[Canniseur: Like almost everything in life, cannabis has positives and negatives? This article covers many of the potential negatives and explains them in both a positive and negative light. It’ll give you plenty to think about and will bolster your knowledge of the potential downside risks of using cannabis along with the upside fun.]
Is weed bad for you? It’s a loaded question, but it’s relevant. More Americans are smoking weed now than ever before. And every week, we’re bombarded with study after study, with one claiming that weed definitely helps us and another claiming it’s bad for us.
At MERRY JANE, we try to balance the good with the bad when it comes to cannabis. That’s not an easy task, especially since it’s so painfully obvious that weed offers far more benefits than disadvantages. Good and bad are also highly subjective, and how weed could be good or bad for you depends on a lot of factors: why you’re consuming, how often you do it, where you’re doing it, etc. So, here’s a handy guide to walk you through some of the (relatively minor) downsides of cannabis consumption.
We’re going to assume that you already know cannabis can combat chronic pain; protect our brain and nerve cells; increase empathy and sociability; treat cancer, AIDS, and seizure disorders; and can prevent, if not reverse, damage caused by cellular oxidation (aging). So, with that beneficial acknowledgement aside, let’s delve into some of the side effects associated with cannabis use.
Weed Disrupts Short-Term Memory Formation
Of all the bads that come with ganja’s good, this one has, inarguably, been experienced by every single person who’s ever gotten lit. The deadpan “What?” response to any given question has become a bit of a stoner stereotype over the years — but there’s some merit to it.
THC, the intoxicating component of weed, disrupts our short-term memory formation. This is why, after hitting the bong, you might spend an hour looking for your car keys — you know, the keys that were in your pocket the entire time.
Thankfully, this short-term memory disruption thing is temporary. Simply ceasing to toke should restore your mental faculties to normal. Anyone claiming that weed causes permanent brain damage is either ignorant of the science, named Kevin Sabet, or intentionally lying to you.
Weed Can Get You in Trouble with the Authorities
Even in states that have legalized weed, tokers can still get in trouble with the cops, child protective services, courts, medical doctors, or employers for overstepping the law (or overstepping an interpretation of it).
Ironically, laws against cannabis possession, cultivation, and sales may be the biggest bads weed has to offer. And that’s easily remedied with legal reforms, decriminalization, and enlightened judges and juries. In other words, prohibition is the problem — not cannabis.
Smoking Weed Could Cause Some Cancers
Smoking anything introduces toxic free radicals into the body, and smoking cannabis is no exception. That’s because smoking uses intense heat to combust plant material, and as the plant material combusts, a chain reaction of free radicals storms across the bowl or blunt and directly into your lungs. Thankfully, natural chemicals in weed can quench these free radicals, but some may escape the plant’s healing powers, wreaking havoc on our DNA.
The link between weed and cancer is tenuous, at best, especially when we consider that components of cannabis are more likely to kill cancer cells than create them. But also consider the cases of two world-famous cannabis heroes, Tommy Chong and Bob Marley. Both developed cancer, and one died from it (Marley). Chong, on the other hand, is still puffing the cheeba to this day.
If weed automatically fought cancer, how did these two men — who smoked so much weed that they immortalized the plant in film and music — get sick? To find out, last year I contacted one of the most respected minds in cannabis science, Dr. Manuel Guzmán — a cancer researcher at the University of Madrid.
“I frankly cannot understand how people can still ask that question,” Guzmán responded in an email. “What is carcinogenic is not cannabis but SMOKING cannabis. As SMOKING tobacco. In other words, the problem is the combustion of the plant. As simple as that.”
Smoking herb probably won’t harm most people’s lungs, but if you’re concerned about damage from smoke, you’ve got a lot of other options for getting weed into your system. Eat it, drink it, snort it, as the renowned narrator Morgan Freeman once quipped.
In some susceptible people, yes: weed can make these two things worse, not better.
Scientists aren’t entirely sure why, but it may be due to cannabis’s ability to regulate (or in this case, fail to regulate) neural signaling. For these unfortunate folks, weed can increase pain sensations or induce convulsive activity. They’re in the minority compared to the rest of us, though.
Weed May Compromise Cardiovascular Health
Another incredibly controversial claim is that weed could cause heart attacks or strokes in some susceptible people. Jack Herer, acclaimed weed activist and author of the ground-breaking book on hemp, The Emperor Wears No Clothes, suffered a stroke and two heart attacks, and the last heart attack took his life.
