NIDA for Teens: The Science Behind Drug Abuse
Find NIDA for Teens on: NIDAnews on Twitter NIDANIH on YouTube NIDANIH on Facebook

Can It Be Bad If It’s Natural?

Eric Wargo, NIDA Science Writer
March 26, 2013

“Marijuana is natural, so how can it be harmful?”

Lots of teens ask us this question, and it’s a good one—a great question, in fact.

People often think that substances found in nature are automatically safer than chemicals that are made in a laboratory or a factory. It’s not that simple, unfortunately. Lots of beneficial substances are human made (medicines, for example), and lots of harmful ones come straight from the earth.

Tobacco is a great example. Like marijuana, tobacco is a plant whose leaves have been dried, crumbled, and smoked for thousands of years. It was used in religious rituals by Native Americans, who believed that exhaling tobacco smoke carried their thoughts and prayers to heaven; they also believed it possessed medicinal properties.

Once American settlers began growing the crop and exporting it to Europe and the rest of the world, tobacco enjoyed a reputation kind of like marijuana does today: Some monarchs and religious leaders thought it was unhealthy and morally corrupt and tried to ban it; but lots of people enjoyed the “precious weed” and sided with the physicians of the time, who actually praised its healing virtues—claiming that smoking tobacco could cure most forms of sickness and even protect a person from getting the plague!

It wasn’t until around the 1950s that modern medicine, armed with better science, established the truth about smoking tobacco—it can cause diseases like lung cancer and it is highly addictive. No one would now argue that tobacco is safe, let alone good for you. But it is “natural.”

Marketers of foods and other products use the “natural equals good for you” assumption all the time to manipulate people’s buying behavior. For instance, when shoppers see the “All Natural” label on a food, they tend to think it’s good for them even if it contains lots of unhealthy sugar or fat—both of which are, like tobacco, “natural.”

We still don’t know whether smoking marijuana causes lung cancer like tobacco does, but strong evidence shows that it does other bad stuff: It interferes with thinking and memory, it can lower your IQ if you smoke it regularly in your teen years, and—as a result of these and other things—it can set you up to miss achieving your full potential in life.

Is a “natural” way to hurt your brain any better than an unnatural one?

Eric Wargo is a science writer at NIDA. Before coming to NIDA, he wrote for an association of psychological scientists, people who study all aspects of the mind and human behavior. He is excited to work at NIDA, because NIDA scientists study the brain, and the brain is at the root of everything we humans do.

Comments

It has to be noted that no mention was made of the changes in production that have made tobacco worse for consumption than when it is found in its natural state. This is a biased argument that has willfully omitted relevant information in the hopes that an illogical argument would/could be perceived as logical. The parallel is flawed. Epic fail.
Seems to me they were talking about both in their natural state in which their argument makes sense. As in tobacco without any chemicals in it (not the packaged cigarets). The marijuana now days has probably as many chemicals in it as tobacco does. I don't either one is good for human consumption yet, the chemicals that are in tobacco we are fully aware of. Unlike the chemicals in marijuana which people are still experimenting with, so to make a comparison on tobacco cigarets and the marijuana of today would be difficult.
I agree, some info is missing here.. ie: the chemicals that go into tabaco withich make it toxic. But the fact is, not everything from the earth (ie:natural) is good for you. There are plenty of poisionous plants and substances that are produced naturally.. so the arugment isn't flawed by any means. Many pants are not just harmful, but even deadly.... so "hey it's natural, it can't be bad" just dosen't cut it. Tabaco in this case was used as an example (albeit not a great one here for this article) So the topic of the Article is more the point here than tabaco in it's natural state etc.
how meany diffrent kinds of pot plants are there

Hi bal,

Good question. There are three species of Cannabis plants—Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. Most marijuana comes from Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica plants, but all three varieties contain THC (the active chemical). But growers are able to create hybrids (crosses between two species) to change THC content or flavor, for example, so there are many, many different varieties grown in the world today.
 

what is better to smoke weed or cig's

Hi Ben,
It is hard to compare drugs and say which ones are better or worse for you, because different people react differently to them, and they have different effects. Both marijuana and cigarette tobacco are harmful, but in different ways. Cigarette smoke damages the lungs and leads to serious diseases including heart disease and cancer. It is still unknown whether marijuana smoke can cause cancer, but marijuana is seriously harmful to the brain, especially when it is used during adolescence, when your brain is still developing. So the short answer is, stay away from both cigarettes and marijuana.
 

