Cannabis misinformation is not a new phenomenon. For decades, religious, political, and corporate interests have had a hand in deceiving the public as to the facts surrounding cannabis culture and its effects on the mind and body.
Perhaps the most prominent example emerges in the 1936 film Reefer Madness, funded by religious groups across the country in an attempt to scare congregants straight away from cannabis. The film claimed that cannabis users could go mad, murder their loved ones, and even be driven to suicide due to the plant’s effects on the mind.
The legal status of cannabis has remained unchanged for the better part of 100 years. Only now are states and countries beyond the US waking up to the fact that propaganda has directed policy for too long.
Among the most contentious claims surrounding cannabis is the claim that if you smoke or eat too much, you can overdose. However, there’s not much science to back that up.
To this day, there have been no recorded cases of overdosing on cannabis products. It seems pretty cut and dry once you acknowledge that simple fact. However, detractors from the cannabis reform movement continue to push the old lie that marijuana is a dangerous narcotic and belongs in a category shared by heroin and other highly harmful or addictive substances.
According to University of Nevada, Las Vegas psychiatrist Mujeeb Shad, when it comes to cannabis “It’s not close to alcohol or opiate toxicity.” Though we allow citizens to purchase and consume alcohol freely, while opiates continue to be a problematic prescription drug among all demographics.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the active component of cannabis that imparts the psychoactive effects associated with the plant.
While this compound is a mind-altering substance, it does not share the same risks associated with alcohol, opiates, or amphetamines. That is because there are other active compounds in cannabis that work against the mind-altering effects of THC in the body, such as cannabidiol (CBD).
CBD is a cannabis component that actively works to dampen the psychoactive effects of THC in the body. This relationship between compounds, and others, helps to mitigate the toxicity of cannabis. The resulting effects are relatively benign when compared to potentially fatal drugs, like heroin or cocaine.
Shad refers to CBD as a “kind of a system stabilizer.” The interaction may not be enough to stave off bouts of anxiety, paranoia, nausea, and vomiting. However, it makes cannabis an unlikely killer of its users.
We’ve covered natural cannabis in the sections above and it should be clear that, while quite potent and with its own fleet of potential side effects, cannabis is not a lethal drug. However, variations of synthetic cannabis and combination drugs can very much be fatal to users.
Two of the most prominent examples that have made headlines in recent years are Spice and K2. These examples are dangerously toxic, are unregulated, and have none of the naturally balancing elements found in unprocessed cannabis.
Shad asserts that these examples “can be extremely toxic, people can die from them.”
Laced cannabis is not unheard of either. Some users will combine opiates, stimulants, and even formaldehyde with their cannabis to achieve more potent highs. This, of course, can result in serious health complications for the user and should be avoided.
For decades, cannabis research was confined by federal legislation and little research was done with the plant was relegated to an extremely constrained source of substandard test materials.
For example, we know smoking is bad for us, in any case. However, the specific differences between smoking cannabis and smoking cigarettes aren’t well researched or documented.
Cannabis is a drug that directly affects how the mind works and how those critical structures and processes interact with one another in the body. For example, shad asserts that research has shown when a user is 15 years of age or younger, they are at increased risk of developing schizophrenia later in life. Not only this, but those individuals who have schizophrenia and consume cannabis are likely to worsen the symptoms of their condition.
“Anybody who has the biological underpinnings can be at risk of increasing schizophrenia later,” Shad says. “These substances alter brain function, and the long-term effects of these are not known.”
Cannabis consumption has been observed to slow reflexes and decision making, which has a direct impact on activities like driving and operating machinery. Yet, to more accurately understand and identify at what point an individual is too impaired to participate in either activity requires more research.
So, while cannabis on its own cannot result in a lethal overdose, it can negatively impact a consumer’s health. When combined with other illicit substances, the likelihood of a major negative health event increases.