But cannabis is also said to enhance physical activity — particularly cardiovascular excercise, such as running, swimming, and many extreme sports — making certain strains an ideal pre-workout supplement. So, the jury is still out on this one, because depending on how it’s used, weed can also enhance cardiovascular health.
Weed Could Affect a Toker’s Virility/Fertility
This is another contentious claim, but studies show that weed can inhibit sperm motility or egg-to-uterus implantation. Yet, cannabis consumers don’t appear to suffer from infertility/sterility at higher rates than non-tokers, so this “bad” may be the result of experimental artifacts rather than real-world consequences. Besides, other research shows that tokers produce more sperm, so take that for what it’s worth.
Weed Can Trigger a Chronic Vomiting Disorder
Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS) has been dubbed by the press as the “mysterious vomiting illness” caused by weed. And without diving into another 2,000-word exposé on the subject, no: it’s not caused by pesticides, neem oil, or any other artificial additive that weed warriors can think up. Doctors and toxicologists are pretty sure that it’s caused by weed’s cannabinoids, they just don’t yet understand how, exactly.
Again, like most of the “bads” listed above, CHS only affects a small number of susceptible people, and it’s incredibly rare. CHS patients usually have to stop consuming cannabis (and coffee and chocolate) to prevent future vomiting episodes, though some claim they’re just fine if they only consume small amounts.
So, to sum all of this up: weed can have its downsides, like pretty much everything else we put into our bodies. These downsides crop up on a person-to-person basis, and researchers are still making sense of all the data they’ve recently collected.
Ultimately, the person who best knows how you’ll react to weed is you, so judge your own consumption and behaviors accordingly.
That aside, toke responsibly, stay safe, and let us legally access this plant nationwide already.
[Canniseur: The headline and the stats below might lead you to believe that sharing is bad. When you read the story though, it’s really a different story. Our bongs, pipes, joints, etc. are not as dirty as the stats below would lead you to believe. Mr. Robinson has done a very good job exposing the truth to the story.]
A video from Moose Labs shows that cannabis consumption devices shared at weed events have high levels of contamination. Contamination by what, though?
Sharing a spliff, doob, pipe, bong, or vape is kind of standard in the cannabis community. It’s how we bond with one another. Also, it’s a pain in the ass for everyone to carry their own dab rig, so yeah — we share.
According to Moose Labs, an LA-based weed products company, shared devices contain over 1,300 percent more bacteria than a dog food bowl, 530 percent more bacteria than a cell phone, and almost 50 percent more bacteria than a toilet seat.
Moose Labs got its data by swabbing the mouthpieces of dab rigs at two social consumption events. You can peep the video showing their measurements below.
The video looks awfully convincing. Egads, are toilet bowls really cleaner than weed bowls?
No. They’re not.
The device that Moose Labs used to measure contamination is the Hygiena EnSURE. It’s legit equipment; it’s often employed in high-end restaurants to check if cooking surfaces are clean, and it’s one of Gordon Ramsay’s favorite ways to trigger a profanity-fest on camera.
The numbers may look impressive, but EnSURE does not measure bacterial counts, which the video suggests. Instead, the EnSURE measures ATP content in the sample, which is related to bacterial contamination, but it’s a bit more complicated than that.
ATP is the main energy transport molecule in every biological cell. It’s basically the cellular battery, which transports electrons from the mitochondria to other parts of the cell.
In other words, the EnSURE measures how much organic material is swabbed from a surface. Human saliva contains a ton of ATP, most of which comes from bacteria along with our own cells that line our mouths. And research shows that food particles in our spit can also produce ATP signals, too.
So, in other words, what Moose Labs showed is that the mouthpieces on our bongs and pipes contain saliva. Duh.
Of course, this isn’t to say sharing pieces willy-nilly is a hygienic practice. It isn’t. The herpes virus can spread by sharing pipes and bongs, as can other illnesses such as colds and flus. The easy solution is briefly wiping the mouthpiece with rubbing alcohol or, as Moose Labs suggests, using a mouthpiece-cover like its “Mouthpeace” product.
However, it’s unfair to say that the business end of a bong is dirtier — and more dangerous — than sucking on a toilet seat. Toilets contain fecal matter, which hosts virulent forms of E. coli. The E. coli in our saliva is not nearly as virulent as the ones found in poo, if they’re virulent at all.
Besides, you swap more bacteria with another person while french kissing than you do from hitting a bong. Take that as you will.
[Canniseur: This article got me to thinking about all the stoned cultural books and articles I’ve read, including “The Teachings of Don Juan”. These have formed my thinking about psychedelic experiences. This article is a very interesting read.]
