Given that cannabis has been virtually prohibited for almost one hundred years, this illegal plant is now enmeshed in a host of myths. Some of them centre around its cultivation, some around how it is further processed and many of them around its use. While decades of discussion mean that cannabis has been relatively well researched, the black market in particular (dealers and users) cannot rely on state certificates or even contracts - it's the spoken word that counts here. But it's like children playing Chinese whispers, resulting in many fantastical ideas being taken at face value in pothead circles. Some of these myths have been circulating for years or even decades, while others are more recent.
“Genetically modified zero-zero diluted with opium, with a THC content of 120%”
Given that cannabis has been virtually prohibited for almost one hundred years, this illegal plant is now enmeshed in a host of myths. Some of them centre around its cultivation, some around how it is further processed and many of them around its use. While decades of discussion mean that cannabis has been relatively well researched, the black market in particular (dealers and users) cannot rely on state certificates or even contracts – it’s the spoken word that counts here. But it’s like children playing Chinese whispers, resulting in many fantastical ideas being taken at face value in pothead circles. Some of these myths have been circulating for years or even decades, while others are more recent. Every time I hear preposterous stories like these, they send shivers down my spine – it just makes me cringe. Most of the tales from the cannabinoid realm of fantasy have a short half-life, but some obstinately persist right through to today. The text below is dedicated to finally getting these cock and bull stories out of the minds of certain ‘cannaseurs’.
1. Genetically modified weed
In recent years, there have been repeated rumours that new types of weed are genetically modified. This naturally arouses scepticism, particularly among traditional critics of genetic modification, many of whom are cannabis users. Politicians and prosecutors have deliberately spread this rumour to project existing fears about genetically modified food directly onto cannabis. Rumours do not generally start without some foundation, so I have looked into where this one began:
Genetic manipulation is defined as artificially modifying the genetic make-up. This comprises four acids – the building blocks of DNA. During genetic manipulation these acids are – put simply – ‘exchanged’ with each other to create a being with new characteristics. Tito Schiva and Saverio Alberti have been unique to-date in conducting such experiments, with a surprising result: cannabis is actually resistant to genetic manipulation according to the journal ‘Sonntagszeit’ issue no. 7, 17 February 2002 in an article entitled “Fluorescent Flowers”:
[…] The aim of the studies was originally to create standard cannabis which could reliably be differentiated from prohibited drug types. However cannabis, of all plants, proved to be resistant to genetic manipulation.
When questioned in 2009, Sabine Bätzing, former German Government Drugs Commissioner, admitted that the German investigative authorities has no knowledge of genetically manipulated weed. So who is behind the loose talk about genetically modified weed?
The blame lies with a toxic ornamental plant tuber that contains the alkaloid colchicine, or Autumn Crocus. Low doses of this highly toxic and carcinogenic alkaloid, which is a known spindle inhibitor, alleviate the symptoms of gout. However, colchicine also causes mutations in plants if their seeds are treated with it. During the 1980s, the German cult author Roland Rippchen reported on attempts by a few freaks to treat hemp seeds with colchicine. The survival rate for hemp seeds treated with colchicine is ten per cent. Some of the surviving plants are said to be more fertile. However, a mutation is not the same as genetic manipulation; in simple terms, the genes are doubled but not modified. This is therefore a spontaneously occurring mutation or a modification made to the genetic make-up, which we see happening all the time in nature (one of the best-known mutations is the blonde hair colour of North Europeans). The plant is now polyploid which means that it now has at least three complete chromosome sets whose DNA sequence remains unchanged however – unlike a genetically manipulated plant. Treatment with colchicine resulted in a new cereal variety being created as long as 60 years ago: Triticale is hybrid of wheat and rye that has been grown in Europe for decades as an animal feed and as a raw material for baked goods, beer and porridge. Since its discovery by botanists in 1934, the use of colchicine has become the most common method of creating polyploids and since the 1950s, it has been used with virtually all cultivated plants, including beets, various fodder plants, and even pansies.
However, the low survival rate of hemp seeds due to its nasty taste resulting from residual toxins in the first two generations, poor stability of the subsequent generations and, most particularly, the health hazards when used with the substance – which should not be under-estimated – have prevented the large scale spread of this method in the botanical underworld. However, unfortunately, just a few publications were enough to start a myth that is today often quoted in the argument against legalisation. The relatively high THC content of some varieties can be sustained only with natural selection, however.
2. Afghani mould
Ever since returning hippies in the 1970s started talking about an alleged speciality grown by Afghani cannabis farmers, the so-called ‘Afghani mould‘ has been seen as a particular and rare delicacy, especially among older users. In Afghanistan itself, no one would deliberately allow their crop to grow mouldy. ‘Afghani mould’ is probably just poorly stored, damp hashish that was foisted on unsuspecting commercial travellers. The fact is that mould should not be smoked.
3. Naked harvesting
Since as far back as the 1970s, the myth has persisted that in some countries, hashish is harvested by farmers whizzing naked across their fields, and then scraping the resin from their skin. Despite supposed eyewitness reports from Nepal or Kazakhstan, there is no photographic or film evidence of this. The method would also be a little hairy and not very effective because most of the resin would simply remain on the plant. Indian Charas may be rubbed from the flower by hand, but the rest of the body stays covered while the farmer is at work.
