Cannabis is one of the most well-known and frequently used substances, but there’s still so much we don’t know about it.

Adding to the confusion, there are many widespread myths, including one that positions cannabis use as a gateway to more serious drug use.

Here’s a look at the “gateway drug” myth and a few others you might’ve come across.

The verdict: False

Cannabis is often called a “gateway drug,” meaning that using it will probably lead to using other substances, like cocaine or heroin.

The phrase “gateway drug” was popularized in the 1980s. The whole idea is based on the observation that people who use recreational substances often start by using cannabis.

Some suggest that cannabis affects the neural pathways in the brain that causes people to develop a “taste” for drugs.

There’s little evidence to back up these claims, though. While many people do use cannabis before using other substances, that alone isn’t proof that cannabis use caused them to do other drugs.

One idea is that cannabis — like alcohol and nicotine — is generally easier to access and afford than other substances. So, if someone is going to do them, they’ll probably start with cannabis.

One study from 2012 mentions that in Japan, where cannabis isn’t as accessible as it is in the United States, 83.2 percent of users of recreational substances did not use cannabis first.

It’s also important to remember that there are many factors that can lead to someone forming a substance use disorder, including personal, social, genetic, and environmental factors.

The verdict: False

Many proponents of cannabis legalization claim that cannabis doesn’t have the potential to be addictive, but that’s not the case.

Cannabis addiction shows up in the brain in a similar way to any sort of substance addiction, according to a 2018 review of studies.

And yes, those who use cannabis frequently might experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, such as mood swings, a lack of energy, and cognitive impairment.

A report published in 2015 suggests that 30 percent of people who use cannabis may have some degree of “marijuana use disorder.”

This said, it’s worth noting that socially acceptable, legal drugs like nicotine and alcohol are also addictive.

The verdict: True and false

It’s often said that cannabis is stronger than ever, meaning that it contains higher concentrations of THC, the psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis, and CBD, one of the other main cannabinoids.

This is largely true.

A 2016 study looked at nearly 39,000 samples of cannabis that had been seized by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The study found that the THC content of cannabis increased drastically between 1994 and 2014.

For context, the study notes that the THC levels of cannabis in 1995 were around 4 percent, while the THC levels in 2014 were around 12 percent. CBD content similarly increased over time.

However, you can also find a greater variety of low-potency cannabis products today, at least in areas that have legalized cannabis for recreational or medicinal purposes.

Many people believe cannabis can’t be harmful because it’s natural and comes from a plant.

First, it’s important to note that “natural” doesn’t mean safe. Poison ivy, anthrax, and deathcap mushrooms are natural, too.

Plus, plenty of cannabis products aren’t exactly natural.

Unnatural — and more importantly, unsafe — toxins can sometimes show up in cannabis. Pesticides, for example, are often used by cannabis growers. Even in areas that have legalized cannabis, there often isn’t consistent regulation or oversight.

The verdict: False

By definition, an overdose involves taking a dose that’s dangerous. Many people associate overdoses with death, but the two don’t always occur together.

There are no recorded fatal overdoses from cannabis, meaning that nobody has died from overdosing on cannabis alone.

However, you can use too much and have a bad reaction, often called a greenout. This can leave you feeling pretty ill.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a bad reaction to cannabis can cause:

  • confusion
  • anxiety and paranoia
  • delusions or hallucinations
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • increased heart rate and blood pressure

Overdosing on cannabis won’t kill you, but it can be quite unpleasant.

There are tons of myths surrounding cannabis, some of which suggest cannabis is more dangerous than it is, while others downplay certain risks. Other reinforce harmful stigmas and stereotypes.

When it comes to using cannabis, your best bet is to do your own research first and consider the sources of the information you find.


Sian Ferguson is a freelance writer and editor based in Cape Town, South Africa. Her writing covers issues relating to social justice, cannabis, and health. You can reach out to her on Twitter.