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Marijuana woo

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It's good for the flu

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Even …[note 1]
—"Bush Doctor" Peter Tosh, "Legalize It" lyrics (1976)[1]

Marijuana woo is an umbrella term for various claims regarding the positive effects of marijuana cultivation and use. These generally fall into three basic areas:

  • Claims concerning psychoactivity (occasionally extending all the way to Terrence McKennaWikipedia's W.svg-esque soul-babble)
  • Health claims (often promoted as a panacea,[2] sometimes amounting to a quack cancer cure)
  • Ecological claims (positive instead of negative predictions from the same scientific illiterates who detest GMO's)

In the United States, marijuana currently falls into a legal gray-area: illegal at the federal level, legal in some states (e.g., Colorado), quasi-legal in other states ("medical marijuana", e.g., California[note 2]), and illegal in still others (e.g., Texas).

Marijuana woo has been associated with other types of woo, such as aromatherapy[3] and chakras.[4]

Marijuana fans claim a startling assortment of things that marijuana is just about the best thing ever for, and none of this is because they want to get high as hell, nonono.

Health claims[edit]

Italian advertisement from 1881: Just breathe the smoke of Cannabis indica cigarillos to stop the most violent attacks of asthma, nervous cough, colds, extinction of voice, facial neuralgia, insomnia, and to combat all laryngeal coughs and respiratory ailments.

Health claims, particularly in the medical marijuana jurisdictions, tend towards the dietary supplement realm even though marijuana is not covered by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA) because it is illegal at the Federal level. Some health claims even have the Quack Miranda Warning,[5][4] which was a byproduct of DSHEA.

Let's start with some background on marijuana chemistry. Relevant chemicals in marijuana fall into two broad classes: cannabinoids (which in plants are specific to the Cannabis genus) and terpenoids (which are widespread in many plants).[6][7] Humans and other animals, produce endocannabinoids, which are different than but in the same chemical class as those cannabinoids found in marijuana. The main psychoactive chemical in marijuana is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Another important cannabinoid is cannabidiol (CBD), which is not psychoactive but has many health claims. Terpenoids in marijuana include ocimene, myrcene, β-caryophyllene, limonene, pinene, myrcene, linalool.

There are two major problems with evaluating medical claims for marijuana:

  1. There is a large variability of the chemical content of marijuana, particularly since marijuana has been bred for different pharmacological properties. From the medical marijuana supplier perspective, this ranges from plants with high-THC/low-CBD to low-THC/high-CBD, as well as variations in terpenoid content.[5][4] These chemicals may have either synergistic or antagonistic effects with regard to a particular medical treatment, so assessing the effectiveness of medical marijuana as a whole is difficult due to the quantitative chemical variability.
  2. In general, the quality of medical evidence forms a scale ranging from in vitro cell studies (lowest evidence) to animal bioassays (in vivo) to human retrospective studies to human prospective studies to meta-analyses and reviews of all direct evidence. It is difficult and expensive to conduct large-scale, long-term human studies, and the ability of researchers to conduct these has often been hampered by marijuana's illegality. Marijuana advocates may make claims based on in vitro studies of single chemicals, but this is never convincing evidence for human health — it is merely suggestive for further research.

Another problem with research on the medical effects on marijuana is that for the rare cases of US Federal Government-funded research, the marijuana is required to be sourced from the Federal Government.[8] Such marijuana by today's commercial marijuana standards is considered to be low-grade (ditch weed), and is not comparable in terms of chemical content to what most people actually smoke.[8]


Marijuana and THC are generally considered to have low toxicity, particularly compared to other recreational drugs. Using the Margin of Exposure (MOE) method, where MOE = Human exposure / Animal median lethal dose. For example, for alcohol and nicotine, the MOE is low (<10), meaning the risk is high with the exposure dose close to the lethal dose. For THC, the MOE is high (>10,000), meaning the risk of death is low.[9]

It has often been claimed (including by former-Presidential candidate Gary Johnson) that no one has ever died from a marijuana overdose.[10][11] The first problem with this claim is that it does not clearly state whether the lack of mortality is from direct causes (toxicity), or from indirect causes (i.e., from judgment or psychomotor impairment).[11]

