Fact Check: How Dangerous Is Cannabis, Really?

by | Jun 11, 2023 | Health, Marijuana Insights | 0 comments

Cannabis is still shrouded in misunderstandings even though it has been legalized in a number of nations globally. In this DW fact check, we look at four of the largest drug-related falsehoods.

Image Source: How dangerous is cannabis use? At the Global Marijuana March in Madrid in May, advocates campaigned for legalization, while others warned against it. Who is right?

Legalize cannabis? Recent legalizations include Canada, South Africa, and numerous US states. Germany’s government has limited legalization for adults. Cannabis is still illegal and punishable in many countries.

Misinformation and unproven allegations have dominated cannabis legalization debates online and off for years. DW’s fact-checkers examined the evidence and interviewed experts to debunk some of the most common fallacies.

Cannabis—gateway drug?

The idea that cannabis usage leads to stronger, more deadly drugs is one of the oldest arguments against legalization. In an interview with Bild, Söder and colleagues accused opposition parties of “trivializing” the substance.

Pro-legalization social media users usually disagree.

Studies have linked cannabis usage to harder narcotics. Cannabis usage early and often increases the risk of later drug use.

Correlation isn’t causation.

“If you look at how someone became a heroin user, you are very likely to find cannabis use along the way,” said Frankfurt University Hospital head of forensic toxicology Dr. Stefan Tönnes. “But if you look the other way around, how many cannabis users go on to use heroin afterwards—it’s very, very few.” This indicates that correlation does not prove causality.

Dr. Eva Hoch, a psychologist in Munich’s University Hospital’s psychiatry department, said the gateway drug idea cannot be disproven. She has studied cannabis effects for 20 years.

“Cannabis naturally stimulates the reward center in the brain and could pharmacologically promote drug affinity,” she said.

She noted that numerous additional illicit drug risk factors must be examined. The US National Institute on Drug Abuse believes more research is needed on cannabis as a gateway drug.

Cannabis as a gateway drug is unproven.

Cannabis or alcohol?

Alcohol is more damaging than cannabis, according to legalization advocates. A study claims alcohol is 114 times more hazardous than cannabis.

The mentioned study only reveals that alcohol overdoses are more likely than cannabis overdoses.

Tönnes claimed cannabis intoxication is stronger than alcohol because it starts quickly after smoking, minimizing the chance of overdose. “When cannabis is consumed as a pastry, overdoses can occur as well.”

However, both medications’ side effects begin before overdose. The study cited in these posts doesn’t cover nonfatal effects.

Tönnes stated the social and mental health repercussions of alcohol and cannabis intoxication must be considered.

“Alcohol has a very significant effect, which is disinhibition and increased risk-taking,” he stated. Cannabis differs. However, paranoia is unpredictable, and cannabis sensitivity might vary.

Alcohol is known to harm the body. “Alcohol has a high organ-damaging effect and causes more health damage than cannabis,” Hoch added. “It also depends on intensity of use, not just the substance.”

Hoch said cannabis’s many uses make health hazards difficult to analyze. In Europe, cannabis is typically smoked with tobacco, which causes cancer.

Alcohol overdoses are more common than cannabis. Even in modest amounts, these drugs can harm users’ physical and mental health and the environment. Alcohol’s 114-times greater hazard than cannabis is misleading.

Cannabis overdose: fatal?

NIDA reports 0 cannabis-related overdose deaths. The CDC says “a fatal overdose is unlikely.”

Cannabis use and death are still debated and studied.

In the 1970s, dogs and monkeys were tested for deadly cannabis doses. The mice received a high oral THC dose. They survived the involuntary high despite fatigue, tremors, and vomiting.

“The lethal dose for cannabis is very, very high,” Hoch remarked. Humans wouldn’t ingest that much.”

Cannabis: Possible death

King’s College London researchers are investigating all cannabis-related deaths in England from 1998 through 2020 to establish if cannabis is dangerous.

Cannabis was usually found with three to seven additional drugs, including opioids, alcohol, and tranquilizers or sleeping medicines.

