Pot, weed, ganja, hashish, hemp, marijuana. They’re all words that are tied to what’s actually quite a pretty herbaceous flowering plant. Nevertheless, it’s a plant that also generates considerable discussion and debate, particularly insofar as to how it is cultivated and used around the world.

The question of how this often misunderstood and misrepresented plant should be used and perceived by the populace will garner a wide variety of opinions. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some myth-busting facts about marijuana that are certainly interesting to discover, no matter where on the debate one stands.

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1 – Is Marijuana Legal in the Netherlands & Portugal?

There’s a common misconception among visitors that marijuana has been legalized in European countries such as the Netherlands and Portugal, which isn’t exactly true. However, these two countries do have markedly different outlooks regarding the humble cannabis plant, compared to others around the world.

Important to know is that despite the plethora of so-called “coffee shops” in Amsterdam and elsewhere around the Netherlands, marijuana has never actually been formally legalized in the country. That said, and since 1976, the Dutch have actively maintained an official policy of not enforcing laws regarding the possession or use of small amounts of the substance.

Growing, importing and distributing cannabis are still considered criminal offenses in the Netherlands. The same applies in Portugal, where marijuana and other narcotics have never actually been legalized. Instead, the Portuguese introduced new laws in 2001 which decriminalized all drugs, albeit without actually legalizing them. There is a difference between decriminalization and legalization.

According to a 2009 whitepaper published by the Cato Institute, a public policy thinktank, this legal stance taken by Portugal has proven largely successful. While decriminalization has neither reduced or increased use of marijuana and other narcotics, usage is actually reported to be lower since the legislation was introduced, compared to other countries.

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2 – Can Marijuana Help Reduce Anxiety?

Given that anxiety is proven to be a biochemical response to stressful, threatening and dangerous stimuli, scientists are seeking to find the right chemical compositions within different strains of the cannabis plant, aiming to discover which are most effective in the treatment of numerous anxiety disorders.

With evidence to show that anxiety disorders are actually the most common mental health issues, research is ongoing to discover the most suitable treatment methods that could benefit millions of people. Research on the medical use of marijuana for anxiety has found that certain chemicals present in the plant can help reduce stress levels. This is, according to experts, due to naturally-produced molecules in the human endocannabinoid system that are similar to those found in the cannabis plant and known as cannabinoids.

While research into the medical properties of cannabinoids is still ongoing, some studies in Canada have shown that certain strains of the plant contain chemical elements which can reduce anxiety, including those found in the kush varieties of cannabis. This could lead to further experiments to isolate positive chemical elements found in marijuana while isolating and separating those associated with any negative effects.

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3 – Does Marijuana Cause Brain Damage?

Back in 1974, a notorious claim emerged that constant and heavy smoking of marijuana could potentially cause brain damage. This was said to be based upon research undertaken by Dr. Robert Heath of the Tulane University Medical School, New Orleans, funded by the United States government and using rhesus monkeys as test subjects.

As part of the experimentation, these monkeys were forced to smoke two cannabis cigarettes each day for almost a year. Monitored with electrodes, they were apparently found to have suffered major and lasting brain damage. However, both the methodology and the subsequent results were criticized by peers and eventually discredited via more detailed studies.

In recent years, further and better-controlled studies were carried by the National Center for Toxicological Research and SRI International. Neither of these studies found any evidence to support any links between smoking pot and long-term brain damage. Indeed, further studies among heavy users of cannabis in Jamaica discovered no brain abnormalities. Although there were indications of some short-term memory loss, these were only noted in studies of chronic and heavy smokers of marijuana, occurring some several weeks after they stopped smoking.

Conclusion

Improved technology and research methods have now made it possible to study the cannabis plant in more conclusive detail, providing greater insight into the positives and negatives of its usage. While laws and legislature for the use of marijuana can vary in different countries, we are now learning much more about the Cannabaceae family of plants than ever before, whether we’re studying it for recreational use or medical benefit.