In the wake of the opioid crisis, the public is becoming more aware of the dangers of drug use and addiction. However, many misconceptions about drugs still persist. This is partly because of a rapidly changing drug scene. New drugs hit the streets all the time. Marijuana has become legal in some form in much of the US, correlating with a higher level of social acceptance and a lower level of perceived danger. Complicating this, many companies that legally sell cannabis are creating novel products and marketing them in ways that confuse matters more. These misconceptions may lead to more substance use and addiction.
Marijuana isn’t addictive.
One persistent myth is that marijuana isn’t addictive. Or sometimes people will say it’s psychologically but not physically addictive. While it’s true that marijuana isn’t as addictive as some drugs, people do get addicted and that addiction can damage their lives. One study found that between 10 and 30 percent of regular users will develop a dependency, and about nine percent will develop a serious addiction. That compares to 15 percent of alcohol drinkers, 17 percent of cocaine users, 23 percent of heroin users, and 32 percent of tobacco users who will develop a serious addiction. Clearly, there are more addictive drugs out there, as well as more dangerous drugs. However, with marijuana becoming legal in more states, more people are using it and the number of people who develop a serious addiction to it will likely rise too. Marijuana is already the most commonly used substance after alcohol. And while alcohol is not nearly as addictive as heroin, far, far more people struggle with alcohol addiction than heroin addiction, and we may see a similar trend for marijuana unless people are properly informed.
If it’s prescribed by a doctor, it must be safe.
By now, most people are aware that the current opioid crisis in the US has been fueled by doctors over-prescribing opioid painkiller over the last few decades. These doctors meant well. Most were influenced by a marketing campaign pushing the message that pain was being undertreated and that opioid painkillers weren’t as addictive as previously thought. Pain is certainly a serious medical issue, but it turns out that opioid painkillers are in fact extremely addictive. The rate at which doctors prescribe opioid painkillers has fallen significantly in the past five years, but many doctors continue to over-prescribe these medications. If you have a history of addiction, make sure your doctor knows about it. If you don’t have a history of addiction and your doctor prescribes opioids, make sure that prescription falls within the CDC’s guidelines for opioid prescription. And opioid are not the only prescription drugs that can be addictive. Benzodiazepines are also extremely addictive. Xanax is one of the most commonly prescribed drugs in the world. It is typically prescribed for quick relief from panic attacks, intense anxiety, or insomnia. It’s a quick-acting drug that lasts several hours, making it perfect for emergency use. However, it should only be used occasionally, or for a very short period. Regular use can lead to physical dependence in only two weeks. Once physical dependence forms, you have to taper off slowly to avoid dangerous side effects such as seizures and psychosis.
If it’s not illegal it must be safe.
This misconception is related to the one above, but it is perhaps even worse. While doctors may sometimes prescribe addictive drugs, you at least know exactly what’s in them and how much you’re getting. Many drugs that are technically legal may not be very safe. For example, “synthetic marijuana” like K2 are just some kind of chemical sprayed on some kind of plant. The chemical formula changes quickly to stay ahead of laws trying to ban it, which means you really have no idea what they are. Some of these are many times more potent than THC and the effects are unpredictable. In a recent incident in New Haven, Connecticut, more than 80 people overdosed on a bad batch of K2 in one day. Symptoms of overdose might include agitation, confusion, hallucinations, delusions, psychosis, suicidal thoughts, seizures, and violent behavior. What’s more, since the chemicals are sprayed on the plant matter haphazardly, the dosage may vary widely from one batch to the next. On top of all this, if you react badly, medical staff don’t know how to treat an overdose of mystery substance. A variation on this myth is that if it’s natural, it must be safe. This is absurd on its face, since poisonous and venomous organisms abound in nature. While it may be true a plant is less potent than a chemical abstract of that plant or its analog–think opium versus fentanyl–that doesn’t mean a drug in the form of a plant is safe. Many people get addicted to “natural” drugs like cannabis and kratom. What’s more, the potency of these drugs can vary considerably, which can sometimes be dangerous. For example, people who drink poppy seed “tea” are in danger of overdose because of the huge variance in potency in different batches of seeds. When it comes to drugs, prescriptions or otherwise, don’t take anything for granted and don’t assume that something someone you went to high school with told you was true. Ask a lot of questions about any medications your doctor prescribes. It also couldn’t hurt to do a quick search to see what issues people have with the drug. Be very skeptical about claims of perfectly legal or “natural” drugs. More broadly, be aware that you can develop an unhealthy relationship with any psychoactive substance if you use it to cope with your problems.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction or mental illness, we can help. Recovery Ways is a premier drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility located in Salt Lake City, Utah. We have the resources to effectively treat a dual diagnosis. Our mission is to provide the most cost-effective, accessible substance abuse treatment to as many people as possible. Request information online or call us today at 1-888-986-7848.