After thousands of years of medical and spiritual cannabis use, the last century of prohibition has called its safety, efficacy, and value into doubt. It doesn’t help that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to approve cannabis for medical use, or that it's only partially legalized. But these concerns pale next to cannabis’ proven ability to treat numerous physical and psychological conditions, and they only create a barrier between patients and potentially life-changing treatment.
At the same time, current patients may not know that some cannabis consumption methods may hinder their medicine’s effectiveness.
It’s time to clear this up. Here, we address four of the most common myths within the cannabis community regarding safety and consumption.
1.) Holding in Cannabis Impacts THC Absorption
Most of us are taught to hold each toke for as long as possible to get the most out of every last cannabinoid. As theory goes, the longer THC is held in the lungs, the more is absorbed and the higher you get. But evidence shows this does not necessarily optimize your consumption.
While it’s true that deep inhalation allows THC more access to your lungs (and may even improve lung function), prolonged inhalation gives your body more opportunity to absorb tar and toxins also included in combustion (not so much vaporization). This also deprives your brain of oxygen, which is where the “higher” feeling comes from. Best practice is to inhale enough THC into your lungs short of polluting them. There’s no exact science to it, but since THC is absorbed almost immediately after inhalation, a few seconds’ pause is plenty. The trick is to inhale deeper, rather than longer.
2.) Sticks and Stems Contain THC
Some people say cannabis stems contain cannabinoids, some say they don’t. Reluctant to waste even a speck of their buds, some medicinal cannabis patients get creative and save their stems to make tea, cannabutter, or other substances. However, cannabis stems contain no real THC content – at least not enough worth consuming. Consensus tells us cannabis holds the bulk of THC in its buds, followed by the leaves, with a much lower concentration in the stalks and seeds. Plus, THC doesn't mix with water, but is fat soluble. That means it can only be infused into oil, butter, milk, and similar in cooking. Bottom line: You’d need a lot of stems to add any noticeable medicinal benefits to other products.
3.) Cannabis Is a Dangerous Gateway Drug
. Though many people doubt its credibility as a medicine, citing lack of scientific evidence or FDA approval, cannabis’ safety and efficacy is proven by more than 2 million registered patients and over 21,000 scientific studies, while the FDA doesn’t actually evaluate naturally occurring botanicals. Even the DEA’s administrative law judge believes “marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man.”
Since the 1970s, one of the most common myths within the cannabis community is cannabis’ reputation as a “gateway drug” to harder substances like cocaine, heroin, and opioids. But the opposite is true: Cannabis is now being used to address the opioid epidemic as a safer alternative to pharmaceuticals. What’s more, according to the Institute of Medicine, cannabis has a dependence liability of less than 10 percent – lower than alcohol (15 percent) and tobacco (32 percent) – and has no overdose potential.
4.) Eating Cannabis Buds Gets You High
Eating cannabis as is, or “raw,” is a bad idea. Besides being outright unappetizing, this is the most inefficient form of ingestion and produces significantly inferior effects. Uncooked cannabis is full of THCA, which, before converting to THC during the decarboxylation process, has no psychoactive properties. You would need to eat much, much more cannabis than is required for combustion, vaporization, or baking into edibles, for the same effect.
This brings to light a related common myth within the cannabis community: that medical cannabis is just an excuse for people to get high. Cannabis provides relief from serious and often painful conditions, and some forms (like CBD) don’t contain the THC responsible for psychoactive effects. The medicinal value of cannabis is clear. Even so, like any other medicine, it’s not for everyone. Those interested in using cannabis for medical treatment should talk to their doctor about potential adverse effects, benefits, and treatment options.