“Just because it’s less addictive doesn’t mean that it’s not addictive.”
Most people don’t know as much about marijuana as they think they do.
Enduring myths about the popular plant have only served to damage the public discourse even as more people are trying the drug for the first time, Kevin Hill, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, told The Harvard Gazette.
And the biggest myth he’s encountered? That cannabis isn’t addictive.
“You can become addicted to cannabis, though most people don’t,” said Hill, who is also director of the Division of Addiction Psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “Yet invariably, when people hear about what I do, they say, ‘Oh, you’re an addiction psychiatrist? Well, cannabis is not physically addictive; it’s psychological.’”
Hill said he deals with people every day who have lost everything because of their reliance on marijuana. “It’s less addictive than alcohol, less addictive than opioids, but just because it’s less addictive doesn’t mean that it’s not addictive,” he said.
“There’s a subset of people — whom I treat frequently — who are using cannabis to the detriment of work, school and relationships. It’s hard for the majority of people to recognize the reality that there are many people who are using and losing in key areas of their lives,” he said.
The problem, Hill noted, is that public interest in cannabis is vastly outpacing medical research into the drug. But even though research is lagging, the record has already been set straight on the most common cannabis misperceptions, whether people choose to believe them or not.
“The myths have been disproven,” Hill said. “Unfortunately, the loudest voices in the cannabis debate often are people who have political or financial skin in the game, and the two sides are entrenched. Pro-cannabis people will say that cannabis is the greatest medication ever, and harmless. Others — often in the same field that I’m in, people who treat patients, people who do research with cannabis — will at times misrepresent the facts as well,” he said.
The answer, as with most things, lies somewhere in the middle, Hill said. The way forward is to improve education efforts surrounding the drug and, perhaps more important, help doctors and patients become more open to new information, even if it contradicts what they’ve always thought to be true.
“There are a lot of things we don’t know and a lot of answers we wouldn’t have expected,” he said. “You have to be open-minded in an area that is continuing to evolve. If you aren’t open-minded and willing to have a sensible conversation about cannabis, you won’t be able to reach your patients.”
Written by David Yasvinski