While legalization efforts in a handful of states have been moving ahead at light speed, in most states legalization efforts are moving at a snail’s pace. But, why? Isn’t cannabis a relatively benign (and natural) substance — less harmful than alcohol?

While true — cannabis is comparatively safe to many other (legal and illegal) substances — myths about marijuana’s effects persist.

Past anti-marijuana campaigns have spread propaganda that portrays users as being lazy, forgetful, and absent-minded.  Or, worse — that cannabis use leads to harder drugs. (In fact, data suggests quite the opposite. Cannabis is more often an “exit” drug rather than a “gateway” drug.)

Nonetheless, the DEA continues to classify marijuana and its active ingredients (cannabinoids) as Schedule I drugs (alongside hard drugs like heroin and LSD) — despite it being legal medicinally in 29 states and for recreational use in 8 states.  This disconnect between reality and what weed is often perceived to be has led to confusion. We’ll finally put some of the myths about marijuana — both good and bad — to rest.

Myths About Marijuana

FICTION: Marijuana is a Gateway Drug

One concern isn’t weed itself, but what it may lead to.  Some may agree that the effects of weed aren’t detrimental to an individual, but argue that it puts users on a path to try harder drugs that will significantly affect their health.  The thought is that once a softer drug, such as marijuana, is taken that it will make drugs as a whole seem less dangerous. The belief is that weed is simply the first step to a spiraling staircase that leads downward toward addiction and emotional vacancy.

A study published by the University of New Hampshire proved that this isn’t the case for most individuals.  It concluded that stress and employment status had more to do with predicting illicit drug use, rather than there being a correlation between marijuana and other illicit drug use.

FACT (or maybe FICTION): Pot Doesn’t Affect Your Lungs

The American Lung Association has said that pot smoke has more carcinogens than cigarette smoke. Marijuana smokers tend to inhale more smoke and more deeply in an attempt to amplify their high.

Despite these claims, a study published in the Journal of the American Health Association found no correlation between smoking weed and lung damage.

If you’re concerned about these conflicting statements, fear not. There are many other options to consume cannabis, including edibles, vaping, or tinctures.

FICTION: Illegal Marijuana Protects Kids

In 2011, for the first time in history, U.S. high school students reported smoking marijuana more than cigarettes. This is despite the fact that cigarettes are legal to purchase at the age of 18 while marijuana is still illegal in most states.  There was also no significant difference between the percentage of teens who smoked marijuana in states where it was medically legal compared to states where it was illegal, hinting that legalization has little effect on the rate at which teens smoke weed.

FACT:  Most Pot Smokers are Casual Users

There is a large group of people who try marijuana and then put it down for good. Between 40 and 50 percent of those who have used marijuana say that they have done so fewer than 12 times in their lifetime. This evidence also suggests that marijuana is non-addictive; though some argue it is potentially habit-forming, and 9% of those who try marijuana do ultimately develop a dependence. (Far fewer people become dependent on cannabis compared to alcohol, tobacco, and numerous other drugs.)

Separate Fact from Fiction

It is always a good idea to stay vigilant and wary when claims are being made about marijuana.  More research is being done, and the jury is still out on many of the overarching effects cannabis has on individuals.