Too often individuals cite that individuals haven’t died from cannabis — I don't think that's true. It certainly can be argued that cannabis use has contributed to the deaths of individuals, such as due to impairment during driving.
—Dr. Ryan Vandrey, researcher at Johns Hopkins University who specializes in the behavioral effects of marijuana[11]

Marijuana has been cited as the sole cause of at least some traffic fatalities.[12][13] After marijuana legalization in Colorado, traffic fatalities in which marijuana was at least partly-responsible increased to 94 in 2014, a not-insignificant number compared to alcohol-related traffic fatalities for that year (170 fatalities).[12] It should be noted that marijuana does impair judgment, motor coordination, and reaction time,[12][14][15] and its effect on impairment is either additive or synergistic with alcohol.[15]

Marijuana has been associated with at least 7 cases of heart attacks in different people (at least 4 of whom had normal coronary vasculature) and possibly some deaths; and marijuana is known to have a several vascular effects that may be causative (e.g., tachycardia, hypertension, bradycardia, and hyoptension).[16][17][18][19][20]

Pain and spasticity[edit]

A 2015 review of human studies in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that there was high-quality evidence for treatment of chronic pain, neuropathic pain, and spasticity from multiple sclerosis (MS).[21] The author also concluded that "Medical marijuana is used to treat a host of indications, a few of which have evidence to support treatment with marijuana and many that do not."[21]

A large, multi-faceted literature review by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) also concluded:[22]

  • In adults with chronic pain, patients who were treated with cannabis or cannabinoids are more likely to experience a clinically significant reduction in pain symptoms.
  • In adults with multiple sclerosis (MS)-related spasticity, short-term use of oral cannabinoids improves patient-reported spasticity symptoms.

The review also concluded that the effects were modest.[22] However, separate studies have shown that US states with medical marijuana have reduced opioid prescriptions[23][24] and 25% fewer opioid-related deaths.[23][25]


A 2015 review of randomized controlled trials in humans found that the majority of the studies were at risk of bias due to not being double blind, or from attrition of test subjects. Nonetheless, the authors concluded that marijuana-based medications may be useful for treating nausea.[26] The NASEM report also concluded, "In adults with chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting, oral cannabinoids are effective antiemetics," and that the effects were modest.[22]


Marijuana treatment for intraocular pressure from glaucoma is widely cited as effective, particularly because the first authorized usage of medical marijuana since its criminalization was based on a court case by Robert Randall in 1976.[27] There is some supporting scientific evidence that marijuana is efficacious for at least some types of glaucoma, based on small studies on humans. The effect on intraocular pressure is relatively brief, and there are other pharmaceutical treatments available for glaucoma which have been tested for safety and efficacy.[28][29] The American Glaucoma Society[30] and the Canadian Ophthalmological Society[31] oppose medical marijuana usage due to extensive adverse effects.[28]

Mental health[edit]

The 2017 NASEM review concluded:[22]

  • Cannabis use is likely to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia and other psychoses; the higher the use the greater the risk.
  • In individuals with schizophrenia and other psychoses, a history of cannabis use may be linked to better performance on learning and memory tasks.
  • Cannabis use does not appear to increase the likelihood of developing depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder.
  • For individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorders, near daily cannabis use may be linked to greater symptoms of bipolar disorder than non-users.
  • Heavy cannabis users are more likely to report thoughts of suicide than non-users.
  • Regular cannabis use is likely to increase the risk for developing social anxiety disorder.

Psychosis is associated with marijuana users who favor high THC/low CBD varieties.[32] There is also evidence that psychosis is associated with highly-concentrated forms of marijuana (e.g., "dabs", "shatter" and "wax"), as well as with substances with synthetic cannabinoids (a.k.a., "spice").[32] The erroneous idea that dabs are "safe" has been propagated by parts of the marijuana industry without addressing the known risks of consuming high levels of THC.[33][32]


Claim: "The combination of THC and terpenes modulates each strain to have its own effect, flavor, energy and medical uses."[5]

Research findings: This is sufficiently vague that it is basically true.[34]


Because of the evidence above from studies on whole marijuana, the focus below on specific chemicals will be on claims other than for treatment of pain, nausea, glaucoma, depression and MS. There is reasonable evidence of marijuana efficacy for these claims, though the efficacy regarding a specific chemical may be another matter. Furthermore, the focus below will be on claims regarding specific diseases (e.g. cancer) or implying the treatment of diseases (e.g., anti-proliferative implies cancer treatment), rather than vague disease-related claims (e.g., antimicrobial).

