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Top 10 Marijuana Myths and Facts

Sort out the reality from the rumors about smoking pot

Marijuana; Myths

DENVER, CO - APRIL 20: Tyler Shumway of Aurora, Colorado lights up a joint as thousands gathered to celebrate the state's medicinal marijuana laws and collectively light up at 4:20 p.m. in Civic Center Park April 20, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. Colorado goes to the polls November 6 to vote on a controversial ballot initiative that would permit possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for those 21 and older. (Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)

Marc Piscotty/Getty Images

There’s a lot of misinformation out there about marijuana, so we’re breaking down 10 of the most persistent myths about the drug – and giving you the real facts instead. Is pot prohibition working? Can casual use lead to addiction? Read on to find out the answers to these and more questions.

Marijuana; Myths

FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - OCTOBER 12: Karen Goldstein attends a rally for Florida Attorney General candidate, Jim Lewis, who is running on a platform of legalizing marijuana on October 12, 2010 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Lewis believes that legalizing the drug will save the state hundreds of millions of dollars that can be redirected for spending on education, environment, and other necessary items. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

10

Myth: Marijuana prohibition effectively protects kids

Fact: In 2011, use of marijuana by teenagers hit a 30-year peak, with one out of every 15 high school students reporting they smoke most days, and for the first time U.S. teens reported smoking more pot than cigarettes. But teenagers don’t smoke any more pot in states where medical marijuana is legal than in ones where it’s not. Legalization advocates argue that the best way to reduce use by minors is to legalize and regulate pot.

Sources: New York Times, AP, Centers for Disease Control

Marijuana; Myths

A picture taken on October 31, 2011 in center Amsterdam, shows the neon sign of a coffee shop. Incensed by the "nuisance" caused by millions of people crossing its borders each year to visit one of 670 licensed coffee shops, the Netherlands plans to turn these cannabis-vending cafes into private clubs for card-carrying members -- Dutch residents only. The consumption and possession of small amounts of cannabis have been decriminalised since 1976 in the Netherlands. AFP PHOTO NATHALIE MAGNIEZ (Photo credit should read NATHALIE MAGNIEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

NATHALIE MAGNIEZ/AFP/Getty Images

9

Myth: Holland and Portugal have legalized marijuana

Fact: The Dutch have never formally legalized marijuana. They have an official policy, since 1976, of not enforcing existing laws against possession of small amounts or “coffeeshops,” about 700 of them, selling small amounts. But growing, distributing and importing pot is still a crime in the Netherlands. While Portugal decriminalized all drugs, that is not the same thing as legalization. Acquisition, possession and use of pot are administrative offenses in Portugal, punishable by civil sanctions such as fines or community service.

Sources: Cato Institute, Time

Marijuana; Myths

ASPEN, CO - APRIL 18: A man is handcuffed and arrested by Aspen police outside the Cannabis Crown 2010 expo April 18, 2010 in Aspen, Colorado. The man was detained by hotel security after carrying a large jar of marijuana out of the marijuana trade show in the basement event space downstairs. Aspen police then found the man has no medical marijuana license and was carrying a set of brass knuckles, which are illegal in Colorado. The marijuana he carried was confiscated and destroyed, according to police. Colorado, one of 14 states to allow use of medical marijuana, has experienced an explosion in marijuana dispensaries, trade shows and related businesses in the last year as marijuana use becomes more mainstream. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

Chris Hondros/Getty

8

Myth: Prisons are full of people in for marijuana possession

Fact: About 750,000 people are arrested every year for marijuana offenses in the U.S. There's a lot of variation across states in what happens next. Not all arrests lead to prosecutions, and relatively few people prosecuted and convicted of simple possession end up in jail. Most are fined or are placed into community supervision. About 40,000 inmates of state and federal prison have a current conviction involving marijuana, and about half of them are in for marijuana offenses alone; most of these were involved in distribution. Less than one percent are in for possession alone.

