Often the image that comes to mind when picturing people who smoke marijuana is some scruffy looking bums completely zoned out, slouched on the couch watching silly cartoons and munching on junk food.
This is probably because that’s how the media portray people who smoke marijuana. The connotation is often that smoking marijuana makes you dumb and blur. It also supposedly makes you lazy and useless. But how much of this is actually true in real life?
I wanted to challenge this stereotype of marijuana smokers by interviewing some successful Malaysian professionals like lawyers and doctors who smoke marijuana regularly. So I asked four different professionals in Malaysia several questions about their smoking habits. I also asked them about the experience, benefits and disadvantages of smoking marijuana.
Let’s see how close the myths about smoking marijuana are to real life experiences…
1. Marijuana makes you stupid
Mass media often portrays marijuana smokers as nearly mentally retarded. They have nonsensical conversations and have dull, lacklustre laughs like ‘Beavis and Butthead’. They’re basically brain dead and will take at least 5 minutes just to figure out how to rip open a packet of crisps. ‘Stoners’ are slow in the head and basically incompetent to deal with even the simplest aspects of everyday life.
Let’s contrast this common stereotype with what some professionals had to say about their experience of smoking marijuana.
John, the lawyer: “It makes otherwise mundane things seem bearable or even entertaining. It also sometimes assists with the observation of my thoughts and this may or may not help me calibrate my mood in the short term.”
Ashwini, the doctor: “It helps me reflect and ruminate.”
Azlan, the writer: “Just a lot more chill and light-headed. I feel calmer and more relaxed, and it feels like my brain is operating slowly. There’s also the kind of high when you get the giggles and everything’s hilarious – those are fun.”
Ranjit, the chef: “The stress just fades away.”
2. Marijuana makes you lazy
Marijuana smokers are all bums. They just sit on their ass the whole day because they can’t move when they’re stoned. This myth is easily debunked because obviously lawyers, doctors, writers and chefs are not bums.
Instead, they had to put in a lot of effort to become professionals in the first place, and also have to continue to work hard at their jobs now.
3. Marijuana makes you useless
Marijuana smokers are useless drug addicts. They don’t care about anything else except for getting their next hit. They are the sampah masyarakat (society’s trash) as they do not contribute anything to the well-being of others. But what about lawyers, doctors, writers and chefs that smoke marijuana? They obviously contribute to society at large. Or could they perhaps just be functional addicts who are on the verge of collapse?
According to Dr. Ashwini, marijuana can be addictive just like anything else can be addictive. We can be addicted to chocolate, sex, shopping and a myriad of other things.
However, it is a psychological dependency that is formed rather than a physical addiction with serious withdrawal symptoms like alcohol and heroin addiction. Azlan agreed that although it’s not physically addictive, you may develop a dependency on it.
John and Ranjit, on the other hand, believe that smoking marijuana is not addictive or at least that they’re not addicted to it. Although Ranjit smokes at least 3 joints a day, he says he can easily do without it for months.
4. Marijuana is dangerous (that’s why it’s illegal)
Due to its illegal status, marijuana is often mistaken as a dangerous drug. It’s also often called ‘the gateway drug’ which supposedly will land you in the streets as a homeless heroin addict. Basically, the myth is that once you start smoking marijuana, you lose control of your life.
Real life is quite different from propaganda though. The four professionals I interviewed have all been smoking marijuana regularly (at least twice a week) for more than 10 years, yet they still have their jobs and their homes.
Azlan admitted that he started smoking marijuana much later than his peers as he was always afraid of its illegal status. Whereas Ranjit had his first joint when he was only 16 years old. Ranjit says he prefers to smoke marijuana rather than drink alcohol because he feels safe and in control of himself.
“With alcohol, it’s easy to lose control and do stupid things you might regret later. Marijuana just doesn’t do that to you. You are still very much aware of yourself and your surroundings.”
It’s not really fair to say marijuana is dangerous when actually quite the opposite is true. Azlan told IRL he smokes marijuana for a variety of reasons – “sometimes pain relief, sometimes to sleep…it’s great for insomnia. Sometimes anti-anxiety, and sometimes just because it’s a fun group activity. It’s great to watch shows and movies with too. I think overall marijuana just kind of enhances everyday experiences and it’s also medicinal.”
The benefits of marijuana obviously extends well beyond its known medicinal properties. Ashwini says it helps her feel less stressed and sleep better, which is generally good for a person’s overall well-being. Whereas Azlan feels it’s a nice way to socialise if you can’t drink alcohol or don’t want to. “At any rate, I think it’s a lot safer than other substances like hard drugs, opioids, and alcohol,” says Azlan.
With so many benefits, it’s tempting to ignore the adverse health effects of smoking marijuana, but are there really any serious risks? All four professionals agreed that smoking marijuana carries risks, just as smoking anything would.
However, while common sense tells us that smoking can be bad for the health of our lungs, it also depends what we smoke. Smoking cigarettes with dozens of poisonous chemicals in them is clearly more harmful than smoking a natural plant. While smoking cigarettes has been proven to cause lung cancer, studies of marijuana smokers have shown little or no direct link to lung cancer.
This may be because marijuana helps our bodies to achieve homeostasis. According to John, the harmful effects of smoking could easily be avoided by ingesting marijuana through edibles or vaporizers.
Ashwini, John, and Azlan, also stated the risk of developing schizophrenia in certain people. Although smoking marijuana in itself doesn’t cause schizophrenia, it may be the case that people who have a genetic predisposition to schizophrenia might be at a higher risk of developing schizophrenia if they smoke marijuana regularly at a young age.
Another potential danger of marijuana is its illegal status, as just being in possession of marijuana can have serious consequences. For marijuana smokers in Malaysia, there is always the possibility of ending up in prison with hardcore criminals and being branded as a criminal for the rest of their lives. In the worst case scenario, marijuana smokers are sometimes hung to death.
Finally, I concluded by asking the four professionals whether they think marijuana should be legalised in Malaysia and here’s what they said:
Ashwini: “Yes, because it’s ridiculous to put people in prison and murder them for smoking or selling a harmless plant. It could also be beneficial to the local economy – it’s a versatile material which can be used to produce all kinds of things and it also has many medical benefits.
Azlan: “Definitely. Because it has plenty of medicinal value in the healthcare industry. Also, other countries have already legalised (or at least decriminalised it), and it’s proven to reduce crime and generate revenue for the country. Lord knows that Malaysia is going to need a new source of income with all our debt!”
Ranjit: “Yes. It is safer than alcohol and it cures sickness.”
John: “Yes, but its sale and purchase amounts should be regulated because some people can really slack off with their obligations or it might trigger their schizophrenia.”
For more articles like these, read 4 Things About Cannabis Legalisation That Malaysians Should Know, and I Was Abducted and Held at a Drug Rehab Facility. Here’s My Story.