Apparently, cannabis (like the President) has a “fake news’ problem.
BIG BROTHER HQ—Recent industry media reports cite several strange news stories that have surfaced on highly visible, mainstream media outlets indicating cannabis use as being “connected” to several deaths.
The first story, which was covered by news outlets internationally, quoted recent study results that suggested “regular” marijuana users have three-times increased risk of early death due to hypertension-related illness.
Doctoral student and lead author of the study Barbara Yankey commented on specific study findings in a statement, after the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology published the study on Aug 9. “We found that marijuana users had a greater than three-fold risk of death from hypertension and the risk increased with each additional year of use,” Yankey said.
The study’s methodology was almost immediately called into question by an article on Business Insider, which said test subjects were sorted by criteria that categorized anyone who had “tried” marijuana as a “regular user,” as well as not taking other important factors into account, like subjects’ BMI, issues with anxiety/stress, etc. The BI post also pointed out that the study, while attempting to show a link between cannabis and hypertension, did not succeed in showing a direct link between cannabis use and hypertension or complications from hypertension.
Even as President Trump has declared opiate use a “national crisis,” news stories about fentanyl-laced cannabis have also begun to surface; in Massachusetts last December, it was reported by police that a man had accidentally overdosed due to alleged use of fentanyl-laced marijuana.
In February, in Painesville Township, Ohio, the local fire department posted a warning on its Facebook page, alleging three recent opiate overdose victims had claimed they smoked marijuana prior to experiencing severe overdose symptoms. The Facebook post soon went viral after being picked up by local, then national media. However, toxicology reports later found the overdose victims were determined to have also used crack cocaine and other illegal drugs, so that “laced” cannabis could not be singled out as the cause of their symptoms.
In March, the Columbus Free Press updated their coverage of the situation and said, “Update: On February 20, 2017, Painesville Township Fire Chief Frank Whittaker was asked for his comments on the facts behind this article. He said that the department made the Facebook post because they, ‘Can’t get lab results that quickly.’ When asked if he researched the subject before making the post, he replied, ‘No, we took the word of the three who overdosed and their friends.’ When queried as to why, he abruptly hung up.”
Then, in June, a Hamilton County, Ohio coroner reported that she had encountered cases of death caused by cannabis laced with fentanyl, though she also declined to say how many cases she attributed to opiate-laced marijuana. Hamilton County officials later said that news reports had been “misconstrued.”
After news of the alleged marijuana-related deaths in Ohio received significant media coverage, VICE News later quoted researcher Lloyd Johnston, chief of the U.S. government’s youth drug survey conducted at the University of Michigan, who told VICE “the chances of finding bud infused with fentanyl seems extremely remote.”
Also in February, doctors at University of California, Davis Cancer Center reported on recent cases of rare fungal infection in two cancer patients, which resulted in the death of one patient. After determining that both patients were using medical marijuana to treat symptoms from chemotherapy, doctors suspected that patients’ exposure to mold may have involved cannabis use, but were unable to conduct research due to federal restrictions.
At that point, doctors turned to Berkeley, California-based Steep Hill Laboratories, which tests cannabis for harmful pathogens and contaminants. Though they were unable to find a direct link between the specific cases mentioned and moldy medical marijuana, doctors said they suspected patients medicating with cannabis might be inadvertently exposing themselves to mold and other dangerous pathogens. Steep Hills Lab’s Dr. Donald Land said that cannabis tested at the lab show between twenty to thirty percent of submitted samples testing positive for mold.
In August, the Today Show reported the unfortunate case of Michael Ziobro, who passed away at age twenty-two from cardiac arrhythmia. Though the medical examiner in the case stated that it could not be proven that cannabis was the cause of Ziobro’s death, his parents made headlines by blaming their son’s death on ingestion of “medical grade” marijuana that was later found present in toxicology test results.
Ziobro’s mother claimed her son was a cannabis “advocate” and believed in the benefits of cannabis use; now she believes “vulnerable” people are unknowingly endangered by medical marijuana use. The Today Show for this piece also quoted Barbara Yankey, lead author of the study that stated cannabis’ alleged connection to hypertension.
Colorado District Attorney (eighteenth judicial district) and 2018 Colorado gubernatorial candidate George Brauchler claimed this week in an op-ed published on Westword.com, that while arrests for marijuana possession have decreased since legalization in Colorado, that violent crimes related to the cannabis business have increased.
“Since the passage of Amendment 64, jurisdictions across the state have noted significant violent crime related to marijuana cultivation and distribution. Our jurisdiction of Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties — forty-five percent more populous than Denver — has had at least eleven homicides motivated by marijuana since passage of Amendment 64,” Brauchler wrote.
In the same piece, he also commented on a gunfight at an Aurora, Colorado mall that was related to “fake marijuana,” which resulted in a conviction on attempted murder charges for the perpetrator.
Another story linking cannabis with a fatal event goes back as far as 2013, when a U.K. pathologist named Kudair Hussein testified that the death of 31-year old Gemma Moss was caused “directly by cannabis poisoning,” which preceded a fatal cardiac arrest.
Later debunked by investigative website Snopes (as well as several other publications), authors declared the pathologist’s claims as “unproven.” After citing several studies that posed a possible connection between cardiovascular disease and cannabis use, Snopes said, “A 2011 report on drug abuse from the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) states that there had been (at least at that time), zero documented cases of fatal overdoses from cannabis.”
Snopes added, “If cannabis killed Gemma Moss, it would had to have done so through a mechanism other than direct toxicity.”
One point that experts involved in several of these cases agreed upon; more research is needed to determine the actual benefits and potential harms related to marijuana use.
Cannabis industry advocates also can argue that removing marijuana from the Schedule 1 list of drugs—combined with (nationwide?) legalization—would eliminate issues of cannabis being laced with illegal or prescription drugs, once legal distribution, standards, and regulations of cannabis create a viable legal market.
Until then, anti-cannabis opponents seem dedicated to changing old Drug War rhetoric that portrayed marijuana as a “gateway drug,” and twisting it into a more sinister narrative.