A new report was released last week by a WHO drug advisor that is emboldening anti-marijuana activists in the media. The media portrayal of the report focuses on the negative, with headlines that decry cannabis as “Devastatingly Dangerous” in their stories citing the report by Dr. Wayne Hall. However, Dr. Hall’s report is little more than a rundown of marijuana health studies from the last 20 years, rather than a study in its own right, as reported in The Washington Post.
As Christopher Ingraham noted in the Post, reading Dr. Hall’s article leads most people to different conclusions than that which Ben Spencer came to in the Daily Mail that the report has exposed the “terrible truth about cannabis.” Right at the top of Spencer’s article is a bulleted list of scary statistics gleaned right from the study, warning that marijuana use doubles threats of personal and societal ills like schizophrenia and automobile accidents.
However, in the case of schizophrenia and other forms of psychosis, what Spencer is getting at is that an increase in marijuana use will lead to an increase in psychosis. Hall pointed out that might not be the case, and cited an Australian study that showed a sharp increase in marijuana use among Australians in the 1980s and 1990s.
In that period, Hall also noted that there was not a similar increase in psychosis diagnoses. Ultimately, what Hall predicts for cannabis users and psychosis is that whereas 7 in 1,000 non-users of cannabis might develop a condition, 14 in 1,000 cannabis users might.
Many media descriptions of Dr. Hall’s report used the lie-with-numbers scare tactic, where they take statistics and put them in language that makes it sound like the effects are greater than they actually are. Dr. Hall’s report was a lot more sympathetic to all sides of the story than the media has depicted it. Hall was not making the case that marijuana is safe by any means, but he was not saying it is dangerous either.
In regards to marijuana and cancer, Hall pointed out that THC and the other cannabinoids present in marijuana are not carcinogens, as determined by standardized lab tests. He did say that marijuana smoke has been found to be carcinogenic though.
Ultimately, Hall’s assessment of the last 20 years of cannabis studies has not revealed any new information to anyone who has been paying attention. Certainly anti-marijuana activists will try to get a foothold where they can, just as pro-cannabis activists are expected to do. The problem is when they present old information as new, and then say it is worse than it is.
Some people might argue that marijuana is 100 percent safe, but most agree that anything taken out of moderation can be bad for the health. But according to the report that is currently being used to vilify cannabis in the media, there is far less risk of developing dependence with marijuana than with other illegal substances, and some legal ones.
Hall said 9 percent of people who have ever used cannabis develop a dependence. For heroin, which The Telegraph characterized cannabis as similarly addictive, that number is 23 percent; and 17 percent for cocaine. Then there is good old nicotine and alcohol, where 32 percent and 15 percent of respective users develop dependencies.
As Hall pointed out right away in his report, and throughout it, there are seemingly countless factors to be considered to determine the effects of marijuana on the individual and society. At least Hall was more honest and fair in his portrayal of marijuana studies over the last 20 years than some in the media were over the portrayal of his report.