Did early humans evolve into the geniuses we are today because they experimented with psychedelics? That’s what one theory claims, though most experts consider it pseudoscience.
In a time long before recorded history — perhaps as far back as 100,000 years ago — early hominids, the ancestors of today’s humans, may have evolved smarter, faster brains because they regularly tripped balls.
I’m not making this up. This is an actual hypothesis by Terrence McKenna, one of America’s most influential psychonauts.
McKenna studied ecology, conservation, and shamanism at the University of California-Berkeley’s Tussman Experimental College. Some of the West’s first exposure to the psychedelics DMT and ayahuasca came from his early writings.
A Crash Course on the Stoned Ape Theory
McKenna’s 1992 book, Food of the Gods, first proposed what’s referred to as “the stoned ape theory.” One of our early ancestors, Homo erectus, began eating Psilocybe cubensis — a psychedelic mushroom — as part of their diet. Psilocybe cubensis is often found growing under cow poo, so the theory suggests that hunter-gatherer groups would follow herds, then stumble on the shrooms left in the herds’ wake. Easy pickins, right?
As Homo erectus kept tripping, hominid society became richer and more complex, eventually turning the mushroom-eating into a religious ceremony. There is some evidence that suggests psilocybin can also enhance visual awareness — which would make hunting more efficient — and that it can stimulate sexual arousal, facilitating greater reproduction of babies.
Then, continued ingestion of psilocybin began to fundamentally alter the structures of the early humans’ brains, forming new, vast neural connections where none previously existed. From there, Homo erectus developed art, music, language, poetry, and philosophy. As the species evolved into cultural creatures, accustomed to living in relatively comfortable societies with plenty of foraged and farmed resources, Homo erectus morphed into a new species, Homo sapiens.
Psychedelics and Altering the Brain
Cool story, bro. What’s the evidence?
To be frank, the evidence for the stoned ape theory is scant. Anthropologists, historians, and paleontologists don’t take McKenna’s far-out human-origin theory seriously, namely because it’s not based on much besides the fact that ancient people liked to get high. It probably doesn’t help that the stoned ape theory’s most well-known cheerleader today is podcaster Joe Rogan.
We also know that psilocin changes the way our brain communicates with itself. Basically, the molecule forces our neural network to expand, temporarily connecting all parts of the brain with itself and the body. This cognitive synthesis is likely how artists birth new ideas while in the throes of a mushroom trip, or why some scientists claim that microdosing psychedelics helps them solve technical problems.
Unfortunately, that’s about where the hard evidence stops. We’ve never observed someone forming entirely new brain structures because they tripped their face off every weekend. And while heavy drug consumption can change our gene expression, there’s no evidence showing that getting high all the time can transform us into a new, more intelligent species.
What’s the Point of the Stoned Ape Theory, Then?
McKenna wove a fascinating story, but he had a political agenda, too. As a psychedelics guru, McKenna believed that the War on Drugs was wholly unjust, and that when governments outlaw psychedelics, they’re not trying to protect us from potentially harmful substances. They’re trying to control our consciousness.
To get the public to lighten up on liberalizing drug laws, McKenna anticipated his stoned ape theory would cause a paradigm shift, to get voters and lawmakers to see psychedelics as inherently beneficial instead of as dangerous molecules. That get’s him an A for effort in our book.
[Canniseur: Here’s an example of some “Reefer Madness” science. In my mind, I see these mad scientists running around in their white lab coats and having a good laugh at their research, since that’s what we should do. Laugh. Laugh at the stupidity of this study. If these ‘scientists’ had used milk at these doses, of course they’d kill mice. Then I could go out and yell; “Milk KILLS. Milk KILLS Milk KILLS. The doses they fed the mice (and they are mice), were so high, it would have killed anything]
A recent study from the University of Arkansas, where mice died after being given CBD, may change the public’s perception of CBD. But probably not.
Should we start saying no to CBD? Before we ditch those hemp pre-rolls that can’t even get us lit, let’s look at how the study was conducted.
Because mice are much smaller than humans, the researchers “allometrically scaled” the doses so they were proportional to human doses. The thing is, the researchers scaled the doses in the wrong direction.
Dose scaling was based off the “maximum recommended human maintenance” amount for Epidiolex in human patients, the first and only FDA-approved CBD drug derived from cannabis. That dose is 20mg/kg. So we’d expect the dose for the mice to be much, much smaller, somewhere in the range of 0.3mg/kg.