It's like saying... is it better to drink beer or wine. Either one can develop the habit or addiction and both have health consequences.
Mikey you have an excellent piont! The health risks in BOTH alcohol beverages is high and they get you drunk if u abuse them. If you want to get technical also...they are both "natural" in some sense also. Grapes and grains. Natural products grown from the soil of the earth yet you drink too much and you face the consequences.
I still don't get it. Why won't they ban Marijuana altogether? It's already takened over the American population. Kids ages 12-18 are already smoking this horrid substance and yet they say "Oh, It's not so bad. Here, have a smoke.'' It sickens me. Why do we even have in the world? Medical Marijuana is being abused also. Can we Ban it ALTOGETHER!?!?
why would you need to change the tobacco at all with it being as strong as it is when it comes off of the plant. i think this completly logica
Completely agree with this article. Once again, society and the media (even most social media) downplays the risks of marijuana. Not only does it seem acceptable because a large amount of people are doing it, the 'gateway' aspect of marijuana is severely understated and played. I have far too many friends who have started with weed and progressed to cocaine and heroin. a good site about more detrimental effects of marijuana are in this article too for anyone who is interested [link removed, per guidelines]
Completely agree with this article. Once again, society and the media (even most social media) downplays the risks of marijuana. Not only does it seem acceptable because a large amount of people are doing it, the 'gateway' aspect of marijuana is severely understated and played. I have far too many friends who have started with weed and progressed to cocaine and heroin. a good site about more detrimental effects of marijuana are in this article too for anyone who is interested: [link removed, per guidelines]
Very good information thanks a lot for sharing with us !! [commercial link removed, per guidelines]
You forget that the picture is much BIGGER than that. There are verified studies that prove marijuana has relaxing and hunger-drive and pain relieving properties when administered for patients with moderate to severe symptoms, for those patients, after all its a PERSONAL CHOICE.On another hand, the drug itself is mass produced in all other countries on the planet with other types of properties and methods of uses. Unfortunately for the U.S., we must send out the Coast Guard to prevent shipments from leaving or entering, after all, marijuana is the PLANET'S most abused drug that CARTELS push for MONEY. A simple ban wont scare them, and national guard or the police will not risk an all out drug war with other countries. Now, you have the teen issue. Dont do it, if you try it then its on you and if you continue, then one day youll stop or continue to the next high and so forth. Go to scol, talk to your parents and be a good person. Travel the world and make your name mean something. OUT
Your very right, to be unbias here there has been studies that say there are some benefits for those who show certain symtoms of how marijuana can help, but it's very similar to mediciane in general. There is nothing out there that fixes one thing without giving other side effects/problems. So could it help those in pain? It could, but it will also have other conequenses, some of which we don't know as of yet. So to someone with Cancer, it's a decjison of the better of two evils i guess.
Weed can be good and bad for the body. The only way it could be good is a pain reliever for cancer patients and other sicknesses. It can also be bad because it can ruin your career, life, even your future dreams. I'm 13 years old and my ex-girlfriend's step-brother offered us weed when we where studying. I refused immediately, but my girlfriend was hesitant. I whispered in her ear that it will destroy your dreams of being a superstar. She refused, just like I did. Her step brother, just shrugged and started smoking his weed. He later was in an accident because he was high, and texting while driving with his friends. He was severely injured, he had a major concussion, a broken arm, and a cracked rib. From that day on, he never smoked weed again. Moral of the story; Some people just wait for the worst to come, like he did. And then their are others, like his friends (who also smoked weed) did. I guess that was their wake up call. None of those 3 kids have ever gotten near weed since.
The Article was good.Thanks for sharing fabulous information. [commercial link removed, per guidelines]
That is quite true.
just because it originates from a plant doesnt make it ok to use. i think its good that kids are being educated about this at a young age because some people may honestly think that because its a plant its automatically good.
soo true but it does releive pain fotr people that have alot of pain
If they still do not know whether or not that marijuana can cause lung cancer, etc, they should at least do some type of an experiment to prove if it is truly bad or not. Some states have legalized it, because it is probably better for you than tobacco. Unlike tobacco, marijuana doesn't contain nicotine in it, therefore, causing people to not have addiction. There is just not enough information to back this blog up.

