Five Ways D.A.R.E. Tried to Fool You When You Were A Kid

July 21st 2015

D.A.R.E., the program started in the 1980s that taught kids to avoid drugs, has gotten a lot of things wrong about drugs. That incudes the idea that acid flashbacks will haunt you for the rest of your life. But decades later, perhaps D.A.R.E.'s most glaring failure have been its criticism of marijuana, which have mostly been debunked. At the time, President Ronald Reagan may have thought he was helping the health of the country when he and his wife Nancy championed the program, and notwithstanding what some critics have called more nefarious motives, the program was predominately considered a failure and spread a lot of misinformation.

Though D.A.R.E. has largely abandoned its focus on marijuana as a major issue, the falsehoods it continues to spread remain in the popular conscience. 


1. Myth: Marijuana is more dangerous than alcohol

D.A.R.E. is no stranger to hyperbole. The organization is constantly invoking the, "What about the children!?" argument and similar passionate pleas for people to avoid marijuana, while often citing sparse research that doesn't conclusively back up its opinions. As recently as 2014, the organization circulated research indicating that driving while high is comparable to driving drunk. Now, no one is saying it's a good idea to drive after smoking a lot of marijuana, but evidence suggests it is indeed safer than driving drunk as ATTN: has previously reported. A recent report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found marijuana users are significantly less likely to cause a wreck than people who regularly consume alcohol. 

In terms of health, D.A.R.E. would like people to believe marijuana is slowly killing them from the inside. D.A.R.E. claims marijuana smoke contains "50% more carcinogens than tobacco smoke." To the contrary, several studies, including one published last year in the International Journal of Cancer, have found no correlation between marijuana smoking and lung cancer. Marijuana can also be vaporized or consumed in drinks and food, which would remove almost any chance of it affecting the lungs like tobacco can. D.A.R.E. has also associated marijuana use with several deaths in Colorado, citing overly strong edibles, but we've already explained that's not true.


2. Myth: Marijuana is a gateway drug

"Marijuana a risky gateway drug, experts say," D.A.R.E. published last year. Nope. The mistake D.A.R.E. has made here is the difference between causation and correlation. Yes, people who have tried marijuana are often the ones who try other drugs, but that doesn't mean people who try marijuana automatically desire other drugs. It's strictly about the concept that people who are likely to try marijuana, the ones who are predisposed to experimentation and can easily access marijuana, are also the ones who are likely to want to try other drugs.

Unfortunately for D.A.R.E., several studies have found most marijuana users don't move on to harder drugs. Even the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which is a federal government agency that largely exists to warn people about drugs, has said "most people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, 'harder' substances." The gateway theory is simply not true.


3. Myth: Marijuana kills brain cells/lowers IQ

Many marijuana users are offended by this claim, I'm sure. D.A.R.E. has often claimed marijuana use is associated with the death of brain cells and an IQ drop. These statements are also problematic. With the IQ bit, what we have here is D.A.R.E. once again confusing causation and correlation. One major study that is often cited to back up the IQ idea is a Duke University study based on a small town in New Zealand where researchers did interviews and IQ tests of people from ages 13 to 38. They found the participants who tried marijuana at a young age tended to have an average IQ that was eight points lower than the ones who didn't. However, a separate analysis the following year found the people with lower IQs were typically from less wealthy families, which meant they were likely involved in less mentally challenging careers and activities, which could provide the same result.

As for brain cells, several studies have found there is no connection between marijuana and loss of brain cells, which can't be said for alcohol users. Beyond that, a 2014 study from Australian scientists found marijuana use may be associated with the creation of brain cells and cell growth.


4. Myth: Marijuana is highly addictive

"Cannabis as addictive as heroin, major new study finds," D.A.R.E. published last year. Really? According to the Mayo Clinic, the largest nonprofit medical group in the world, marijuana is significantly less addictive than heroin, cocaine, nicotine and alcohol. It has been found that around 9 percent of marijuana users can become addicted to marijuana, but this addiction is often said to be psychological, as opposed to a physical addiction like people can get from heroin. Most Americans actually think sugar is more of a health concern than marijuana, according to a poll from last year. There's a reason you've never seen someone convulsing on the floor in a cold sweat because they can't find some weed.


5. Myth: Marijuana makes people crazy

Last year, D.A.R.E. posted a Wall Street Journal article claiming marijuana "increases the incidence of anxiety, depression and schizophrenia, and it can trigger acute psychotic episodes." This topic is highly complicated and should not be simplified in such a way. Yes, certain people who are predisposed to schizophrenia can be triggered by smoking too much marijuana, but that doesn't mean it creates such an illness out of thin air. Yes, some people get anxious when they smoke. Marijuana isn't for everyone, especially if someone has certain psychological disorders, and determining which strain of cannabis is best for each person's needs is also important for people having a good experience when they smoke. That being said, it's extremely unlikely anyone will go on a killing spree after smoking a joint.

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