The researchers instead dosed the mice on 0, 246, 738, or 2460mg/kg. Yeah, you read that correctly: at the higher end, the mice got 120 times the recommended dose for a full-grown human being.
So no shit the mice got liver damage and died.
The University of Arkansas study pulled the same kind of bad science we saw back in the 1970s, when Dr. Heath erroneously (and unethically) concluded that marijuana caused brain damage in rhesus monkeys — after forcibly suffocating the poor simians with weed smoke.
To the Arkansas researchers’ credit, their study does offer additional evidence that CBD can wreck the liver and potentially compromise people with hepatic diseases or who rely on medications to stay alive. But that’s not exactly news. Earlier this month, during the FDA’s public hearing on CBD, several doctors and toxicologists testified that CBD could cause health complications in certain people, especially at high doses.
Even the Arkansas study’s lead researcher, Igor Koturbash, admitted to this previous knowledge in an interview.
“If you look at the Epidiolex label, it clearly states a warning for liver injury,” he told Nutra Ingredients USA. “It states you have to monitor the liver enzyme levels of the patients. In clinical trials, 5 percent to 20 percent of the patients developed elevated liver enzymes, and some patients were withdrawn from the trials.”
Furthermore, although rodent studies are useful for determining a drug’s toxicity, mice aren’t humans. They have different physiologies and different metabolic systems than us. They don’t process drugs the same way humans do, and, to date, there have been no recorded instances of someone dying because they chugged a liter of CBD mocktail.
What’s the takeaway here? Besides exposing the University of Arkansas’s shoddy scientific methods, we should probably think twice before infusing every ingredient of every meal with CBD (along with slathering ourselves in CBD lotions, soaps, shampoos, face masks, creams, and underarm deodorants). Having too much of a good thing is real, even when it comes from cannabis.
But don’t blindly buy into the Reefer Madness-esque hype, either.
Canniseur: Why am I not surprised at this? Because the intentional and unintentional bias toward people of color by their own police forces. Cannabis is decriminalized in New York, but arrests of people of color are up. Racial profiling is pervasive and we need to stop it now. It will take a generation though. That’s life.]
In 2018, cops in Upstate New York charged twice as many black people for low-level weed offenses than they did in 2016, illustrating that racially-biased policing is still a pervasive issue.
Despite the public’s rising acceptance of legal weed, and the increasing liberalization of cannabis laws, police are still targeting black and Latinx Americans for low-level pot offenses.
New police data from Albany and Schenectady counties — New York state’s Capital Region — highlights that weed arrests for black and Latinx Americans went up over the last few years, while arrests for white residents went down for the same crimes.
“Nothing has changed in terms of what we are hearing on the street,” Alice Green, the executive director at the Center for Law and Justice, told the Times Union. “People are still being stopped and arrested.”
For instance, in 2018, police in New York’s Capital Region charged twice as many black people for low-level weed offenses than they did in 2016, reported the Times Union.
The data shows that weed arrests across all racial demographics began dropping in 2009, five years before the state legalized medical marijuana. From 2011 to 2012, weed arrests for white and black people decreased slightly, while arrests for “Other” ethnicities went up.
Then something changed between 2016 and 2017, when arrests across all races increased. But the trend dramatically reversed from 2017 to 2018 — around the same time New York lawmakers were seriously discussing legalizing recreational weed — with the arrest rate for white people plummeting and arrests for black people soaring.
The data contradicts Albany’s drug policy. Last year, Albany District Attorney David Soares said he would stop prosecuting anyone charged with possessing less than two ounces of weed. Yet since January, Albany police arrested dozens of people for holding less than two ounces, and, not surprisingly, almost all of them were black or Latinx.
“The Albany Police Department routinely analyzes and assesses data to ensure that operations are consistent with contemporary best practices,” said Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins in a press release. “We are currently conducting such an assessment with respect to the latest data regarding marijuana arrests.”
The easy solution, of course, would be for the cops to stop charging people — regardless of ethnicity — for holding less than two ounces of marijuana. Y’know, like the District Attorney ordered.
Things aren’t much better in the Big Apple, either. Last year, a report showed that 9 out of 10 people arrested by the NYPD for low-level weed offenses were black or Latinx.
New York certainly isn’t the only state to see the War on Drugs’ bullshit continue in an age when most Americans favor some form of cannabis legalization. Last month, a study found that weed arrests for black Washingtonians doubled after the state legalized in 2014. Previous studies have shown arrest and citation rate disparities for black and Hispanic people in Colorado after 2014, too.