4. Opium, heroin or crystal meth as a diluent
Also since the 1970s, reports of weed or hashish diluted with opium, heroin, or more recently with crystal meth, have repeatedly been circulating. First of all, there is no evidence for this in the form of laboratory analyses, and secondly there would be no financial gain in diluting weed with substances that are more expensive than weed itself. Thirdly, most users would immediately change their source of supply, which is of course not in the interest of illegal cannabis dealers. It erodes their profits.
5. THC content has increased enormously since the 1970s
These days, we keep hearing that the THC content has increased enormously in recent years. However, the figures generally relate to ‘peak values’ from the official statistics – no significant increase has ever been recorded with respect to the total volume of cannabis seized and the hashish smoked in Europe up until the early 1990s was virtually all imported. Hashish is a concentrate and is generally just as strong as today’s indoor weed. The German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) and the European EU Drugs Monitoring Centre assume there have been finds with a high THC content in recent years, but no general increase has been observed. So much for the claim made by some old pot heads that ‘their joint was far less harmful’. Indeed, there is statistical evidence for Germany that the THC content has actually decreased since1997. In 2012, the German Federal Government Drugs Commissioner confirmed that
• the active ingredient content has decreased overall since 1997 rather than increased,
• there are no figures available from more than 30 years ago to allow comparison with the latest figures,
• only a short-term increase was recorded at the end of the 1990s.
However, even if weed has a high THC content, at the right dosage it is no more dangerous than weed that is not too potent, which brings us to the next myth about weed.
6. A high THC content is dangerous
In countries where cannabis flowers are legal for medicinal purposes, many patients prefer varieties with a high level of active ingredients. There is no danger of over-dosing because the THC content is precisely indicated. This means that patients need to smoke, eat or vaporise less plant material to achieve the desired effect. The active ingredient has nothing to do with the development of problematic consumption patterns. These are shaped by quite different factors such as the parental home, school and personality development. Opiate or opioid patients increase their dose more quickly and more often during the course of a treatment than cannabis patients, who alleviate their pain with highly potent varieties.
A dependency on wine does not develop more quickly than a dependency on beer: as with all substances, what matters is the total amount consumed. Safe cannabis use means being able to verify the active ingredient content, which is impossible in an uncontrolled black market.
In Morocco, hashish is sieved, with the quality indicated by the number of sieving processes. The first sieving is the best and depending on the farmer and the quality of the raw materials, the cannabis batches are sieved up to six times. This reduces the resin content but increases the plant content. During the final sieving process, a lot of pressure and heat is usually needed to get the hashish to stick. In Europe this is the well-known ‘standard leaf’ which first needs to be heated in order to crumble it.
Zero refers to zero sieving, i.e. what the farmer picks before the cannabis plant batch is sieved. To obtain this, he briefly bangs the batch against the edge of a bowl once or twice. The yield from this method is so low that it is enough only for personal use or at best for a few friends or acquaintances. Zero-Zero truly does mean 00 sieving, i.e. what falls off when the plant is briefly shaken once, without banging it against the edge of a bowl. This yields even less. Some farmers do sell their best non-sieved hashish, but the volumes produced are certainly not nearly sufficient to meet the volumes of Zero-Zero found in Dutch coffee shops alone. The really good varieties in the coffee shops are usually the result of the first, second or third sieving. After all, even hashish sieved three times is by far superior to most of the hashish sold in Europe.
8. You can smoke hydrangeas
The German media in particular keep reporting on alleged hydrangea thieves who, because of a lack of cannabis flowers, are ransacking front gardens in search of a replacement high. However hydrangea has no psychoactive effect; in the worst case you might get hydrogen cyanide poisoning, but not a high. And no cannabis lover has ever been caught in the act. The countless reports are all based on assumptions. This myth was started by a pharmaceutical magazine which to this day has failed to rectify its mistake. Most of the hydrangea thieves are squirrels.
9. The American constitution was written on hemp paper
Neither the constitution nor the Declaration of Independence or even the Bill of Rights were written on hemp paper. While the drafts of these three historical documents may have been written on hemp paper, which was widely available at the time, the actual charters were not. They were all set out on vellum, a type of fine parchment (lat. levior membrana) made from calfskin and calf foetuses. While we’re on the subject, the first jeans made by Levi’s were not made from hemp either, but from cotton. The Italian denim material used to produce the first jeans was made from cotton. Denim can be made from hemp as well, but at the time, Strauss used cotton from Genoa.
10. The flashback
We keep reading that it’s possible to get high without smoking cannabis first. THC that is not used up supposedly deposits itself in fat cells and is returned to the bloodstream when you sweat or lose weight. However during physical exertion, as well as the body’s own opiates, the cannabinoid anandamide is released which contributes to the so-called ‘runner’s high’.
In addition to these 10 ‘top myths’, there is plenty of further ignorance and half-truths surrounding this illegal plant: there has never been a Lucky Strike or Marlboro cigarette with cannabis and neither did Bruce Lee die from using weed.
I would love to know your own totally personal highlight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Perhaps then together, we will get to the truth.