Weed never hurt anybody, right? Well…
Before we begin: This article is going to touch on some hard subjects. We’ll be discussing mortality, serious injuries, and other topics that can be difficult to talk about. So, fair warning, while we think these are important things to discuss, those sensitive to such subjects might want to peruse one of our other, slightly lighter-in-tone articles. May we suggest this, this, or this instead?.
While it’s true that there are no 100% confirmed cases of an adult dying due to ingestion of Delta 9 THC (the main psychoactive component in cannabis), that doesn’t make weed completely safe. Accidents related to marijuana, resulting in injury, hospitalization, property damage, and even death, are not uncommon.
Why does this happen? There are a number of reasons, but there is one root cause that, in some shape or another, underlines nearly all cannabis-related injuries: Misinformation.
What you don’t know can hurt you, and in today’s piece we’ll be discussing the whys & hows of dangerous cannabis myths, the sorts of damage they can cause, and what you can do to help make them disappear. Let’s get started.
How Cannabis-Related Myths Form
First, to understand the propagation of misinformation in cannabis, we need to understand the history of cannabis itself, and it’s position as an underground, counter-culture activity.
Though cannabis use was prevalent among various cultures through-out history the 20th century brought changes to the laws of many countries, ultimately classifying cannabis as a harmful drug and pushing its use to an underground status.
An illegal drug is a dangerous drug, not only due to any inherent harm it may cause but due to a lack of information – both in the scientific and public eye – as to that drug’s effects.
With cannabis made illegal (and often vilified) for so many years, scientific research on the subject ground to a virtual halt (save the work of a few intrepid researchers). This means that nearly all “knowledge” on cannabis, until recent years at least, was gathered in a colloquial, non-rigorous manner.
As an example: The common knowledge that indica-strain cannabis induces a heavier, sleepier sensation, while sativa-strain cannabis offers a lighter, more energetic high.
This is a capital-T Truth, one that literally every stoner in the world knows about – Odds are it’s one of the very first things you, our reader, learned about cannabis use (likely from one of the stoners previously mentioned). And it is also completely, utterly wrong.
Colloquial Evidence Does Not Equal Actual Evidence
How did humanity collectively come to this conclusion about sativa and indica strains? Your guess is as good as ours.
At some point in history someone (likely with the aid of others) smoked a sativa strain of weed, then smoked an indica strain of weed, and decided unilaterally that one got them lifted while the other got them couch-locked.
This anecdotal evidence was then shared with others (who likely agreed either due to similar anecdotal experiences or some form of social pressure), which was shared with even more others, and so on and so forth until it is a True Fact Everybody Knows™.
Rigorous scientific study has, in more recent years, worked to disprove this myth. We now know that indica and sativa strains can not only induce the same drowsy or energetic feelings as the other, but not even the same cannabinoids harvested from the same cannabis plant will give two people the exact same experience – Sharing the exact same bowl of bud with your friend won’t even guarantee the two of you will experience a similar high.
Not All Myths Are Equal
While our above example is certainly a myth that needs to be dispelled, ultimately the harm arising from this sort of misinformation is fairly negligible – It’s likely that very few people have ever been injured mistaking a sativa from an indica. But it serves as an excellent example of the ignorance fostered by prohibition.
Had cannabis been legalized throughout most of the world during the 20th and 21st centuries, information such as this could have been made available much sooner, offering us greater insights into the therapeutic benefits and differences between varying types of cannabis.
We, as a knowledge-seeking public, could have been much better informed, and a lack of information on cannabis can lead – and has led – to death.
Cannabis & Accidental Deaths
Though there have been no deaths on record directly identified as being caused by an overdose of cannabis consumption, that doesn’t make getting high without its risks.
While reports of traffic accidents increasing in states with legalized cannabis use are to be taken with a grain of salt there are those who have died due to getting high in unsafe environments.
See the tragic case of 19 year-old Levy Thamba, who took far more of an edible than the recommended dose and, in a delirious state, accidentally plunged from a fourth-story hotel room to his death. Though it’s impossible to say that anything could have prevented this accident, a greater public knowledge on the inherent effects and proper dosage amounts for cannabis could have helped to save this young man’s life.
Likewise, in 2017 horrific explosions devastated multiple homes and left two dead in Portland, Oregon from a hash oil extraction gone wrong; this is not the only such case in Oregon, nor through-out America.
At the time of the Portland explosion, the DEA estimated that at least 19 people had been killed by hash oil explosions in California since 2014. Safe, reliable access to cannabis goods – or at least public awareness of the extreme risks of attempting these extractions in an improper environment – may have saved at least some of these lives from being lost.
A Lack of Regulation
In combination with a lack of information, a lack of governmental oversight and regulatory committee on cannabis also leads to decreased public safety.
We talk about this topic in greater detail in our articles “Quality Control & Cannabis Products“, and the upcoming “Dangers of Contaminated Cannabis” but with marijuana currently illegal at a federal level, there are no governmental agencies that provide robust oversight on cannabis as a consumable good.
With virtually no oversight, and thus no standardized levels of quality control, cannabis products containing dangerous contaminants are unfortunately common. One of the most recent and notable examples was the 2019/2020 vaping lung illness outbreak, ultimately causing over 2700 hospitalizations and 60 deaths.
