There is no denying that to this day there are still several prejudices regarding the marijuana plant. It is curious how a plant that has been used by mankind for thousands of years, for medicinal and recreational purposes all over the world, is currently accompanied by so many unfounded preconceptions and intolerance.
Prejudice is always based on misinformation, outdated beliefs or social stigma. These conceptions can be considered false or unfounded because they lack scientific or empirical evidence to support them. But in the case of cannabis, there was no prejudice before the 20th century; in fact, the plant was widely accepted for its medicinal properties, and was legally consumed and marketed worldwide. Something, then, must have changed the public's perception of cannabis.
When did the prejudice begin?
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Latin American immigrants, particularly Mexican individuals, were already using cannabis recreationally. When they crossed the border and moved to the United States, they brought that habit with them. The U.S. government then found xenophobic reasons to condemn these people and began a campaign trying to associate cannabis with immigrants.
First they changed its name to make it sound Spanish or foreign. Since Mexicans referred to it as marijuana, the U.S. government stopped calling it cannabis and started calling it marijuana as well, as if it had always been a Mexican invention.
Secondly, they declared that it was a substance related to the devil and that it could make people violent and make them do unthinkable things. Because the United States was on top of the world in the 1940s, all other countries followed suit and also banned marijuana.
The 1960s and the association of cannabis with hippies did not help its cause, and to this day many people still believe negative things about the plant, probably based on misconceptions. To shed some light on the reality of cannabis, here's a list of common theories debunked so far:
- Entry 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 the use of other drugs. Since correlation does not imply causation, this theory is considered discredited.
- Addiction and dependence: Another prejudice is that marijuana is highly addictive. While it is true that some people may develop a psychological dependence on marijuana, its addictive potential is relatively low compared to substances such as alcohol or opioids. In fact, it is more comparable to other more common psychological dependencies, such as 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 effectsIt is true that regular marijuana smoking can carry some long-term respiratory risks, such as bronchitis and lung irritation. However, smoking is not the only way cannabis can be administered, and alternative methods of consumption such as vaporizers and edibles can mitigate these risks. In addition, the negative health effects of marijuana are generally milder compared to substances such as alcohol or tobacco.
- Cognitive impairment: It was long believed that marijuana use causes long-term cognitive impairment, especially in memory and intelligence. However, recent evidence suggests that any potential cognitive effects are generally temporary and may not persist after cessation 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 several jurisdictions, this association is becoming less relevant.
- Lack of medical benefits: Although there is strong scientific evidence of the medicinal benefits of cannabis, many people are still unaware of this or are reluctant to believe that a drug that has been considered illegal and associated with "criminals" can treat so many conditions.
In short, it was no accident that cannabis was labeled with so much stigma. It was part of a political campaign that subsequently spread misconceptions among the population. Fortunately, today, with the decriminalization of marijuana, it has reached broader segments of the population and the prejudice surrounding it has begun to fade.
In Barcelona, we are fortunate to have a relaxed mentality when it comes to marijuana, and we have access to legal cannabis consumption in private spaces. The fact that people can consume cannabis at home or in weed clubs and cannabis associations has helped spread the experience and knowledge to people who otherwise would never have dared to try marijuana.