Source: Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know

Marijuana; Myths

DALY CITY, CA - APRIL 18: Marijuana related merchandise is displayed at a booth at The International Cannabis and Hemp Expo April 18, 2010 at the Cow Palace in Daly City, California. The two day Cannabis and Hemp Expo features speakers, retailers selling medical marijuana smoking paraphernalia and a special tent available for medical marijuana card holders to smoke their medicine. Voters in California will consider a measure on the November general election ballot that could make the State the first in the nation to legalize the growing of a limited amount of marijuana for private use. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Justin Sullivan/Getty

7

Myth: Marijuana use causes cancer

Fact: It's true that marijuana smoke, like tobacco smoke, contains carcinogens. But even hardcore pot smokers typically consume much less pot than tobacco smokers do cigarettes, probably not enough to cause cancer. A 2006 UCLA study concluded that even heavy marijuana use does not lead to lung cancer. "We hypothesized that there would be a positive association between marijuana use and lung cancer, and that the association would be more positive with heavier use," said the study's lead author. "What we found instead was no association at all, and even a suggestion of some protective effect." This and other studies suggest that pot can actually inhibit the growth of cancerous tumors. Finally, what risks there are involve smoking, and there are other ways to consume marijuana.

Sources: Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know, Washington Post

Marijuana; Myths

BOSTON - DECEMBER 16: Marijuana and crack cocaine found by the District C-11 drug unit after executing a search warrant on the home of a drug dealer at 60 Richfield Street in Dorchester. Drug units in the city are carrying out arrest warrants against drug dealers in response to rising homicides, which Commissioner Edward F. Davis has attributed to drug activity. (Photo by Bill Greene/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Bill Greene/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

6

Myth: Using marijuana leads to crime and delinquency

Fact: The rate of pot use is higher among offenders than nonoffenders, but that definitely does not mean that pot causes criminal behavior. Another factor may be driving both results – or it could be that the causality goes the other way, and criminals are just more likely to use drugs. Furthermore, pot, unlike alcohol, doesn't generally unleash aggression, so it's much harder to link it to violent crime.

Source: Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know

Marijuana; Myths

LAYTONVILLE, MENDOCINO COUNTY, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 11: A participant lights up a pipe loaded with marijuana at the Emerauld Cup on December 11, 2010 in Area 101 (name after nearby Highway 101), a new age center where the 7th annual Emerauld Cup is being held. The Oscars of the marijuana world, the Emerald Cup bestows honors on the best medecinal marijuana grown outside (indoor marijuana is not accepted) in the region known as the Emerald Triangle (Mendocino, Humbold and Trinity County), reputed to be the best in the world. 110 growers presented 136 strands, judged on four criterias: appearance, taste, aroma, and potency. A thousand participants attended the festival. Located about four hours north of San Francisco in deeply fotested areas, and bestowed with perfect growing conditions, the Emerald Triangle has become the marijuana capital of the U.S.. Made legal by the Compassionate Use Act, the Emerald Triangle's medecinal marijuana culture generates over 14 billion dollars annualy, about two third of the counties' revenue (photo Gilles Mingasson/Getty Images).

Gilles Mingasson/Getty

5

Myth: Marijuana use leads to dependence or addiction

Fact: It's possible to become dependent on marijuana, but this only happens in a minority of the already relatively small category of heavy users. Research suggests that about nine percent of marijuana users became clinically dependent at some point, compared to 15 percent of cocaine users and 24 percent of heroin users.

Source: National Institutes of Health

Marijuana; Myths

ROCKLAND, ME - JUNE 28: Maine Caregivers Marijuana program. (Photo by Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

4

Myth: Most pot smokers are heavy users

Fact: Between 40 and 50 percent of people who have tried marijuana report a lifetime total of fewer than 12 days of use. About one-third of pot smokers report having used mariajuana for 10 days or less in the past year. About 6 million of America's 30 million users over the age of 12 use pot on a daily or almost-daily basis according to household survey data – a fifth of those who say they have used marijuana in the past year – but they account for about 80 percent of all marijuana consumed.

Sources: Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know

Marijuana; Myths

Two prep school girls smoking marijuana

Stewart Cohen/Getty

3

Myth: Marijuana is a ‘gateway’ drug

Fact: Kids who use marijuana are statistically more likely to go on to use other drugs, but that doesn't mean marijuana use causes use of other drugs. The same factors driving marijuana use probably explain use of other drugs. A report by the Institute of Medicine found "no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs."

Sources: Institute of Medicine, Time, Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know

Marijuana; Myths

man wearing suite in a car smoking marijuana

Aaron Black/Getty

2

Myth: Marijuana is completely harmless

Fact: Heavy use can be harmful. Since pot smoke is chemically very similar to tobacco smoke, heavy pot smokers are at risk for some of the same health effects as cigarette smokers, like bronchitis and other respiratory illnesses. Again, though, the risks are from smoking, which isn't the only way to use marijuana. Another hazard: car accidents caused by driving while high, though the risk is lower than from drunk driving.

Sources: NORML, National Institutes of Health, Harm Reduction Journal, Scientific American

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