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Are Medical Marijuana Claims Made in Reggae Songs True?

Weed, it's the healing of the nation. At least, according to dozens of reggae songs. 

From tuberculosis to epilepsy, ganja has been touted as a cure-all by toasters and DJs for decades. And since Friday is that day of the year when undergrads and other smelly demographics with nothing to do in the afternoon gather in quads to smoke blunts the size of baseball bats, we figured it would be timely to examine the veracity of various claims made in reggae songs on the benefits of getting high.  

Artist: Pato Banton

Song: Legalize It

The claim: Pato rattles off an impressive litany of ailments that sensi can cure, and the fact that he's dressed as a doctor and barrister in the video lends a hilarious sense of credibility. Among the more specific claims made in the song is that weed can block epileptic seizures. 

Is it true? The benefits of marijuana on seizures are debatable, as is the case with many ailments, though there are several published studies indicating that cannabinoids do have anticonvulsant properties. A 2007 study in Reviews in Neurological Diseases detailed the case of a 45-year-old man with cerebral palsy and epilepsy who reported "marked improvement" in these conditions with the use of marijuana. The authors concluded that "marijuana use may be a beneficial adjunctive treatment" for epilepsy, though further studies are needed. 

Artist: Peter Tosh

Song: Legalize It

The claim: Arguably the most iconic weed song ever created, "Legalize It" boasts of numerous health benefits associated with giant spliffs. The one claim that stands out is Tosh's assertion that weed is "good for tuberculosis."

Is it true? Not likely. While researchers have explored the antibacterial properties of cannabis, there's a bigger problem with Tosh's claim: Several outbreaks of tuberculosis have been linked to communal smoking activities. In July 2006, the CDC reported that a string of TB cases among friends in Washington were linked to "illicit drug-related activities." The researchers even went so far as to explain that the "behavior of 'hotboxing' (smoking marijuana inside a closed car to repeatedly inhale exhaled smoke) fueled transmission." Props to the CDC for defining hotboxing so precisely. More recently, a bunch of kids in Australia came down with TB after sharing a bong.  

Artist: Richie Spice 

Song: Marijuana 

The claim: Richie Spice is pretty blunt. First, just look at the name of this song. Then he keeps it simple and declares that not only does weed keep him calm but it also makes him smarter. 

Is it true? This would have been so much easier to answer had Spice been more specific and said something like "it enhances my semantic priming capabilities" or "improves my performance on remote associated tests." A Wired article from 2011 combed through numerous studies on whether marijuana makes you stupid, and the takeaway is that it sort of does, but only for short periods of time and causes no lasting effects. The ill effects of a few joints on your cognitive abilities disappear in about four weeks. 

Artist: Jacob Miller

Song: Healing of the Nation

The claim: The name of the track makes it seem like Miller is just going to be tossing out blanket claims that marijuana is the answer to all of life's problem. But he's rather specific when discussing the therapeutic upside of weed, suggesting that it can cure asthma.  

Is it true? The effects of THC on breathing have long been studied. In the 1970s, the New England Journal of Medicine published an article indicating that weed smoke induced bronchodilation, meaning that it opens up the airways. This finding has been confirmed in numerous studies, but some researchers say the short-term gain of opening up the airways isn't worth the long-term damage that comes with sucking in lung fulls of smoke. Other studies suggest that any benefit will vary person to person.

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Chris Sweeney

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