Reliable Sources?

Jun 23, 2008

Bruce Mirken, cannabinoids, drug warriors, Institute of Medicine, THC

The other day I had a lengthy discussion with two producers at a national TV network. It was an unnerving lesson in what we're up against as we try to educate the mainstream media.

The network had just broadcast a completely uncritical story on a report from a private think tank that serves as a drug war cheerleader. It had reported completely preposterous claims about supposed dangers of increased marijuana potency causing lung cancer or sending thousands to emergency rooms as if they were undisputed fact. I'd called to complain, and to their credit the producers called back.

Also to their credit, they asked tough questions about the points I was making. I want reporters to do that, as I never make statements to journalists that I can't back up with published scientific evidence. And I do think the discussion made some progress (which is why I'm not naming names). But it also became clear that they never applied the same level of skepticism to claims made by prohibitionists. 

As we discussed the evidence that marijuana smokers don't have higher lung cancer rates and that THC and other cannabinoids have documented anti-cancer activity, I mentioned that the 1999 Institute of Medicine report stated that marijuana has not been proven to cause any type of cancer. "But that was 1999," one of the producers said. "With the increased potency now, it's a whole different drug!" 

She had no idea she'd just repeated a completely fictional White House talking point as if it were revealed truth. 

I patiently explained that the notion that the claimed doubling of THC levels makes today's marijuana "a whole different drug" makes no more sense than to claim that wine is a different drug than beer because it contains about three times the alcohol -- a notion no one would take seriously. I also noted that higher potency would decrease any lung cancer risk, because users would get more THC (which fights cancer) with less smoke, and it's the smoke that contains any potentially carcinogenic compounds. 

The producers believed they had done due diligence in researching the think tank's claims: "We checked them with the National Institute on Drug Abuse." The idea that a government agency that has long been an integral part of the drug war might not be a completely impartial source regarding marijuana had not occurred to them.

They listened to me. I think they heard. I hope they understood.