic constituents known to man." (Source here.)
  • The only reason I say "not directly addicting" above is that cannabis - like countless other substances, foods, and experiences - can be incorporated into a person's compulsive behavior. Addiction is vastly more complex than the chemical constituents of a substance, though of course the latter is a factor. But, there is nothing inherently or necessarily addicting about the chemical compounds in cannabis. It is how something functions for a given individual, over time, in relation to the total complex of other neurobiological-ecological-relational influences contributing to a person's phenomenological experience, that determines whether it can be accurately deemed "addicting" or not.
  • In other words, a person can compulsively use cannabis as easily as people compulsively use food, various drinks (coffee and alcohol, primarily), TV, the internet, exercising/working out, social media, shopping, organizing, cleaning, collecting things, dating, sex, gambling, sports betting, and other experiences and substances. Countless people around the world compulsively engage in all of these activities on a regular basis; their relationships with and use of these substances or experiences are the context for a harmful outcome, not necessarily the thing in and of itself. This is also the case with cannabis. Of course cannabis can be used compulsively and/or abused: humans are experts at misusing things. People develop harmful relationships with countless substances, experiences, and activities all the time. But in many cases, the issue isn't the thing itself, it's the why and how of someone's engagement with that thing. The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, the opposite of addiction is healthful connection. The solution to disordered eating is not to stop eating -- this would be patently absurd. The solution is to address the underlying issue that people manage by establishing a relationship with food/eating that somehow appeases the symptomatic feelings emerging from that underlying issue. 
  • Myth: Cannabis is a "gateway drug"
  • Reality: This is a classic case of one of the most common (and potentially dangerous) errors in human thinking: the conflation of cause with correlation. While it may be the case that some people who have used cannabis have later used illicit drugs, such a situation exists merely as a correlation of events and -- independent of a robust, comprehensive study of all potential factors in the situation -- does nothing to support the assumption that such people's use of cannabis caused or was a constitutive factor in their also consuming other substances. Moreover, the factors contributing to any given individual (naming individual cases here is also crucial; everyone and every situation is unique to some degree, especially when it comes to the cultural ecology, neurophysiology, and developmental history of a given person) consuming illicit drugs are many, complex, and ultimately emergent. This means that reductively explaining such an occurrence -- i.e., someone trying cocaine -- by abstracting away from this dynamic complex of conditions and factors in a contrived effort to identify a simple, singular cause risks obscuring far more than such a tactic explains or clarifies.
  • In other words, cannabis is a gateway drug to illicit drug abuse insofar as a salad is a gateway food to disordered eating. Nobody ever makes this claim because it is an obviously stupid idea. We should view the "cannabis-gateway drug" idea the same way.