By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
As the legality of marijuana broadens, it still confuses many. The science of how marijuana works is recent and its effects misunderstood. An old myth now revised claims tainted Halloween candy contains marijuana.
Halloween has come and gone. Parents across the United States likely spent part of their night fervently inspecting their children’s Halloween candy to ensure that no one had tampered with it. The practice dates back to an old urban legend of tainted Halloween candy containing razor blades, poison, laxatives, and other objects. However, such a real-life horror has practically never happened.
The myth returned this year with a twist: A rumor circulated that Halloween candy may be laced with marijuana rather than poison. More than anything, it speaks to the lack of understanding about the drug, which is also known as weed or pot. In an interview with The New York Times, sociology professor Joel Best said, “This spreads primarily among people who have no idea what this stuff costs.”
The lack of knowledge about weed isn’t too surprising. In his video series The Addictive Brain, Dr. Thad Polk, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Michigan, said that proper understanding of how cannabinoids affect the brain didn’t come along until 1988.
THC Doesn’t Stand for “Tainted Halloween Candy”
“In 1964, scientists identified one particular cannabinoid that seems to be responsible for the major effects associated with marijuana use,” Dr. Polk said. “It’s called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC for short. It’s the THC in hemp that produces many of the psychoactive effects associated with marijuana.”
However, it wasn’t until 1988 that scientists at St. Louis University medical school found evidence for cannabinoid receptors in the brain. On the upside, Dr. Polk said, medical marijuana use has been proven to reduce nausea, relieve pain, and increase appetite. An increased appetite may not seem like much of a boon, but AIDS patients and patients undergoing chemotherapy suffer from a debilitating lack of appetite and medicinal marijuana use alleviates that. It can also calm seizures.
The Lows of Getting High
Unfortunately, marijuana is no wonder drug and it has some drawbacks. In the incredibly unlikely event that a child received marijuana-laced Halloween candy, is there a concern for addiction?
“A 1994 survey conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that about 9% of people who tried marijuana at least once eventually became addicted, so roughly one in ten people,” Dr. Polk said. “Clearly this number is significant, but it’s also lower than the addiction rates for other drugs that were evaluated in the survey.”
As examples, Dr. Polk said that roughly 15% of people who tried alcohol became addicted to it, 17% of people who tried cocaine became addicted to cocaine, and 32% of people who tried nicotine became addicted.
While it can be addictive, weed is less addictive than other popular recreational drugs. Its health risks are lower, though not inconsiderable, as well.
“Maybe surprisingly, the health effects of marijuana don’t seem to be as bad as the health effects of alcohol and cigarettes,” Dr. Polk said. “Long-term use does seem to be associated with bronchitis, and marijuana smoke actually contains higher concentrations of some carcinogens than cigarette smoke does. But the link between chronic marijuana use and lung cancer has not yet been conclusively demonstrated.”