Facts

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is marijuana addictive?

According to the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine’s 1999 report, Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base:

"Compared to most other drugs … dependence among marijuana users is relatively rare … [A]lthough few marijuana users develop dependence, some do. But they appear to be less likely to do so than users of other drugs (including alcohol and nicotine), and marijuana dependence appears to be less severe than dependence on other drugs."

Does using marijuana lead to harder drugs?

According to the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine’s 1999 report, Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base:

"There is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs … There is no evidence that marijuana serves as a stepping stone on the basis of its particular physiological effect … Instead, the legal status of marijuana makes it a gateway drug."

The World Health Organization noted that any gateway effect associated with marijuana use may actually be due to marijuana prohibition because "exposure to other drugs when purchasing cannabis on the black-market, increases the opportunity to use other illicit drugs."

Is marijuana more dangerous than tobacco?

In a word: no. Marijuana is not more dangerous than tobacco. Research has shown that marijuana causes far less harm than tobacco.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, tobacco was responsible for 435,000 deaths in 2000, or nearly 1,200 deaths per day. On the other hand, marijuana has never caused a fatal overdose in more than 5,000 years of recorded use.

It is important to note that the act of smoking anything is harmful to the lungs, and in this regard, marijuana is not completely benign. According to Understanding Marijuana (2002), by Mitch Earleywine, marijuana smokers sometimes exhibit symptoms similar to those experienced by tobacco smokers — coughing, wheezing, and bronchitis.

However, these harms can be minimized by ingesting marijuana orally, with devices known as vaporizers, or by using higher-potency marijuana, which reduces the harms associated with smoking while still delivering marijuana’s medical benefits.

Other research shows that daily marijuana use does not lead to increased rates of respiratory illness, and that smoking both tobacco and marijuana is worse than smoking just one.

Unlike tobacco, research has never shown that marijuana increases rates of lung cancer or other cancers usually associated with cigarette smoking. In a 10-year, 65,000-patient study conducted at the Kaiser-Permanente HMO and published in 1997, cigarette smokers had much higher rates of cancer of the lung, mouth, and throat than non-smokers, but marijuana smokers who didn't smoke tobacco had no such increase. And in May 2006, Dr. Donald Tashkin of UCLA presented results of a new study showing that even very heavy marijuana smokers had no increased risk of lung cancer.

Has anyone ever died from marijuana?

In all of recorded medical literature, no one has ever died from a marijuana overdose.

In 2001, a detailed examination of the health and psychological effects of marijuana use from the National Drug and Alcohol Centre at the University of New South Wales in Australia noted that marijuana "makes no known contribution to deaths and a minor contribution to morbidity [illness]."

In a 1998 editorial, The Lancet, an esteemed British medical journal, wrote, "On the medical evidence available, moderate indulgence in cannabis has little ill-effect on health."

Can marijuana use cause cancer?

Marijuana smokers do not have an increased risk of premature death or cancer. According to the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine’s 1999 report, Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base:

"There is no conclusive evidence that marijuana causes cancer in humans, including cancers usually related to tobacco use. … More definitive evidence that habitual marijuana smoking leads or does not lead to respiratory cancer awaits the results of well-designed case control epidemiological studies."

Can marijuana cause fertility problems?

According to the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine’s 1999 report, Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base:

"[T]he effect of cannabinoids on the capacity of sperm to fertilize eggs is reversible and is observed at [concentrations] which are higher than those likely to be experienced by marijuana smokers … The well-documented inhibition of reproductive functions by THC is thus not a serious concern for evaluating the short-term medical use of marijuana or specific cannabinoids."

Can marijuana cause other life-threatening health problems?

According to the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine’s 1999 report, Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base, "Epidemiological data indicate that in the general population marijuana use is not associated with increased mortality."

Does marijuana cause amotivational syndrome?

According to the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine’s 1999 report, Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base, "When heavy marijuana use accompanies these symptoms, the drug is often cited as the cause, but no convincing data demonstrate a causal relationship between marijuana smoking and these behavioral characteristics."

I've heard that today's marijuana is stronger and more dangerous. Is this true?

Claims of a dramatic increase in marijuana potency are commonly based on the assertion that marijuana used in the 1960s and 1970s contained only 1% THC (the main psychoactive compound in marijuana). But, as University of Southern California psychology professor and researcher Mitch Earleywine noted in his book, Understanding Marijuana, these claims are based on very small numbers of samples that may have been improperly stored. Furthermore, marijuana with just 1% THC is not psychoactive — that is, it doesn't produce a "high." So if the 1% figure is true, the drug's rapid increase in popularity was based on marijuana so weak that it wasn't even capable of producing the intended effect.

Earleywine further explained that the moderate increases in potency that have occurred "may not justify alarm. THC is not toxic at high doses like alcohol, nicotine, or many other common drugs. High-potency marijuana may actually minimize risk for lung problems because less [smoke] is required to achieve desired effects." Thus, even if today's marijuana were stronger, it would not be more dangerous.

Are people actually arrested for marijuana?

Yes. In 2007 alone, there were 872,720 marijuana-related arrests in the United States. (89% of these were for possession alone.) That's one marijuana arrest every 36 seconds and more than the populations of the state of Wyoming (522,830) and the city of Buffalo, New York (292,648) combined.

How much does marijuana prohibition cost?

By adding law enforcement costs and depriving governments of the revenue that could be gained by taxing marijuana sales, prohibition costs U.S. taxpayers $41.8 billion per year, according to a 2007 estimate by public policy researcher Jon B. Gettman, Ph.D. The report, "Lost Taxes and Other Costs of Marijuana Laws," is based primarily on government estimates of the U.S. marijuana supply, prices, and arrests.

A more conservative 2005 estimate by Harvard University economist Dr. Jeffrey Miron is still staggering at $10-$14 billion per year. See www.prohibitioncosts.org for more information.

Wouldn’t repealing marijuana prohibition make it easier for teens to buy marijuana?

Marijuana prohibition has not prevented a dramatic increase in marijuana use by teenagers. In fact, the overall rate of marijuana use in the U.S. has risen by roughly 4,000% since marijuana was first outlawed in 1937, and independent studies by RAND Europe and the U.S. National Research Council have reported that marijuana prohibition appears to have little or no impact on rates of use.

Prohibition may actually increase teen access to marijuana. Sellers of regulated products like tobacco and alcohol can be fined or lose their licenses if they sell to minors. Prohibition guarantees that marijuana dealers are not subject to any such regulations. Drug dealers don't ask for ID.