Cannabis alone caused 4% of deaths, usually due to intoxication injuries. Cannabis poisoning could have killed one person. It is uncertain if a single dose or prolonged use caused death.

Hoch noted “other published cases of cannabis-related deaths.” These are linked to accidents, suicides, and heart attacks. She added these deaths are tough to determine.

Pot harms the heart.

The NIDA also warns about cannabis’s higher heart rate. The agency claims “marijuana increases heart rate for up to three hours after smoking,” which may increase heart attack risk.

“Cannabis definitely has an effect on the cardiovascular system,” Tönnes added. “People who are sensitive, have a predisposition, or have previous damage may therefore be particularly sensitive to cannabis.”

Cannabis consumption has been linked to cardiovascular disease in older studies. “You can’t rule out the possibility that this could become life-threatening,” Tönnes remarked.

Why doesn’t one overdose kill?

King’s College researchers found a single cannabis overdose “negligible” for death.

Hoch said it is physiologically unlikely and requires a lot of weed. Cannabis has a less strong effect on respiration, blood pressure, and heart rate in those without underlying problems because the brain stem has few cannabinoid receptors. Opioid receptors in the brain stem cause respiratory failure in heroin overdoses.

“Alcohol can also have a paralyzing effect on the central nervous system, especially the respiratory center,” Tönnes stated, “and therefore lead to death.”

Is cannabis neurotoxic?

How does cannabis, or marijuana, affect the brain? In the 1970s, New Orleans doctor Robert Heath claimed that marijuana use killed brain cells in rhesus monkeys.

Arkansas’ National Center for Toxicological Research disproved the study’s findings after criticizing its qualitative execution. It started there.

Many hypotheses, no clarity

Long-term cannabis impacts on human brain structure have yielded inconsistent results.

Hoch has tracked the cannabis “explosion of publications” for years.

“It’s true that cannabis interferes with neurophysiology,” she stated. She stressed that even she can’t say how neurotoxic or brain-damaging THC is. She advised more research.

Short-term impacts are better understood. Acute cannabis usage impairs short-term memory, psychomotor coordination, and concentration. Chronic use may last days. After several weeks of abstinence, they seem to reverse.

Risky youth

Hoch said cannabis usage can impair young brains, which develop dramatically from childhood to adulthood.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that marijuana use before age 18 can affect how the brain builds connections for functions like attention, memory, and learning, but that the effects of marijuana use on the brain depend on many factors, including the amount of THC, how often it is used, age at first use, and whether it is used with other substances like alcohol or tobacco.

Other than marijuana, genetics, home environment, and other unknown factors may induce long-term brain damage.

Cannabis neurogenesis research needed.

A 2019 study indicated that marijuana smokers have increased gray matter in some brain regions. Even the researchers couldn’t decide if gray matter increase was good or bad. Carefully interpret the data.

Hoch thought cannabis could create new brain cells was intriguing and worth investigating.

Initial animal studies examined CBD’s influence on neurogenesis. CBD, along with THC, is a well-known cannabinoid. THC is psychoactive, whereas CBD isn’t.

Hoch suggested studying the body’s cannabis system. Cannabinoids improve health when? “When?” she inquired. 140+ cannabinoids have been found. She claimed most impacts had not been investigated.

Black market cannabis has an unknown cannabinoid profile. They contain minimal CBD but lots of THC. Hoch warned about dangerous substances including synthetic opioids and marijuana. That’s why she tells teens: “You’re doing your brain a favor by not smoking pot.”

IMPORTANT: The information on this blog is for general informational purposes only and should not be considered as medical advice. Always consult a qualified healthcare professional for personalised medical advice. The authors of this blog are not medical professionals and disclaim any liability for the use of the information provide.

Source: https://www.dw.com/en/fact-check-how-dangerous-is-cannabis-really/a-65827313

Enrico Bratta

Enrico Bratta

Medical cannabis professional based in Phuket, Thailand.


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Enrico Bratta

Medical cannabis professional based in Phuket, Thailand.