7 myths about cannabis you should stop believing 

Despite the fact that medical cannabis has been legally available on prescription in the UK since 2018, and cannabis-derived CBD supplements are regularly used by over a million people in this country alone, archaic myths about this incredible plant persist.

Thanks to nearly 100 years of prohibition, largely led by widespread misinformation and misunderstandings, we live in a time when confusion surrounding cannabis is rife.

How can patients be prescribed cannabis, if it’s illegal? Is cannabis safe to use, as indicated by its prescribed medical use and its removal from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs by WHO? Or is it unsafe with no, or unproven, therapeutic value, as suggested by the UK’s current scheduling and government officials when questioned on NHS access to cannabis?

These are certainly big questions, with polarising answers. So, it’s no wonder so many people still feel unsure of the facts.

It’s time to set the record straight. Here are seven cannabis myths, and the answers that debunk them.

1. Cannabis is against the law

In the U.K. cannabis is controlled as a Class B drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The use and possession of recreational cannabis is illegal in the UK, regardless of the age of the user.

However, in 2018, things changed. It became possible to legally access ‘medical cannabis’ on prescription. On the NHS, there are still only three people who have ever been prescribed ‘whole plant’ (oil). Many others who are prescribed ‘cannabis based medicinal products’, Epidyolex and Sativex. While over 15,000 people are now cannabis patients with private clinics.

For non-prescription users (even if you’re sourcing from the black market for medical use), cannabis remains illegal in the UK. With a prescription, it’s perfectly legal.

2. Cannabis is very addictive

It’s possible to become addicted to cannabis, just as it’s possible to become addicted to coffee, alcohol, cigarettes, shopping or sex. But the risk of addiction from using cannabis (without an existing predisposition to addiction) is very low.

This goes for all cannabis chemovars and applies regardless of whether you use cannabis for recreational purposes or medicinal reasons. However, the risk of addiction is even lower when cannabis is prescribed and used under clinical guidance. In fact, it’s considerably less addictive than many standard pharmaceutical alternatives patients may have previously been prescribed, such as Diazepam (Valium), Tramadol (opioid) and Methylphenidate (Ritalin).

Approximately 10% of patients may experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking cannabis, particularly if they stop abruptly. But regular expert assessment and monitoring of case, condition, dose and type of cannabis used by clinicians such as specialist cannabis consultants, pain doctors, psychiatrists and neurologists, reduces this likelihood further still.

3. Cannabis comes with many side effects

In a recent review of data collected by Drug Science, looking at the safety and efficacy of medical cannabis for children with severe, retractable epilepsy, researchers found that side effects included fatigue, diarrhoea and increase in tolerance. The potential benefits, on the other hand, were extensive (including an 86% decrease in potentially fatal seizure frequency).

The side effects of cannabis for the vast majority are minimal and extremely minor. Some patients even consider certain side effects (euphoria, for example, in people with depression) a benefit!

Although an increase in tolerance does usually occur, prescribing clinicians can (and will) gradually titrate CBD and THC levels in cannabis oils to build up tolerance slowly and adjust treatment plans to ensure the patient continues to feel the benefit.

4. Everyone who uses cannabis gets high

Although recreational use of cannabis is often associated with getting high, when used medicinally it’s actually very possible for it to be effective for treating a wide range of conditions in very low doses. As a result, most patients who are prescribed cannabis do not feel high all the time – unless that benefits them.

One study, performed by Dr Mark Ware et al, demonstrated that a low dose of 25mg of herbal cannabis with 9.4% THC, taken spread out in single inhalations three times a day, resulted in significant improvements in pain, sleep, mood, appetite, stiffness and nausea, compared to placebo. However, in the trial, there were only three episodes of euphoria. None of the other participants described feeling ‘high’ as a side effect.

It’s well worth noting though that feeling high (or experiencing euphoria) is something that many people feel offers immense therapeutic benefit – particularly for people suffering with depression, poor sleep or pain. Plenty of people deliberately use cannabis to achieve this side effect and still don’t develop dependency. 

5. Cannabis isn’t an effective treatment for pain

Now that the prescription of painkillers and opioids for chronic pain have been restricted by NICE, millions of chronic pain patients are left feeling like there are no options left for them. But cannabis is an extremely safe and effective alternative that has transformed many patient’s lives and, in a vast number of cases, relieved them from pain when nothing else would.

Just one of many examples demonstrating efficacy can be seen in a new study published in Frontiers in Pain Research which assessed the possible benefits of medical cannabis for cancer-related pain in oncology patients. Researchers found, for most participants, pain measures improved significantly, other cancer-related symptoms decreased, the consumption of painkillers was reduced, and the incidence of side effects were very low and mild.

Cannabis is not the right treatment for everyone and it won’t be a miracle fix for all pain. It also depends largely on getting the dose and blend of cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids right. But, anecdotally and scientifically, we can say for certain that cannabis can be an incredibly effective treatment for pain. This is a result of multiple mechanisms, including a unique interaction with the endocannabinoid system, serotonin, vanilloid and dopamine receptors.

6. Cannabis is a gateway drug

There is no evidence to suggest that cannabis is a gateway drug. In fact, cannabis can be used to treat addiction to opioids, tobacco, alcohol and other substances. 

While cannabis remains illegal for non-prescription use, it will continue to be sold on the black market often by people who also deal harder drugs. If the buyer is so inclined, they may choose to take their dealer up on something else they’re offered, but this has nothing to do with cannabis itself, rather prohibition.

If cannabis was legal across the board and sold by legitimate, regulated businesses, the risk of being introduced to harder drugs would be dramatically reduced.

7. Cannabis causes anxiety, rather than helping it

It is possible for cannabis to cause anxiety, but it can also be used to treat it. 

Cannabis-induced anxiety is usually caused by either high THC content that is unsuitable for the individual’s needs, or unregulated (illegal) flower that has been grown using chemicals such as pesticides. Cannabis that comes from chemical growth can have adverse effects on the body, but this is not caused by the cannabis itself. For some, high THC cannabis can cause anxiety. For others, high THC is the ideal option! 

To use cannabis without experiencing anxiety, it’s important to understand your needs and dosage (or be prescribed by a clinician who does) and only ever use ‘clean’ products.