There is no denying that till this day there still exist several prejudices regarding the plant of marijuana. It is curious how a plant that has been used by humanity for thousands of years, for medicinal and recreational purposes all across the world, is nowadays accompanied by so many unfounded preconceptions and intolerance.
Prejudice is always based on misinformation, outdated beliefs, or societal stigma. These conceptions can be considered fake or unfounded because they lack the scientific or empirical evidence to support them. But in the case of cannabis, there was no prejudice before the 19th century, in fact the plant was widely accepted for its medicinal properties, and it was consumed and traded legally all around the globe. Something, then, must have changed the perception of the population regarding cannabis.
When has prejudice began?
In the late 1800s and early 1900s the Latin American immigrants, particularly the Mexican people, already used cannabis for recreational purposes. When they crossed the border and moved into the US, they brought that habit with them. The US government then found xenophobic reasons to condemn these people and began a campaign trying to associate cannabis to the immigrants.
First they changed its name to make it sound in Spanish or foreign. Since the Mexican people referred to it as Marihuana, the US government stopped referring to it as Cannabis and started calling it Marijuana too, as if it had always been a Mexican invention.
Secondly, they declared that it was a substance that was related to the devil and could turn people violent and make them do unthinkable things. Because the United States was on top of the world in the 1940s, all the other countries followed the initiative and banned marijuana as well.
The sixties and the association of cannabis with the hippies did not help its cause, and to this very day many people still believe bad things about the plant -probably based on misconceptions. To shed some light on the reality of cannabis, here is a list of the common debunked theories until now:
- Gateway drug: One of the most common prejudices is the belief that marijuana is a gateway drug that leads to the use of harder substances. However, it is now known that the vast majority of marijuana users do not progress to using other drugs. Since correlation does not imply causation, this theory is considered to be debunked.
- Addiction and dependence: Another prejudice is that marijuana is highly addictive. While it is true that some individuals may develop a psychological dependence on marijuana, the addictive potential is relatively low compared to substances like alcohol or opioids. In truth, it is more comparable to other more common psychological dependencies, such as towards caffeine, social media or online shopping. It is also worth mentioning that most people who use marijuana do not develop a substance use disorder.
- Negative health effects: It is true that periodical smoking marijuana can imply some respiratory risks at a long term, such as bronchitis and lung irritation. But smoking is not the only way cannabis can be administered, and alternative methods of consumption such as vaporizers and edibles can mitigate these risks. Additionally, the negative health effects of marijuana are generally milder compared to substances like alcohol or tobacco.
- Cognitive impairment: For a long time it was believed that marijuana use causes long-term cognitive impairment, particularly in memory and intelligence. However, there is recent evidence suggesting that any potential cognitive effects are generally temporary and may not persist after discontinuation of use.
- Criminal activity: Marijuana has long been associated with criminal activity due to its illegal status in many places. However, with the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana in various jurisdictions, this association is becoming less relevant.
- Lack of medical benefits: Although the scientific evidence of the medicinal benefits of cannabis is strong, a lot of people are still unaware of it or resist to believe that a drug that has been considered illegal and associated with "criminals" can treat so many conditions.
To summarize, it wasn't casual that Cannabis became tagged with so much stigma. It was part of a political campaign that later spread misconception among the population. Thankfully, nowadays with the decriminalization of cannabis, it has reached mainstream sections of the population, and the prejudice surrounding it has started to fade away.
In Barcelona, we are lucky to have a relaxed mindset when it comes to marijuana, and we have access to legal consumption of weed in private spaces. The fact that people can consume cannabis in their homes or in weed clubs and dispensaries has helped extend the experience and knowledge to people that otherwise would have never dared trying weed.