For those of us who grew up in Canada, we learned in school that cannabis consumption could lead to negative outcomes, and was often grouped together with harder drugs such as heroin and cocaine. This approach has led to stigmatization, resulting in the development of myths and misunderstandings concerning the use and associated effects of cannabis. If you are new to cannabis, or curious about its medicinal effects, we are here to clarify any doubts and educate you on the truth about medical cannabis.
If you didn’t already know, cannabis has over 400 chemical compounds of which we are most familiar with two main compounds, also known as cannabinoids, called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). By stimulating receptors in the brain, THC and CBD trigger chemical reactions that affect the mind and body in different ways and thereby produce varying effects. Keeping this in mind, let’s take a look at the 7 most common myths of medical cannabis.
The two main ingredients in medical cannabis are THC and CBD. While cannabis is commonly known to produce psychoactive effects, the main ingredient responsible for this effect is THC. The compound connects exclusively with CB1 receptors found primarily in the brain[i]. Upon connection, THC activates the CB1 receptors causing the mind altering ‘high’. Not all cannabis produces psychoactive effects. CBD, on the other hand, does not act on the same receptors as THC and therefore does not produce the ‘high’ effect. CBD, by contrast, is not a good fit with CB1 receptors and inhibits the action of THC at the CB1 receptor, thereby muting the psychoactive effects of THC[ii].
Smoking cannabis delivers a nearly instantaneous effect making it the primary method of consumption for many users. However, this is not the only way to experience medicinal benefits. Depending on the condition you want to treat, you can choose from a variety of consumption methods such as vaporization, oils, and cannabis-infused foods.
Eating and smoking as two different consumption methods produce entirely two different effects. Smoking cannabis produces a quick onset of effects, usually within half an hour, which last for a fairly short duration, commonly up to 1.5 hours. Eating cannabis induced foods, on the other hand, can take between 0.5 to 2+ hours to set in with effects lasting for up to 8 hours or more.
Cannabis needs to be heated in order to activate THC, the psychoactive ingredient of the plant. To experience the medicinal effects, we recommend either cooking your cannabis with a fatty substance such as butter, or consuming it through smoking or vaporizing as per your prescribed dosage.
Medical cannabis is often titled as a ‘gateway drug’ mainly due to misinformation. Contrary to the title, medical cannabis use is currently being examined as a substitute to opioid-based medication in an attempt to resolve the expanding opioid epidemic in the United States.[iii] Studies suggest that medical cannabis is a safer alternative to a number of prescribed pharmaceutical medicines currently offered to medical patients. Additionally, research conducted by the Institute of Medicine found that there was no conclusive evidence that cannabis use is linked to drug abuse or use of illicit drugs.
Based on a study performed by the University of Louisville, long term and heavy cannabis use does not kill brain cells. The active compounds found in the cannabis plant are potent antioxidants meaning they protect DNA from damage caused by environmental and biological toxins. Research has shown that these antioxidant properties are neuroprotective, combatting damage to brain cells. In fact, compounds in medical cannabis are some of a handful of substances that promote the growth of new brain cells.
Smoking cannabis does not entail inhalation of the several additives that are found in commercial cigarettes which leads us to believe that cannabis smoke does not have the same effect on our bronchial tubes as cigarette smoke. A study led by the University of California San Francisco found that smoke from cannabis was far less harmful than cigarettes.
[i] Mahler SV, Smith KS, Berridge KC. Endocannabinoid hedonic hotspot for sensory pleasure: anandamide in nucleus accumbens shell enhances ‘liking’ of a sweet reward. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2007;32(11):2267-78. PDF