Cannabichromene (CBC)[edit]


Claims: treatment of anxiety and stress, anti-viral, cancer, bone growth[35]

Research findings:

  • Anxiety: see above
  • Stress: no studies in PubMed
  • Anti-viral: no studies in PubMed
  • Cancer: CBC had some effect against breast tumors in vitro.[36] The evidence is suggestive further research.
  • Bone growth: no studies in PubMed

Cannabidiol (CBD)[edit]


Claims: treatment of MS, epilepsy, diabetes (by lowering blood sugar), stress, insomnia[35]

Research findings:

  • Diabetes: CBD was effective in lowering the incidence of diabetes in mice in two studies.[37][38][39] Two studies in humans showed a possible protective effect from marijuana on diabetes onset (association but not necessarily causation).[40][41]
  • Epilepsy: A 2015 review found that purified CBD showed promise in uncontrolled studies, but that controlled studies were lacking. Questions remain about safety and efficacy.[42] A 2017 trial study of 120 patients found that children with a type of childhood epilepsy known as Dravet Syndrome had a greater reduction in convulsions when treated with CBD than placebo.[43]

Cannabidiolic Acid (CBD-A)[edit]

Cannabidiolic Acid

Claims: treatment of inflammation and cancer[35]

Research findings:

  • Cancer: There are a few in vitro studies, so the evidence is only suggestive that more research is needed.[44]

Cannabigerol (CBG)[edit]


Claims: stimulates the growth of new brain and bone cells, antibacterial, anti-tumor (cancer), treatment of insomnia[35]

Research findings:

  • Brain growth: Ordinarily, one does not want to stimulate cell growth because it could increase the risk of cancer. The idea that this is a good thing seems to imply that the claimants (Steephill Labs)[35] are referring to Huntington's disease, a progressive disease of the brain that causes degeneration of nerve cells.[45] A CBG derivative — not CBG itself — was tested in mice with a Huntington's-like disease — not Huntington's itself, and the results showed promise.[46] A different study of CBG itself in mice that did not have any disease also showed some neuroprotection.[47] No studies have been conducted on humans, the evidence of CBG being effective on Huntington's is weak.
  • Bone growth: no publications on CBG and bone in PubMed between 1966 and 2016
  • Cancer: a study of CBG on a mouse model of colon cancer (in vivo) showed that CBG hampered tumor progression.[48] No studies have been conducted on humans.
  • Insomnia: No studies in PubMed

Cannabinol (CBN)[edit]


Claims: treatment of insomnia, nausea and convulsions[35]

Research findings:

  • Insomnia: A 2014 review of cannabinoid administration on sleep found that there were "various effects of cannabinoid administration on several aspects of sleep", and that because of methodological issues, it was not possible to make a conclusion.[49]
  • Convulsions: Only 1 reference was found in the US National Library of Medicine PubMed database (between 1966 and 2016) on CBN and convulsions in humans: a single page in an obscure journal.[50] A study on CBD on induced seizures in rats showed that it was an effective anticonvulsant.[51] One would have to conclude that the evidence is weak.
  • Nausea: see above

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)[edit]


Claims: "THC has been shown to be effective in the treatment of a variety of ailments and disorders including pain, tumors (cancer), nausea and ADHD."[35] Kelly Hauf claimed to have cured herself of oligodendroglioma brain cancer by treating herself with cannabis oil.[52] She now runs a website that reports testimonials, a single case study, and in vivo studies. The website is also anti-chemotherapy.[53]

Research findings:

  • Cancer: The best evidence of treatment of cancer with marijuana chemicals is suggestive but not convincing, because it relies on in vitro studies.[54] A phase 1 clinical trial on a THC-CBD mixture for treatment of brain (and spinal cord) tumours is currently underway.[55][56]
  • ADHD: In humans, marijuana exposure to the developing embryo and fetus "is associated "with a plethora of neurobehavioural deficiencies…" There is evidence that the deficiencies are due to THC. The deficiencies include anencephaly, ADHD, memory impairment, and learning disability.[57]
  • Pain: see above



Claims: anti-inflammatory, anti-irritant, antioxidant, anti-microbial, analgesic[58]



Claims: treatment of sepsis and inflammation, infections (bacterial and fungal), alcoholism, and cancer[35][59]


Claims: antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory[60]



Claims: treatment of cancer, infections (bacterial), inflammation, and appetite suppression[35][59]

Research findings:

  • Cancer: A small, short study of injected tumor cells in mice found some inhibitory effects of α-humulene.[61] Given the shortcomings of this study (injected tumors, small number of animals), the relevance to humans is minimal. In vitro studies on humulene have also been conducted.



