Medical Marijuana Myths

Medical Marijuana: Weeding Out Truth from Fiction

Many myths have clouded the newly approved medical marijuana process in Pennsylvania. Fortunately, education is turning around beliefs and making converts out of skeptics.

Here are the 10 most common myths about medical marijuana, and the facts.

1. MYTH: Medical marijuana is really just an excuse for people to get high.

Medical marijuana is comprised of hundreds of chemicals, but the two key components are THC and CBD. THC is the main “psychoactive” ingredient, meaning that, in sufficient quantities, it gives marijuana users that euphoric feeling. Although strains and compounds vary, medical-grade marijuana alone will not get you high, experts say. Medical marijuana with a higher concertation of CBD than THC will deliver the intended health benefits without producing a high. Like any prescribed medication, effects may vary in patients based on dosage and underlying conditions, but medical marijuana may help with sleep and boost creativity while also giving patients the therapeutic effect they need, such as pain relief, nausea and vomiting prevention after chemotherapy, or seizure control.

2. MYTH: Medical marijuana will be smoked and cause lung damage.

In Pennsylvania, smoking medical marijuana is illegal. Depending on the condition, patients can use vaporization, pills, oils and ointment.

3. MYTH: No one truly knows the long-term effects of medical marijuana.

As a Schedule I drug, classified under the federal Controlled Substances Act along with hard drugs like heroin and LSD, marijuana research has been, admittedly, limited. Because of its Schedule I status, researchers need a special license to research it. That is why Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation to require clinical research studies along with its law. Clearly, hard scientific evidence is mounting from users and respected university studies that medical marijuana works for a host of conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, ALS, MS and more. Soon a large body of clinical evidence is expected to further bolster anecdotal evidence. Legislation is also moving in the state Senate (SR 258) to urge Congress to amend the Controlled Substances Act to remove marijuana as a Schedule I drug and recognize the proven medical purposes of marijuana.

4. MYTH: Medical marijuana will be a “gateway” to illegal drug use.

Studies show that medical marijuana is a much safer alternative than prescription drugs and is not as addictive as cigarettes or coffee. As 15 Pennsylvanians a day lose their lives to heroin and opioid overdoses, medical marijuana has been judged to be much safer than a prescription for oxycodone or hydrocodone for pain relief and more.

5. MYTH: Medical marijuana legalization is just a slippery slope or ruse, leading to the legalization of marijuana.

Numerous safeguards are included in the law to ensure that the products will be used as intended under the supervision of medical professionals. While any program or service or law is open to abuse, the state law includes strict controls to keep medical marijuana in the hands of sick patients who need it, and approved caregivers. And because THC levels are not high in medical-grade marijuana, it will not be misused to get high. Proven science shows that medical marijuana works on certain medical conditions like epilepsy and cancer’s debilitating effects. Patients are not seeking a high, but life-altering relief from pain, seizures, spasms and more.

6. MYTH: Medical marijuana is still illegal due to federal laws.

Because marijuana is illegal under federal law, some confusion ensued when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he was changing direction in how the federal marijuana laws are enforced. He told federal prosecutors to enforce the 48-year-old federal law prohibiting marijuana cultivation, distribution and possession, which alarmed some medical marijuana supporters. Pennsylvania’s federal prosecutors allayed those fears by noting that, while there could conceivably be criminal issues demanding federal involvement, prosecutors say they have no intention of disrupting Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program or related financial transactions.

7. MYTH: Medical marijuana can cause long-term brain damage in young children.

The active ingredients in the plant are antioxidants that protect DNA from damage by toxins, termed “neuroprotective.” They combat damage to brain cells. According to studies on the Journal of Neuroscience, medical cannabis may even promote the growth of new brain cells. Studies show that medical marijuana can stop the brain damage caused by intractable seizures in children with epilepsy.

8. MYTH: Anybody can fake a condition and get medical marijuana.

While no system is infallible, many controls are in place to ensure that those who need it get it. Patients must be certified as having at least one of 17 serious medical conditions by a trained doctor, and the department can monitor for abuse. Stiff penalties are in place for abuse, diversion and falsification.

9. MYTH: Medical marijuana can get you fired at work.

The law is evolving on drug testing for employees, but Pennsylvania’s law prevents employees from being punished or discriminated against for medicinal use. With more than half of employers drug-testing job candidates, they are expected to make exceptions for medical use versus recreational use. Several cases involving employees with certification to use medical marijuana have made it to the courts, and most have been decided in favor of employees. Some states are taking steps to change the law so marijuana is not included in employee drug tests. Certain sensitive professions, such as driving heavy machinery and working at dangerous heights, may consider the use of medical marijuana in their hiring decisions.

10. MYTH: Medical marijuana will re-activate an old addiction or impede recovery.

Experts urge caution and added research in cases where a person is in recovery. Because a person in recovery is never totally “cured,” a patient may need to step up recovery efforts, like attend additional AA or NA meetings. They are advised to speak to their doctor or addiction specialist. However, if a patient in dying, making a patient comfortable, and not reigniting an addiction, is the primary focus, always.