Marijuana Mythbusters

Apr 26, 2023

facts, myths

Marijuana Mythbusters

Despite the ever-growing evidence of the broad and transformative benefits of cannabis reform in states across the country, opponents of replacing cannabis prohibition with sensible laws and regulations frequently make claims that, at first blush, sound alarming. However, upon a closer examination, their key sources lack credibility and distort the truth.

Misinformation and scare tactics remain very real obstacles as we’re fighting an increasingly uphill battle to continue advancing reform across the country. Below we dispel the top ten myths that prohibitionists often perpetuate.

MYTH: Marijuana is a gateway drug.
REALITY: The so-called “Gateway Theory” has been debunked repeatedly.

Most recently, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine reported in February 2017 that there is no substantial link between cannabis use and the use of other illegal drugs.[1]

About half of all Americans have used cannabis at some point in their lives, but the vast majority never try any other drugs[2]. If using cannabis caused people to use other drugs, there would be far more users of other drugs.[3]

MYTH: Marijuana makes you lazy and/or stupid.
REALITY: There is no conclusive evidence that cannabis use results in lowered IQ.

In 2014, researchers at University College London found “no relationship between cannabis use and IQ,” even among the heaviest users. They also reported that alcohol use is strongly associated with a decline in IQ.[4]

The claim that cannabis makes people “amotivated” is a myth that has been repeatedly debunked by experts. In its comprehensive 1999 report on cannabis, the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine concluded, “no convincing data demonstrate a causal relationship between cannabis smoking and these behavioral characteristics.”[5]

While the vast majority of cannabis users do not encounter such problems, any substance or behavior can potentially interfere with an individual’s ability to perform well at work or in school. Whether it’s cannabis, alcohol, food, or video games, too much of it can be problematic for some people.

MYTH: Cannabis leads to crime.
REALITY: Government-published data, academic research, and the experiences of many law enforcement officials indicate that cannabis policy reform does not increase crime rates.

Contrary to assertions made by some opponents of legalization, there is no compelling basis for claims that legalizing cannabis and establishing regulated markets undermines public safety. Research generally shows that cannabis — unlike alcohol — is not linked to violent or aggressive behavior. In fact, research has found that cannabis use reduces the likelihood that an individual will act violently.[6]

Meanwhile, legalizing cannabis also frees up police time for crimes with victims. In a 2018 analysis, experts at Washington State University found that police solved significantly more violent and property crimes after passage of legalization laws in Colorado and Washington.[7]

MYTH: Marijuana can kill you.
REALITY: There has never been a confirmed cannabis overdose death.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concluded in 2017 that no link has been established between cannabis and fatal overdoses.[8] Meanwhile, the CDC reports an average of more than 2,200 alcohol poisoning deaths per year[9] and prescription drugs have become one of the leading causes of accidental death in the U.S. In 1988, after hearing two years of testimony, the chief administrative law judge for the DEA determined “it is physically impossible to eat enough cannabis to induce death.”[10]

MYTH: Legalization makes it easier for teens to get marijuana.
REALITY: Research has shown that reforming cannabis laws does not increase teen cannabis use.

A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry in 2016 found that the number of teens using cannabis — and the number with problematic use — is falling as more states legalize or decriminalize cannabis. The findings were based on a survey of more than 200,000 youth in all 50 states. Cannabis prohibition has failed miserably at keeping cannabis out of the hands of teens. From 1975-2012, 80-90% of 12th graders consistently reported that cannabis was “fairly easy” or “very easy” to obtain. For the first time since the survey began 40 years ago, high school seniors’ perception of cannabis’s availability has dipped below 80% — after states began to legalize cannabis.[11]

MYTH: Marijuana has no medical value.
REALITY: A large and growing body of scientific evidence demonstrates the benefits and safety of treating a broad range of ailments with medical cannabis.

Although the federal government has made research investigating cannabis’s medical value uniquely difficult, a vast majority of Americans recognize the legitimate medical benefits of cannabis. Numerous medical organizations have examined the evidence and concluded that cannabis can be a safe, effective medicine. They include the American Public Health Association, the American College of Physicians, the American Nurses Association, and a number of state medical and public health organizations, among others. In 2009, the American Medical Association called on the federal government to reconsider cannabis’s classification under federal law, noting clinical trials have shown cannabis’s medical efficacy.[12]

MYTH: Today’s marijuana is stronger, thus more dangerous.
REALITY: Like alcohol, there are more potent and less potent types of cannabis, but even the most potent cannabis is far less harmful than alcohol.

