Pot? Why not?

Consuming cannabinoids wreaks havoc with your body’s hormones. It causes your liver to accumulate fat, making it resistant to insulin. To compensate, your pancreas makes more and more until it’s blown out and diabetic. The liver strain causes high blood pressure, lipid build up, and heart disease. One top of that, it’s addictive. It diminishes the abilities of your brain’s dopamine receptors, making it less and less possible to feel pleasure.

Sounds legit, right? It’s not, I’m lying.

Replace “cannabinoids” with “sugar” however, and the first paragraph becomes a true statement, according to Dr. Robert Lustig, an endocrinologist and star of the popular YouTube video, “Sugar: The Bitter Truth.”

Sugar is a completely legal (and in the case of corn sugar, government subsidized) substance which we regularly share with children and consume on a daily basis. Cannabis is a Schedule 1 substance, under the US Controlled Substances Act, which passed during the Nixon administration. This means that, at that time, cannabis was considered to have a high potential for abuse, no accepted uses in medical treatments, and unacceptable safety when being used under medical supervision. Also in this category: heroin, LSD, MDMA, peyote, and amphetamines.

Forty years later, does cannabis still belong in the same category as these obviously dangerous drugs? Superstar CNN Doctor Sanjay Gupta doesn’t seem to think so.

“Every 19 minutes, someone in the United States dies from a prescription drug overdose, usually narcotics. I couldn’t find one documented fatality from a marijuana overdose. Marijuana can also ease nausea from chemotherapy treatments, tremors, and epilepsy,” Gupta told Prevention Magazine in an October interview.

“Still, I’m very concerned about young people using pot recreationally;” he conceded, “studies suggest that teenagers’ regular marijuana use can lead to lower IQs.”

This is the one undeniable and undebatable finding I’ve encountered through my research on the negative effects of cannabis. I’m sure everyone knows someone in their life who started smoking when they were 13, and still acts like a 13-year-old today. Nevertheless, in a debate about whether or not it should be legal for consenting adults to consume cannabis, this evidence is meaningless.

In reality, most of the stereotypes that surround cannabis have no basis in medical science.

Imagine a pothead. Do you picture a fat guy with shallow breath, who’s easily confused by basic tasks? Chances are you’ve met this guy, but I’m sorry to tell you he was probably fat, asthmatic, and dumb before cannabis entered the picture.

According to a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology, obesity rates are lower in cannabis users than non-users by a difference of about 10%. In addition, despite the fact that smoking cannabis can induce “the munchies” — a state of late-night, Taco Bell-seeking hunger — cannabis also contains THCV and cannabidiol, which are active appetite suppressants. Cannabis has also been shown to speed up metabolism and lower cholesterol in rats, with human trials currently underway at GW Pharmaceuticals in England.

Unlike tobacco — which I’ll needlessly point out here is a legal substance — there is no link between cannabis use and lung cancer, according to a 2007 study from UCLA. In fact, in a government report from 2012 cannabis users were found to perform slightly better on lung-function tests than their straight edge peers.

As far as brain function goes, there is an undeniable impairment while under the effects of the drug in short term memory and motor skills. However, there’s not a lasting residual effect once you wake up the next morning. In a 2003 issue of the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, researchers from the University of California, San Diego published a meta-analysis of research from 11 previous cannabis research studies, tracking over 1000 participants.

According to their abstract: “Few studies on the non-acute neurocognitive effects of cannabis meet current research standards; nevertheless, our results indicate that there might be decrements in the ability to learn and remember new information in chronic users, whereas other cognitive abilities are unaffected. However, from a neurocognitive standpoint, the small magnitude of these effect sizes suggests that if cannabis compounds are found to have therapeutic value, they may have an acceptable margin of safety under the more limited conditions of exposure that would likely obtain in a medical setting.”

When the mild neurological effects of cannabis are compared to the unquestionable brain damage caused by alcohol, it becomes even clearer that cannabis prohibition does not have a basis in health effects.

I started smoking weed when I was 17 at parties, but started smoking weed every day back in 2009 during the peak of the Great Recession. I worked at an amusement park for minimum wage and lived at my parent’s house. I couldn’t afford school or rent, but for $40, I could go over North and buy enough low-grade weed to rip bongs every night for two or three weeks.

I’ve lived with a depression diagnosis since I was in eighth grade. I’ve taken four different forms of antidepressants, many of which cost $40 a pill. Unlike cannabis, antidepressants can cause the most god awful withdrawal symptoms you could ever experience. I remember forgetting my pills at a friend’s house one night, and while I was biking over there the next day to pick them up, I had sudden tunnel-vision and fainted while crossing an intersection. I was hit by a station wagon, and when I opened my eyes, I was soaked in blood and my bike was bent in a 90-degree angle.

From my personal use, I’d say that the most dangerous side effect of cannabis is also its greatest benefit: contentment. Smoking weed every day makes life tolerable, and you lose the anxiety and frustration that compels you to frantically search for different jobs, relationships, and colleges because of how unsatisfied you are with yourself.

Weed makes you love yourself. When I’m too high to go anywhere, I spend a lot of time looking at myself in the mirror and just thinking about who I am and who I’ll become. I also become really impressed with my creative abilities. Every song, painting, or story I create when I’m high seems like my best yet, even if I don’t feel that way the next day.

I quit smoking weed about a month ago, and it was as easy as not calling my dealer. The major difference I’ve experienced is that I’m dreaming again (cannabis diminishes your short-term memory and makes it hard to recall dreams in the morning). Since then I’ve been a nervous wreck with low self-esteem and a general disdain for my life and the people around me. I’ve remembered how weak reality is in comparison to my beautiful, dark twisted fantasy. But I need to move on to the next stage of emotional maturity, and so I openly invited that neurosis in.

I’ll definitely smoke again in my life; I just need to get out from under myself so I can experience a little personal growth right now. However, once I get where I want to be and am ready to relax, I know I can count on cannabis to put me back into the chill mood.

Read the counterpoint I’ll Just Be Blunt… by Sarah Stanley-Ayre