Know What You’re Vaping
It is believed that for a majority of those who suffered from ill effects in the above outbreak, a vitamin E-based acetate was used to either dilute or thicken the vape liquid that made users fall ill.
To date, though, no one identifiable compound has been singled out as the culprit for the outbreak; with so many different vape brands and untested products being used, it’s likely there were multiple chemicals causing varying reactions among users.
With a lack of regulation (both in the cannabis industry and the booming vape industry) there are no federally-approved lists of safe ingredients for cannabis vape carts, placing the responsibility of safety in the hands of the companies making these products – Companies which, in the above case, ultimately cared so little about anything other than profit that they sold cannabis goods that left people either dead or dying.
Legal Cannabinoids & Lax Regulations
Lack of regulation has effects on more than just the “cannabis” market; it also affects the legal cannabinoid market, as in CBD, CBN, and Delta 8 THC. We stress the importance of seeking out verifiable third-party laboratory results for cannabis products in many articles on our site, and with good reason. For example:
In 2019, Austin-local CBS affiliate KEYE-TV ran a report pouring over a lab-conducted study of 240 of the top-selling CBD products on the market. Their research concluded that 70% of the products tested had unsafe levels of contamination from heavy metals such as lead & arsenic, toxic pesticides & herbicides, mold, BPA, and many others – One tested for lead levels so high it exceeded the EPA “actionable” limit by over 100 times.
Or, more recently, the rise of the legal cannabinoid Delta 8 THC has given cause for concern among medical professionals and researchers through-out the US.
Delta 8 & The Unknown
While Delta 8 THC is a natural product of the cannabis plant most of the D8 THC products on store shelves were instead converted over to THC from CBD, in a process involving several stages of chemical washes and solvent extractions. This conversion process ultimately converts the CBD used into both Delta 8 and Delta 9 (IE: federally illegal) THC.
Though most Delta 8 THC companies claim that their products do not contain D9 THC (and naturally no other contaminants), this is sadly not always the case.
In a study presented by the self-styled (and in no way governmentally official) “US Cannabis Council” they found multiple Delta 8 products (PDF link) that contained D9 THC levels far beyond the federal 0.3% rule – As much as up to 5% Delta 9 THC in some cases. When looking at contaminants from heavy metals, such as nickel, or common chemical solvents, the results weren’t any more encouraging.
These are all issues that could be helped, if not completely mitigated, by creating smart federal regulations and oversight committees for the production & sale of cannabis-related products.
Prohibition As A Cause For Danger
We’ve gone from a lack of information to a lack of regulation – How do these two things tie together? For one, both ultimately stem back to marijuana’s status as a prohibited substance.
Being an illegal drug, not only is the general public ill-informed as to what cannabis is and what its effects are, but also what they, as smart consumers, should be expecting from their cannabis products.
With no governmental regulatory boards overseeing the manufacture of cannabis goods, the analogy of “the wild west” gets thrown around a lot and with excellent reason.
Years of keeping cannabis use relegated to the underground means that most people are misinformed as to what cannabis actually is – How it affects the human body, what it should do, and how it should be taken.
General members of the public also are unlikely to be aware of what they should be keeping watch for when using cannabis-related products; that they should be wary of goods that don’t proudly display third-party & independently verified laboratory tests.
And, though it may feel different in areas where cannabis use has been legalized in some fashion or another, there is still a large stigma around cannabis use of any kind through-out large parts of the United States (often particularly among older citizens).
Rather than going through a trusted, more public source, an older person seeking relief via CBD oil might go through a black market – and more private – channel for their medicine, rather than run the risk of being judged by their peers who still see any weed-related good as a “drug” to be detested.
What Can Be Done About Dangerous Cannabis Myths?
These are some pretty serious topics, and so far none with easy conclusions. So: What can be done about all of this?
Halting the spread of misinformation starts with one person – You. And though the world of legal cannabis can be a tricky one to navigate, still filled with vast swaths of myths and outright nonsense, keeping yourself up-to-date with the latest news and information on cannabis is the best place to start (we personally recommend weekly-staging.highthere.com as an excellent source for the latest medical/scientific news about cannabis, but we may be a bit biased).
Additionally, don’t be afraid to share the truth, and to help inform others of misinformation where and when you can. Nobody likes an obnoxious know-it-all, but where possible don’t be fearful of speaking up and letting others know that there’s new research and information coming out every month that may dispel some of their own misconceptions about marijuana.
And finally? Speak out to and among the powers that be, IE your local, state, and federal government. Your vote – your voice – makes a difference, no matter who may try to convince you otherwise. Particularly now, as cannabis decriminalization on a federal level seems to be more and more likely, it’s important to get involved with politics both local and national, and let your opinions be known.
If you find yourself interested in becoming involved in helping spread true information about safe, responsible use of cannabis, there are a number of groups devoted to helping shape national discussion & policy on both medical and recreational marijuana use; if you feel like donating your time, money, or both to the cause, we would recommend taking a look at the following organizations:
We hope our article has helped shed some light on why the removal of myths in the cannabis world is important.
The more everyone stays well-informed – cannabis consumers and abstainers alike – the more we, as a society, can begin treating cannabis use as both the recreational entertainment and potent medication it can be.
Stay safe, and as always, happy smoking!