Media Wrap up
June 2016

A look at the media articles covering cannabis in June 2016.

cannabis media

Last month was a somewhat confusing month when it came to cannabis news – publications from mainstream newspapers and popular niche blogs, to YouTube videos, presented the same stories twisted different ways depending on the agenda of the journalist or artist.

We all know research can be twisted and turned a lot of different ways, but as we sifted and sorted through the many cannabis articles published in mainstream media throughout the month, it’s no surprise some people are confused about exactly what cannabis will, won’t or may do to you if you use it!

Cannabis research

Dependence: While niche blogs claimed cannabis isn’t a drug of addiction, scientists led by Dr Francesca Fibley at University of Texas, published a study which suggests chronic cannabis use disrupts specific brain circuits and can lead to cravings and dependency. They noted the reward centre (in the mesocorticolimbic-reward system) in the brain lit up when users looked at pictures of cannabis or associated paraphernalia.

The study included 59 adult cannabis users and 70 non-users. It considered brain injury and use of other drugs, and combined picture association, with a survey and MRI brain scans.

NCPIC also featured in Australia’s June media, with a case study on cannabis dependence and a warning: cannabis is addictive and can cause serious problems for users. Coverage in pointed out national epidemiological studies that showed cannabis use is linked to abuse of alcohol and linked to addictions to nicotine, and spoke with Jason Hameister, a long-term cannabis user who recently quit the drug. Jason talked about manipulating his day to fit in more cannabis, smoking a dozen cones before taking his kids to school, and the perception that if no one saw it, nobody would know.

Oral health: A study published in JAMA Psychiatry in June, that focused on the physical harms of cannabis use, suggests people who have smoked cannabis for up to 20 years have a higher occurrence of gum disease, than those who haven’t smoked.

The study found among 38 year-olds who smoked for 15 to 20 years, 55.6 percent had gum disease, while only 13.5 percent of non-smokers of the same age had gum disease. The study indicated the smokers showed largely no difference from non-smokers in terms of other physical side effects.

Researchers pointed out this does not mean cannabis is not harmful as ‘other studies on the same sample showed marijuana use is associated with increased risk of psychotic illness, IQ decline and downward socioeconomic mobility.’

Cancer: Skin cancer accounts for around 80% of all new diagnosed cancer in Australia. A University of Canberra research team will collaborate with Israel-based Cann Pharmaceutical to test the efficacy of medical-grade strains of cannabis in treating melanoma, alongside standard care for melanoma patients. The trials will kick off in Canberra in 2017.

Microsoft joins the cannabis economy

During June, it was reported Microsoft has now taken the leap into the cannabis business – not as a grower, but helping Governments to monitor grows to ensure compliance with state laws. Working with KIND Financial, Microsoft will market the cannabis tech company’s ‘Agrisoft’ product that collects and monitors compliance data, to state agencies to use with its Azure cloud service.

Prince Ea gets Obama involved in the cannabis conversation… sort of

In covering social media, Prince Ea’s latest YouTube video aimed at revolutionising thought and making SMART cool, went viral over the last few months. The video focuses on cannabis legalisation in the USA, and is created in the style of a letter to Barack Obama, rapped by Ea and an Obama impersonator (who is pretty spot on!).

Similar to many of his other videos this one is well-put together, and though a little long for many viewers, it has had a strong following. While we absolutely support and encourage the idea of making SMART cool, and think the video is well done, it unfortunately did perpetuate some of the more common cannabis myths and legalisation agenda items, without accurately conveying the research to back the claims. Here’s just a few examples of content that might confuse the facts a little:

  • Hemp is useful, so legalise: Ea notes that the US Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper, as was the flag, ship sails and the fuel used for Henry Ford’s Model T – essentially America was powered by hemp. A quick search confirms these points all seem correct. The twist? Industrial hemp, which would now be used in these types of instances, is in fact legal in around 30 states in the USA. Industrial hemp and the type of cannabis that is smoked or consumed to get high are very different. Hemp has been bred to minimise THC which is the ingredient that gets you high.
  • Steve Jobs did it: The video mentions some of the most successful people smoked cannabis, including Steve Jobs, so it doesn’t make you lazy. Cannabis effects a lot of people differently, and the effects can also depend on how much is smoked, how frequently and from what age. Some of the least successful, laziest people also smoke cannabis, but that doesn’t mean all weed smokers are lazy. These types of generalisations – ‘Steve Jobs used it so it won’t affect mental health or capacity’ – can confuse young people and make them think using cannabis is harmless.
  • Papers and propaganda: Ea correctly identifies the propaganda campaigns that demonised cannabis in the past by using unfounded and racist claims. He also notes newspapers propagated these unfounded stories, which can be seen by looking back through historical publications. Interestingly, looking through modern publications, some highly respected newspapers and sites have promoted their support of the pro-cannabis movement and have also published largely unfounded claims… how times don’t change!
  • Comparison is the route of misinformation: A comparison is made between alcohol, tobacco and cannabis, emphasising the deaths associated with the first two drugs but not cannabis. Our recent blog hits on this point, emphasising comparison is often used to confuse people into thinking something is not harmful at all because its harms aren’t as notable as those of something else. Likewise, the video talks about alcohol and tobacco being legal despite their harms, when cannabis isn’t. This issue is again covered in our blog, which points out how often this argument is used to say all should be legal, as opposed to stressing none should be legal as they all have harms – another twist to suit an agenda.
  • Unfounded medical claims: Prince Ea challenges Obama’s statement that ‘marijuana is a useless drug’ by stating medical tests and evidence show it is proven to treat glaucoma, cancer, asthma, multiple sclerosis.

Unfortunately, Prince Ea, like many people, has not checked the quality of these studies. While some positive, good-quality evidence does exist to suggest cannabis may be used to treat spasticity in Multiple Sclerosis, there is no high quality evidence to support the claims it cures cancer. Claims like this can be dangerous, steering vulnerable, desperate people away from the best treatments for their illness. Just last week we saw the example of David Hibbitt who claimed his cancer was cured by medical cannabis, only to pass away in June.

Research shows cannabis may help asthma symptoms in the short term but has the opposite effect in the longer-term, causing mucus in the airways, damaging airway walls and causing swelling in the airways.

Similarly, cannabis has been used to lower the intraocular pressure in glaucoma patients (which causes optic nerve damage), however it only works for a couple of hours, making it less effective than other medications. This means people need to use more cannabis, more often to get a result (a patient would need to smoke around eight times each day to achieve

It’s worth noting the video does start with a warning that cannabis isn’t suitable for children or pregnant women, which is a very responsible way to introduce the piece.

Prince Ea has done some amazing research and is spot on in a lot of his rhymes in this video, but the video also promotes many of the myths that have become the cornerstones of an agenda designed to legalise cannabis at any cost. While NCPIC doesn’t advocate for or against legalisation, some of these myths can be dangerous in the way they influence vulnerable people.

Though some of his research is obviously well-informed, the information pertaining to the harms of cannabis and the evidence that underpins medical use is ill-informed and seems scripted straight from many pro-legalisation websites. Prince Ea has done some really thought-provoking videos, unfortunately this one just has a few holes.

Kudos for the play on Obama’s slogan wording though, ‘yes we cannabis’ has raised quite a few eyebrows and drawn quite a few smirks and giggles.