@Annaleigh

While this blog discusses the narrow topic of whether natural products can be harmful, NIDA support a vast body of research on how marijuana and other drugs impact the brain and body. Through this research we continue to learn new things about the effects of marijuana and other drugs.

For more information about what NIDA does know about the impact of marijuana and tobacco on the brain and body please visit the NIDA for Teens Drug Facts pages:

Additional information about current research being conducted to learn about these drugs can be found on the main NIDA site: http://www.drugabuse.gov

By only studying "drug abuse", isn't the NIDA automatically putting a bias into their research on marijuana? How about studying the many medicinal uses of marijuana, or it's effect on spirituality or creativity?

@Walter Storrs

As stated in its mission, NIDA focuses its research on drug abuse and addiction.  Other institutes, such as the National Cancer Institute, are exploring possible medical uses for marijuana. Some studies have indicated that THC may help with specific side effects of cancer and cancer therapies such as nausea and vomiting, stimulating appetite, and pain relief.  However, research also shows that marijuana can have negative effects on the brain and body. For more detailed information on the negative effects of marijuana visit: http://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/marijuana.

For more detailed information about the possible medical uses of THC in relation to cancer you can visit the National Cancer Institute and their information about cannabis and cannabinoids: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/cam/cannabis/patient/page2.

It is important to note that NIDA does research and does NOT create policy. Marijuana continues to be illegal federally and in many states. The FDA has not approved marijuana for medical use, but has approved two cannabinoids (dronabinol and nabilone) for the treatment of chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting in patients who have not responded to standard therapy.

