Cannabis Misconceptions, Stigma and FAQs

Burning Through the Myths: Cannabis Misconceptions and FAQs

With the legalization of cannabis coming up fast on the horizon, it’s time to clear some of the haze around the misconceptions, stigmas and questions around cannabis. There are over 100 unique cannabinoids found in cannabis, and research has focused mainly on the two most prominent ones: Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). These two compounds have a range of different effects on the human brain and behaviour. Δ9-THC can impair learning, can produce psychosis-like effects and increase anxiety, whereas CBD can enhance learning and has antipsychotic and anti-anxiety properties. When taken together, CBD can help reduce the effects of Δ9-THC.

Is cannabis dangerous and addictive?

Many people believe that cannabis is not an addictive drug; however, the truth is that cannabis addiction is a real issue that people need to be aware of. Currently classified as Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD), the estimated chances of becoming addicted to cannabis after lifetime exposure is 8.9%, which is considerably lower than for cocaine (20.9%), alcohol (22.7%) or tobacco (67.5%). So overall, cannabis is a much less harmful drug, however there is a small risk of addiction tied to chronic use. When it comes to lethally overdosing on cannabis, it is a theoretical possibility. The reality of the matter is that a person would need to consume approximately 15, 000 pounds of cannabis in about 15 minutes, which is physically impossible. Opioids act on receptors in the respiratory system, which can cause respiratory depression in an overdose situation, which leads to death through suffocation. Cannabis, on the other hand, works on a different system on the body which doesn’t act on the respiratory system and won’t cause a lethal overdose.  

Do you have to get intoxicated to get the benefits of cannabis?

While cannabis is commonly known to produce psychoactive “high” effects, which accounts for the intoxication, the ingredient responsible for this is THC. CBD, on the other hand, doesn’t have the same effect. It can actually counteract some of the psychoactive effects of the THC. These and the over 100 other cannabinoids in the cannabis plant have beneficial effects on the body since they all interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system. While THC has some therapeutic benefits, when combined in different ratios with CBD, this can produce beneficial effects without inducing a “high”, and this can be adjusted with proper dosing titration. Some studies have shown beneficial effects of cannabis in the treatment of pain, muscle spasms, seizures, severe nausea, and sleep disorders, with many other conditions showing patient reported benefit.        

Can cannabis kill brain cells?

Research has actually shown that cannabis can help control cell growth in the adult brain, although the effects can vary considerably according to the cannabinoid, dose and duration of administration. It’s been shown that acute administration of cannabinoids has no effect on brain cell growth, however chronic use has been shown to enhance brain cell growth. This effect is the opposite for adolescents, however, showing decreased brain cell growth with administration of THC. CBD has been shown to increase brain cell survival and growth in humans. So, when it comes to cannabis, the only time administration of cannabis is a concern is when THC is used by adolescents, which warrants age restrictions on THC use.

Is smoking cannabis much worse for your lungs than smoking cigarettes?

The effects of cigarette smoking have been well studied, and it’s known that cigarettes are detrimental to lung health from decreasing your lung capacity to inducing symptoms of coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. All of this, plus increasing risk of lung cancer, make cigarette smoking very unappealing, and people expect the same when it comes to smoking cannabis. Most studies actually haven’t seen much difference in lung function with cannabis smokers and control subjects. In terms of lung cancer, studies have been inconclusive when it comes to cannabis use. Whereas some studies have found no definite association, others have reported associations with lung cancer and heavier cannabis use. Overall, although cannabis smoking is likely to be better than cigarette smoking, it’s still suggested that vaporization or ingestion of cannabis is much better and healthier for consumers. Vaporization does not heat cannabis to the point of “combustion” which is why it is better and recommended over smoking by medical professionals as well as Health Canada.

Does second-hand cannabis smoke affect non-smokers, including children?

Second-hand smoke occurs when persons other than the active smokers inhale smoke. When it comes to cannabis, several studies have shown detectable concentrations of cannabinoids in body fluids after exposure. Under extreme exposure conditions, this also resulted in minor physiological and subjective drug effects such as increased heart rate, impaired psychomotor ability and temporary working memory changes due to THC. Due to these effects, it’s recommended that cannabis smokers follow the same etiquette as cigarette smokers, and refrain from smoking in enclosed spaces and especially around children.  The same recommendations are made for vaporized cannabis products as well, since vapor can induce the same effects as smoke.

What are the effects of cannabis on pregnancy and breastfeeding?

Cannabis is one of the most frequently used substances, with the prevalence of use estimated to be about 5% of all pregnant women. The studies on impact on the fetus and newborn infant have been mixed. Human placental studies have determined that stimulation of the cannabinoid receptors in the placenta can impair fetal growth, and studies on maternal cannabis use throughout pregnancy have shown growth restriction in mid and late pregnancy. There is no firm link between gestational cannabis use and congenital malformations in humans, and there have no been reported withdrawal or intoxication syndrome. Some evidence does point to impairment in long-term growth, cognition and behaviour with cannabis exposure in the uterus. Cannabis and its metabolites readily pass into breast milk, and there is concern that mothers using cannabis while breastfeeding can affect neurodevelopment. Due to these rising concerns, it’s recommended that women reduce regular cannabis use during pregnancy and stop using it wherever possible. These studies have been more focused on THC, and therefore limited to no data on CBD.



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