Legitimacy vs. Sensationalism: The Spectrum of Cannabis News Reporting


Recently we discussed the current status of cannabis research following the Federal Health Agency’s indictment of the plant’s Schedule I status as the cause of what the FHA deems ‘slow’ progress in this area. In fact, the number of small studies being published and making headlines in major publications is actually growing quite rapidly as more states legalize cannabis use. While this is great news for cannabis research at large, there are some risks associated with coverage of these studies, not the least of which is the media’s tendency to misconstrue or generalize results without providing the context needed for readers to fully understand the implications of study findings.

Correlation Does Not Imply Causation

As the number of legal cannabis users in the U.S. continues to rise, so too does interest in all things cannabis, so much so that longstanding publications like Entrepreneur have invested in launching new, cannabis-focused offshoots of their brand (in this case, Green Entrepreneur). In our always-on media environment, publishers are in constant competition for consumer attention, which ultimately forces them to compete with one another to see who can publish coverage of breaking news or new research first. With this in mind, it’s no wonder that many of the articles on cannabis research studies address only the most sensational findings without taking the time to provide the context necessary to actually inform readers in a responsible and beneficial manner.

Perhaps one of the most egregious examples of a major media outlet proliferating misinformation about cannabis use was published by The Wall Street Journal late last year in the form of an op-ed titled “Marijuana Is More Dangerous Than You Think.” Written by former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson, this opinion piece claims that cannabis use, whether medicinal or recreational, can cause or increase rates of mental illness and violent crime. Unfortunately, these claims are largely unfounded and rely on generalizations and correlation of data. And as any good statistics student knows, just because two things may appear related doesn’t mean that one causes the other, or vice versa.

Not All Reporting is Bad Reporting

One positive example of a news outlet being responsible in reporting on a cannabis research study was published by CNN this week. CNN’s Health & Medical reporter Susan Scutti discusses a new study that examines the rates of sedation needed for cannabis users undergoing medical procedures. Conducted by researchers at Community Hospital in Grand Junction, CO and published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, the study found that patients who reported smoking cannabis or using cannabis edibles on a daily or weekly basis required higher levels of sedation during medical procedures; specifically, 14% more fentanyl, 20% more midazolam, and 220% more propofol was required to achieve “optimum sedation for routine procedures.”

In order to generate these findings, researchers examined the medical records of 250 patients who received endoscopic procedures between January 1, 2016, and December 31, 2017. It’s important to note that studies like these, although small, still have significant value, not only in identifying areas for further research, but also in educating the public--when the proper context is provided, that is.

Fortunately, CNN took steps to provide its audience with a complete picture of the study and its implications by including insight from Dr. Roderic Eckenhoff, a professor of anesthesia at the University of Pennsylvania (not involved in the study). As Dr. Eckenhoff told Scutti, “I would consider this a pilot study that maybe somebody should pick up on and do a more complete trial.” Eckenhoff outlined the major issues that prevent this study from being generalizable to cannabis users at large, including the small study size (250 patients, only 25 of whom reported using cannabis), the fact that it is retrospective (examining patients’ past medical records rather than controlling exact amounts of sedation and comparing effects), and its reliance upon patients self-reporting cannabis use (not all patients are comfortable reporting cannabis use, even when its legal, and study findings could be confounded by unreported use of other substances, whether legal or illegal).

Separating Fact From Fiction

It may be argued that, as cannabis in its base form presents as little more than relatively common naturally-occurring plant life, representation across industries could remain lenient and unregulated. However, since the derived substances are used so frequently in both medicine and recreation, elevated conversation is required.

As we move further into this era of increased cannabis saturation, it is more important than ever to hold sources accountable for their publications. Research, data, trends, and anecdotes all hold significant weight in this still-uncertain environment, the ubiquity of unchecked claims threatening to cause increased confusion for patients and consumers. Whether positive or negative, the simple fact remains; information is unstoppable.

For those in cannabis industries, such factual information is becoming increasingly valuable and, at times, more difficult to separate from illegitimate claims. Determining whether that information is accurate or fabricated can still be difficult, however, and relies on those involved maintaining a high level of awareness. Responsibility lies in the hands of the medical professionals, media, researchers, and representatives for cannabis industries to keep medicinal cannabis and cannabis-derived products safe and effective.

Today’s blog post is written by Rick Liogier-Weyback, M.D., founder, and president of Doctor Jane and our licensed medical cannabis physician. If you are considering cannabis treatment or are wondering if medical cannabis may be right for you, please contact the team here at Doctor Jane to schedule a consultation today.

About Doctor Jane

Doctor Jane is South Florida’s most discreet, professional, and convenient concierge medical cannabis practice. Dr. Luis Enrique R. Liogier-Weyback and his wife, Katie Liogier-Weyback, B.S., R.N., founded Doctor Jane on the core tenets of bringing personal, convenient, professional and discreet patient care to the medical cannabis treatment process. Doctor Jane provides South Florida patients and their caregivers with a safe space where they can exercise their right to access medical cannabis therapy in an environment of their choosing, free from stigma and complications.

Visit our website to find out more or to schedule your own medical cannabis consultation. www.DoctorJane.net