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Drugs & Health Blog

Can It Be Bad If It’s Natural?

This blog post is archived and is no longer being updated. For the latest content, please visit the main Drugs & Health Blog page.
Eric Wargo, NIDA Science Writer

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

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

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.

A brief history of tobacco

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.”

Natural does not equal safe

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 posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


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.
Hey, are you dumb? People naturally grow marijuana. It helps with cancer, seizures and the list can go on. Have you even done any research on it or are you merely going off your fabricated opinion? It has so many medical uses. You can make it into lotion for arthritis and swelling. How do you figure it has chemicals? Unless you're getting the wrong weed or your informational source is lying to you.
I went online to research marijuana for my senior speech I have to write and when I stumbled on to this page I thought the writer was ignorant. Marijuana is natural. They do not alter cannabis with any chemicals whereas tobacco they put over 200 different chemicals inside. People need to do more research before posting their opinions on websites.
It is still early stages to conclude anything about the efficacy and safety of using Marijuana for arthritis pain, but anecdotal evidence exists. However, more research needs to be done.
THC... the substance in marijuana that gets you high = chemical
Water is a chemical too, so what's your point?
A lot of sources like scientists lie about things like this because of either their own opinion or they are being payed too
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.
The Marijuana that is 20 and 30 percent is Dangerous ,I have seen several people get SSI (social security benefits) at 19 then smoke so much look this up (BIOengineered Marihuana)that is not organic drugs and several harmful like Colchicine (for bout in humans)will make one plant act like 2 the plant gets fooled and you build up from Colchicine to many other Bio Engineered drugs fior Marijuana . In the 60s and 70s home grown was ok maybe 10 or 12 percent but 6 or 7 was considered good Watching ex friends that started out pretending they were mentally ill are now ending up in Hospital and not leaving their room (well pot )unless its to get more pot or Mountain Dew. Their intelligence is greatly impeded ,Beer isnt good for you either . The people coming into this country get good grades no drugs (at least the daughters do) In 50 years the great white man will be hiding from physical addiction from Pot begging the people who didnt come over here by Plymouth Rock they will be gone in the gutter begging for pot - Na Ta Hey Na Ta Hey - the Great spirit reaches out for the Dope heads making good money ,I wonder how long their legs will work in the future. Pot is paying those who took our land away from us final Justice Na Ta Hey
This whole article tells facts about tobacco but then tries to compare it to Marijuana. Yes smoking in any type is bad for you, but at the same time I know the real reason marijuana is looked down on and that is because if it's healing abilities. no patent equals no money. Prescription drugs are the main reason behind the way people look down on this natural medicine herb that Yah left us here on this planet. America isn't anything but a money consuming country that is going under as we are speaking. Poor studies that was conducted in the 1970s is also a major reason people think marijuana kills brain cells, haha. Let's tell the true statistics on marijuana.
People use the term natural because they want to fool themselves and try to convince others and rationalize their drug use, they say since its a plant it's ok .. Many plants in the wild can kill you. The human brain and body is a marvelous creation. People don't need recreational drugs to be happy. I know, I abused drugs all my life and now I do not, I am much happier now that I don't.
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.

Marijuana is bio-engineered to get 30% THC out of it nothing natural Im not mentioning the names of the synthetic drugs they use because Im sure everyone wants the 30% more than natures 5 yo 12 per cent it is sad watching people lose there memories ,become mentally ill especially the paranoia that comes with such high rates of THC , Its a pity they didnt leave a product now in its natural state . Im afraid to say what has been found in some pot but you should look if you care about your Neurology .Im not going to be around to see how the younger people fare but Im sorry for them
Actually, it's not all that difficult to grow cannabis that's 20%+ THC. It doesn't require any "bio-engineering", or crazy chemicals. As a matter of fact, there are many of us that have access to organic cannabis. You see, in the 60s and 70s, some pot growers, while experimenting with small crops indoors, had already realized that the production of cannabinoids in the female cannabis plant increases upon separation from the males. They called it "sensimilla", which is spanish for seedless. Without males nearby, the females are thirsty for male stimuli. They can't produce seed, and in turn, they start pumping more energy into the production of the oils that contain the cannabinoids. Now, most people in the 60s and 70s were still growing pot outdoors in big fields, where male and female were both left alone until harvest. Of course, 5 - 12% THC was the most you would see from these crops. We still have access to weak outdoor cannabis like that, but it comes primarily from the cartels via the black market, and it's often adulterated with various things that are horrible for the end user. Also, it's really difficult to maintain good, potent, seedless cannabis on a massive scale. So, what I'm trying to say is that it's a good thing we have potent, homegrown cannabis so readily available. It takes less to get the desired effect, it's likely unadulterated, and it's not grown by a criminal organization. Please don't accept ignorance and misinformation. Just my two cents..
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
Business people think differently. Their goal is to make profit so they will do anything possible to increase profit including stuffing the cigarette with inert look alike plants
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]
No evidence for gateway drug theory at all. Do you know anything about science or statistics? Basic thing you learn is correlation does not equal causation.
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.
you are correct used medicinally it can give hope but recreationally it can send you to the hospital
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.


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:

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:

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:

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.

Stop imposing your fascist government will upon unsuspecting internet users and tell them the truth, both sides of the story instead of this faux state media junk. Your poorly assembled and highly biased articles are the only thing damaging young peoples minds here. Take it from me, a brain cancer patient and marijuana smoker of more than 10 years (which means I started when I was twelve) MARIJUANA HAS LITTLE TO NONE in the way of negative side effects. Sure paranoia can set in, but perhaps I we weren't restricted to live in a world where we constantly would have to watch over our shoulder if we simply wish to relieve our pain. This gov't and its absurd stance on marijuana needs to be broken apart and re assembled to tell the truth, our tax dollars pay for ridiculous articles such as this one; an utter waste of taxpayer money to misinform aforementioned taxpayers. This article makes me sick, as does the writer. Go out in the world and learn something instead of eating what your fed. Maybe you should check to see if they've laced your food with the evil marihuana, after all, those pot junkies are everywhere trying to get kids to take bong injections straight into their toes.
Hahahahaahahhahah-a-a-a-a-a-h....-- (Deep, sharp recovery-breath, bc my lungs are EMPTY from the epic belly-laugh that resulted from your Priceless®™ satirical closing statement....) **Subsequent slow, easy sigh of appreciation for someone who takes the time to share Pure Comedic GOLD ®™ with strangers** :-)
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.


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