My best friend ate an excessively potent pot brownie in college. She was so traumatized that, a decade later, she is still skittish about taking a puff off a joint. During my mother’s college years she tried smoking weed on a couple occasions, but decided she disliked it because it hurt her throat and made her cough. My mother-in-law’s one instance of college experimentation resulted in a total blackout and 24-hour hangover. Without realizing that she must have smoked something other than marijuana, she has been terrified of the stuff ever since. My sister-in-law’s college cannabis horror story involves a gravity bong, an imagined heart attack, and a trip to the campus health center.
More people than I can count have informed me that pot makes them paranoid, anxious, dizzy, disoriented, nauseous, incapacitated, or unbearably socially awkward. It gives them headaches or heart palpitations. They binge uncontrollably on junk food, or perhaps they simply pass out. Whatever the reason, some do not care for cannabis and they are perplexed as to how and why enthusiasts like myself enjoy it so much. Further discussion typically reveals that their impressions have been formed from a few brief encounters, often in their teens or early twenties.
People do not become teetotalers after a single bad night, because drinking is socially normalized. We may make dramatic claims about never drinking again while suffering from a hangover, or develop an aversion to tequila shots or flavored vodka or cheap beer after a certain beverage becomes inextricably linked with a particularly miserable memory. It would be strange, though, to hear someone say that he never touches alcohol at all because it made him sick once or twice in his youth. Drinking can be dangerous and even deadly, but because alcohol is so culturally ingrained, most adults eventually learn to drink responsibly. Cannabis, however, lacks a similar social context, which allows erroneous or simplistic generalizations to predominate.
If your sole exposure to marijuana was getting stoned out of your mind at a high school party, you would probably find it difficult to comprehend how a patient who medicates multiple times throughout the day is able to function, much less drive, work, or care for young children. If you have only ever had access to subpar buds in unlabeled plastic bags, how could you determine whether a different strain might give you an entirely different effect? If you live in a state where cannabis remains criminalized, it will be nearly impossible to find out if a CBD-rich tincture is the ideal cure for what ails you.
Someone who has never stepped inside a dispensary is unlikely to be aware of the incredible variety of strains and products available. Even habitual pot smokers have been known to express skepticism about the differences between the effects of indicas, sativas, and hybrids. If even the experts are confused, someone who happens to have a negative reaction to her first bong could easily decide that cannabis will always produce a negative reaction. She very well may avoid marijuana for the rest of her life; she may never be disabused of her false conclusion.
Those of us who understand and appreciate this miraculous plant have a responsibility to educate others. When friends and family members are firmly convinced of inaccuracies, it can be tempting to keep quiet rather than invite their judgmental derision. It can be tricky to champion the remarkable complexity of cannabis and its myriad benefits without sounding like a raving lunatic. Explaining the endocannabinoid system and the entourage effect to an incredulous audience is a daunting challenge. Nevertheless, it is necessary that we try, not only to combat stigma and stereotypes, but also because sharing this knowledge has the potential to enhance so many lives.