Claims: treatment of gastric reflux, antibacterial, antifungal, depression, anxiety, and cancer[35][62][63]

Research findings:

  • Gastric reflux: a single, small unpublished study reported positive results in humans.[64] This is not convincing evidence because the study was not peer-reviewed (e.g., the study methods could have been defective, or there could have been bias in the study).
  • Cancer: d-limonene was tested in a small phase I trial and a limited phase II for treatment of cancer patients; effectiveness of the treatment was not reported as only tolerance of d-limonene was tested.[65] d-limonene inhibited a liver carcinogenesis mechanism in vitro,[66][6][7] but this is only suggestive of further research. Furthermore, d-limonene caused kidney tumors in male rats at high doses.[67][68]
  • Depression and anxiety: see above



Claims: treatment of insomnia, psychosis, anxiety, epilepsy, depression, and pain[35][58]

Research findings:

  • Psychosis: A 2015 review found that marijuana containing high levels of THC was associated with psychosis in users.[69] Linalool may or may not counteract the psychotic effects of THC, but it would seem to be wise to avoid marijuana (and THC) as a psychosis treatment.
  • Depression and anxiety: see above
  • Pain: see above



Claims: treatment of cancer, inflammation, pain, insomnia, infection and spasms[35][58]

Research findings:

  • Cancer: β-Myrcene inhibited a liver carcinogenesis mechanism in vitro,[66][6][7] but this is only suggestive of further research.
  • Pain: see above



Claims: inhibits growth of leishmaniasis, antiparasitic, antifungal, antimicrobial[59]

Research findings:

  • Leishmaniasis: A mixture of cis- and trans-nerolidol was effective at inhibiting the growth of Leishmania spp. in vitro.[70] The results would only warrant further research.


Claims: antiviral, antifungal, antiseptic, decongestant, antibacterial[60]



Claims: treatment of asthma and inflammation[35]



Claims: anticancer, antioxidant, sedative, antibacterial, antifungal[60]

Psychoactive claims[edit]

Human cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2

Claim: God gave us cannabinoid receptors so we could smoke pot all day.[71]

Reality: Cannibinoid receptors are activated by endocannabinoids,Wikipedia's W.svg i.e., cannibinoid chemicals that are naturally produced by the human body (e.g. arachidonoylethanolamine). Activation of cannibinoid receptors cause several physiological functions including gastrointestinal activity, cardiovascular activity and bone growth.[72][73]

So, why then are there cannabinoids in marijuana; did God put them there because he liked stoners? No. The most likely answer is that wild Cannabis species with higher levels of THC deter grazing by herbivores. Yes, cannabinoids are one of many[74][75][76] natural pesticides produced by plants.[77]

Ecological claims[edit]

Garbage cleanup in 2011 at an illegal marijuana farm on public land (Mendocino National Forest)

Marijuana has sometimes been greenwashed as being particularly ecologically sound, either explicitly[78] or implicitly (e.g., just by associating it with the word "green"). While this may be true of ditch weed (e.g. uncultivated marijuana with low THC/CBD content) or commercial hemp, it is not very likely for what you're buying for psychoactive and/or medical purposes. Commercial marijuana is either farmed outdoors (often requiring synthetic pesticides), or indoors (requiring large amounts of electricity for lighting). In California, outdoor marijuana is often grown illegally on public land, which both deprives the public of access (since it's heavily guarded) and destroys ecosystems with clearing and pollution.[79]

Some patent medicines[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Patent medicine

Images from the Hash, Marihuana & Hemp Museum, Amsterdam

External links[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. The last "disease" has been variously reported as "numara thrombosis" or "umara composis", but your guess is as good as anyone's. A live version may have been "glaucomia" [sic].[1]
  2. Californians voted for Proposition 64 in 2016 which will legalize marijuana starting in 2018.


  1. Legalize It lyrics
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