cannabis

Corporate media are once again creating scary headlines about the supposed dangers of cannabis — and, as usual, their hype amounts to the proverbial ‘nothingburger.’

CNN recently blared the headline: “133% leap in children admitted to ER for marijuana, study finds.” The article referred to a study in France of children under six being admitted to the ER for cannabis ingestion over an 11-year period, as well as the number of calls to poison control centers.

“From 2004 to 2014, 235 children were admitted to ERs with cannabis intoxication, and there was a 133% increase in the admissions rate for it. The number of calls to poison control centers related to cannabis exposure in children increased by 312% in the same period.”

This represents an average of 21 children every year going to the ER, in a country with a population of 66 million people. This is not to downplay the danger of a child becoming temporarily comatose after eating a piece of hash. However, the rate of occurrence is so low that it does not warrant fear-mongering. Nor does it justify halting the progress toward freedom to use a plant people have known for thousands of years.

France’s population was about 61 million in 2004 at the beginning of the study timeline, growing to 65 million in 2014 — meaning that we would expect more ER visits and poison control center calls with more population growth. But CNN makes no mention of a statistical correction for population growth.

Parents should do all they can to keep any kind of psychoactive substance or drug out of the hands of children, but the actual numbers relating to cannabis do not justify being trumpeted as fodder for prohibitionist paranoia.

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Cannabis remains illegal in France, so any uptick in ER visits there – regardless of degree – have no relevance to legalization efforts in the U.S. and elsewhere.

In a legal framework, cannabis products are more likely to be packaged to deter accidental ingestion, and manufacturers are putting more effort into this. Unsafe, nondescript packaging is another dangerous product of the black market, caused by prohibition.

The ominous tone of CNN’s article is even more absurd when we consider that other common household items pose a far greater threat to children – including crayons, diaper paste, toothpaste and energy drinks.

If the MSM wants to make people aware of real dangers, it should focus on that fact that 160 children go to the ER every day after accidentally overdosing on prescription drugs, pain relievers or vitamins. That’s 60,000 kids every year.

Risk of cardiovascular death in adults?

Last week, media seized on a study linking cannabis use to an increased risk of death from hypertension. One site even suggested “Marijuana ‘may be worse than cigarettes for cardiovascular health’” in its headline.

The study, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, did not rely on any clinical or experimental research. It was simply a comparison of data from the 2005 U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, and mortality data from 2011 for the same group of people.

Authors looked at who said they had “ever used” cannabis from the 2005 study, then compared their mortality to those who said they had never used cannabis. They controlled for high blood pressure but did not take into account diet and exercise. They also assumed “that those who said they had used marijuana in 2005 continued to do so,” and that most of the pot was smoked.

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Hardly a model of scientific rigor.

As Paul Armentano of NORML wrote:

“Those participants who fessed up to having engaged in past pot use were then automatically classified by the study’s researchers as current users of the drug, despite the fact that no evidence exists to corroborate this claim.

Even more problematically, to calculate the estimated duration of each subject’s marijuana use, researchers simply subtracted the age participants first reported trying pot from their current age.”

Armentano goes on to reference other, more comprehensive longitudinal studies contradicting the alleged link between cannabis use and declined cardiovascular health. Somehow these studies didn’t bear mentioning in other media articles.

If it weren’t enough to stigmatize cannabis with non-existent health risks, MSM attempted to negate one of the main benefits of medical cannabis — in contradiction of the scientific consensus.

Reuters, Fox, CNN, CBS and others ran the headline: “Little evidence shows cannabis helps chronic pain or PTSD.” They relied on two research reviews from the Veterans Health  Administration, which has been under heavy pressure to allow medical cannabis to be prescribed for treatment of chronic pain and PTSD.

It’s probably no coincidence that the VA is now being directed by an executive full of virulent drug warriors stuck in the 1950s. The VA press secretary wouldn’t even tell reporters who the lead authors of the study were.

Somehow these mysterious VA researchers came to a different conclusion than the National Academy of Sciences, which performed an exhaustive study of the research research and published their findings earlier this year.

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According to the NAS report:

“One of the therapeutic uses of cannabis and cannabinoids is to treat chronic pain in adults. The committee found evidence to support that patients who were treated with cannabis or cannabinoids were more likely to experience a significant reduction in pain symptoms.”

Corporate media may claim they are doing their due diligence in reporting on dubious studies, but instead of providing context or proper analysis they simply craft a misleading headline. In doing so, MSM allows those with vested interests in prohibition to keep on spouting disinformation.

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Justin Gardner is a peaceful free-thinker with a background in the biological sciences. He is interested in bringing rationality back into the national discourse, and independent journalism as a challenge to the status quo.