I agree that marijuana is definitely a bad natural substance, and should be illegal all over the world. It might be used for medicinal purposes, but what else is it going to stuff up in your body and is it really worth it? With natural or chemical substances it really depends on wether or not the substance is bad for you. It doesn't matter if its natural because it could be harmful, or if its a chemical substance it doesn't necessarily mean that it's bad for you.
Just because Marijuana is from a natural plant doesn't mean that it isn't harmful, not everything that is natural is good for you.Many natural plants are not just harmful but can also be deadly so just because its natural, doesn't mean that it isn't bad for you.For example tabaco is from a natural plant also and can cause lung cancer or even death so doesn't mean because its natural its good for you.
To me marijuana is a very bad substance, it was thought that because the substance was natural it wouldn't harm anyone, but this is incorrect. It has been proven that smoking or consuming marijuana can lower IQ levels. However the active substance in marijuana THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) is not unknown for its uses of relieving pain, reducing aggression and reducing stress. To conclude i think marijuana should only be used in Australia for medicinal purposes.
i love this page
When people 420 blaze they damage their lungs
As humans we are attrracted to things we arent allowed to use thats why we smoke weed.
saying that it is OK for you because its off a plant is an incorrect statement.... if someone asked you to smoke a leaf off a tree you would think they a crazy and wouldn't do it..its the same thing with marijuana but worse... you think its just the plant but by the time you get it to smoke it is full of chemicals for example it has tar in it to make sure it doesn't bur quickly and when the plant is growing they put pesticides on it to stop insects eating so its not just nature... i believe it should be illegal in ever country.. just have a think before you make statements that it is ok because its natural when it is DEFINITELY not!
Users of marijuana should not be tricked. Just because it is a natural substance, that does not mean it is good for you. Not all natural things are good anyway, for example, leaves fresh from a tree, would you eat that? Would you eat grass? Would you eat tree bark? Would you eat weeds? I know I wouldn't. So I really don't see why anyone would think that just because marijuana is natural that it is good for you.
I agree that marijuana is very bad and should be illegal, although not everything natural is good for you. Many plants which are grown can be poisonous like wild berries, tobacco and marijuana. Just because something is natural doesn't mean its always good for you, in fact a lot of the times its bad for you.
Even though marijuana is a natural resource, it is important to know the consequences of consuming it. Because of its highly dangerous effects on our brain and many of our vital organs, it is important to be educated about its risks and be aware of the harm it can do to our bodies. I hope that in the future, we will have many more people educated about marijuana, to prevent people from making a life-threatening decision.
I agree that marijuana is bad for your health. I can see it's usefulness for medicinal purposes, but if it was legalized it would be too easy for it to be abused. There is plenty of medication in the world today to help with many medical issues, so why do people want to legalize something they know is harmful to them? There are always people who want to use things for their own personal gain, and legalized marijuana would just be another thing to add to their lists. Drug abuse is one thing, another would be the tyranny brought by companies looking to sell the addictive substance to addicted users; just like tobacco. Why not just leave sleeping dogs lay and keep marijuana banned?
just because a plant is natural, doesnt mean its good for you. Tobacco and marijuana do not heal, or make anything better. It's like saying that tobacco is a cure for everything yet it gives you cancer.. Marijuana may cure you, but on the other hand, it also affects you in some way just like tobacco does.
Can it be bad for you if its natural? This is quite a strong statement/question, which made me think twice about the subject. So can it be bad if its natural? After reading this article I believe so, it is quite a serious subject to discuss and I think it is great that we are being exposed to these areas of learning at such a young age, this information can be most beneficial for us from this age forward. Marijuana is a terrible drug which should be taken more seriously, it can cause all sorts of consequences such as long term damage to the brain and lower your iQ levels. it is also most definitely not ALL natural, marijuana is a plant that causes a chemical reaction to the body giving the person which inhaled it a "high", and although its grown in the ground, it is often sprayed with pesticides to prevent bugs from getting to it. After that, in some cases people use their bath tub to add extra chemicals such as bleach and rat poison! Not to mention all the other harmful substances added. After knowing this, do you still want to smoke it, to be inhaling all of these things and more? I sure wouldn't be. Marijuana is a very misleading drug and many mistake it for being better for you because it's grown naturally, but clearly it is just as harmful as every other drug, and should not be taken lightly.
i agree that marijuana is very bad for you and it should be illegal. it is a drug that causes brain damage and you have to be a pretty stupid person to take it. even if its natural, its a natural POISON !
I agree that marijuana is a very bad substance so therefore it should be illegal all around the world. Don't be fooled because when something is natural, it doesn't always necessarily mean it's good for you, in fact a lot of the times is bad for your health. Is it really worth putting your body at risk with all the dangers such as lowering your IQ, making it difficult for you to recall recent events and contains the dangerous chemical called THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol).
If it is natural then it can't be that bad because people use it to relieve the pain off a cancer patient,and it also kills cancer cells

@Zach R Even if marijuana makes a person feel better, it doesn’t mean it is good for them. Not only are they treating their pain symptoms at the expense of their mental functioning, they are exposing themselves to long-term health risks, including addiction. If they are an adolescent, they could permanently be lowering their IQ. Contrary to what many people say, marijuana is not medicine. Getting insurance and real medical treatment for their condition is the best alternative.

For more information about marijuana for medical use visit: http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana-medicine.

In my opinion marijuana is a very un natural, and a bad thing to get attached and addicted too. Although you cant help it, it is not something you can control. Although it can be treated.
you guys are so ignorant. you all say that weed is bad for you but yet it has its medical uses. unlike alchohol and tabacco they cause cancer and sclerosis in the liver. have you seen weed do that to somene? no, but i bet you guys can see marijuanna help prevent glaucoma and relieve pain for cancer victims. i beleive marijuanna should be legal all over the worl medically but not for reacreation...

Add new comment