Claims of a dramatic increase in marijuana potency are commonly based on the assertion that marijuana used in the 1960s and 1970s contained only 1% THC (the main psychoactive compound in marijuana). However, these claims are based on very small numbers of samples that may have been improperly stored. Furthermore, marijuana with just 1% THC is not psychoactive — that is, it doesn't produce a "high." So if the 1% figure is true, the drug's rapid increase in popularity was based on marijuana so weak that it wasn't even capable of producing the intended effect.

MYTH: Marijuana laws are not enforced.
REALITY: There have been more than 17 million marijuana arrests in the United States since 1995.

In 2019, there were an estimated 545,602 marijuana arrests — significantly more than for all violent crimes combined. One person is arrested for marijuana every 58 seconds. More than 90% of marijuana arrests are for possession, not manufacture or distribution.[13] It's true that most people arrested for possession do not go to prison, but they all do face potentially life-altering consequences. Many people lose their jobs or find it difficult to gain employment. Parents can lose custody of their children. College students can lose their federal financial aid. Non-citizens can be forced to leave the country. People lose their public housing benefits.

MYTH: Marijuana use can increase the risk of mental illness, including schizophrenia.
REALITY: There is no compelling evidence demonstrating cannabis causes psychosis in otherwise healthy individuals.

Cannabis affects different people differently — like many substances, it can be problematic for some people and beneficial for others. If cannabis causes psychosis, rates of psychosis should rise if cannabis use goes up, but that has not happened.[14] Many opponents misrepresent a 2017 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which found an association between cannabis use and schizophrenia, not that cannabis use causes schizophrenia. Overall, the evidence suggests that cannabis can precipitate schizophrenia in vulnerable individuals but is unlikely to cause the illness in otherwise normal persons.[15] It is worth noting that survey data and anecdotal reports of individuals finding therapeutic relief from depression and other mental conditions are not uncommon.[16]

MYTH: Cannabis legalization is inevitable.
REALITY: Despite widespread popular support for ending cannabis prohibition nationwide and incredible reform progress over the past decade, this fight is far from over.

The notion that cannabis legalization is inevitable is misguided. The continuation of federal cannabis prohibition threatens all of the state policy victories we’ve achieved, and strong opposition remains focused on halting progress and perpetuating the suffering of millions of Americans still living under the policies of prohibition. With hundreds of thousands of people still being arrested for cannabis every year, we need to stand up and double down on our mission to end cannabis prohibition nationwide.

[1] National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. “The health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids: The current state of evidence and recommendations for research.” (2017).
[2] *only 3.4% have ever tried crack, only 1.9% have ever tried heroin, and fewer than 15% of Americans have ever tried cocaine, the second most popular illegal drug after cannabis.
[3] U.S. Office of Applied Studies, 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables. Accessed online August 28, 2017.
[4] Mokrysc C., et al. “No relationship between moderate adolescent cannabis use, exam results or IQ, large study shows.” Annual Congress of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP). 2014.
[5] U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine, Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base (Washington, D.C: National Academy Press, 1999).
[6] Hoaken, P. & Stewart, S. (2003). Drugs of abuse and the elicitation of human aggressive behavior. Addictive Behaviors 28, 1533-1554.
[7] Makin, D.A., et al. (2018). Marijuana Legalization and Crime Clearance Rates: Testing Proponent Assertions in Colorado and Washington State. Police Quarterly. Accessed from
[8] National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. “The health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids: The current state of evidence and recommendations for research.” (2017).
[9] Centers for Disease Control. “Vital Signs: Alcohol Poisoning Deaths — United States, 2010–2012.” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Vol. 63 No. 53 (2015): 1238-1242.
[10] Young, Francis L. “In the Matter of Marijuana Rescheduling Petition.” DEA Docket No. 86–22, September 6, 1988.
[11] University of Michigan/National Institute on Drug Abuse, Monitoring the Future National Survey Results on Drug Use, 19752019.
[12] Hoeffel, John, “Medical Marijuana Gets a Boost From Major Doctors Group,” Los Angeles Times, November 11, 2009.
[13] Federal Bureau of Investigation, Uniform Crime Reports, Crime in the United States annually.
[14] W. Hall, “Is Cannabis Use Psychotogenic?,” Lancet 367 (2006): 193–5.
[15] Hall, W., Degenhardt L., “What are the policy implications of the evidence on cannabis and psychosis?,” Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 51(9), August 2006: 566-574.
[16] C.H. Aston, et al., “Cannabinoids in Bipolar Affective Disorder: A Review and Discussion of Their Therapeutic Potential,” Journal of Psychopharmacology, Vol. 19, No. 3, 2005.