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Big Claims About Pot's Health Benefits Made Possible By Limited Research

By Kelly Burch 11/13/18

“It’s hard to study marijuana, and there’s money to be made in the business. That’s an unfortunate combination that makes it exceedingly hard to separate the truth from the hype.”

doctor holding marijuana leaf and CBD oil which have been touted as having many health benefits

Cannabidiol (CBD) can alleviate your PTSD and anxiety symptoms, while THC can reduce your nausea and inflammation—or, at least, that is what the medical marijuana industry wants you to believe.

As using cannabis has become more socially acceptable, industry insiders are making big claims about their products’ health benefits, despite the fact that there is limited scientific research on cannabis due to the federal government's tight control on the Schedule I substance. 

“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but if something is being marketed as having health benefits, it needs to be proven to have health benefits,” Salomeh Keyhani, a professor of internal medicine at UC San Francisco told The Verge. “I think it’s very dangerous to be asserting that things are very beneficial without thinking about risks.”

Keyhani authored a study published in September in the Annals of Internal Medicine examining how Americans perceive cannabis. He found that 81% of Americans believe that marijuana has at least some health benefit, and 66% believe it can help relieve pain. Nearly 30% of people surveyed believe that using marijuana can prevent health issues. 

The research on the medical benefits of cannabis shows that Americans may be vastly overestimating its effectiveness. “Americans' view of marijuana use is more favorable than existing evidence supports,” authors concluded. 

“Limited evidence suggests that cannabis may alleviate neuropathic pain in some patients, but insufficient evidence exists for other types of chronic pain,” authors of another study in the Annals of Internal Medicine wrote, noting that research also shows that cannabis can increase the risk for mental health consequences. 

Despite the Drug Enforcement Administration's promise to grant more licenses to study cannabis, this has not happened, meaning that research has lagged behind the growing social acceptance of marijuana. This has allowed an industry to be created around cannabis as a health product, without research on the benefits or dangers. 

“The irony is that by trying to keep us ‘safe’ and refusing to reschedule, the DEA is making us less safe by letting us be drowned by hype without quality evidence either way,” writes Angela Chen of The Verge

Last Tuesday, voters in Michigan approved legalizing recreational marijuana, meaning that a quarter of Americans can now use the drug for non-medical use, and many more can opt into a medical marijuana program. 

“All the while, the research lags behind,” Chen writes. “It’s hard to study marijuana, and there’s money to be made in the business. That’s an unfortunate combination that makes it exceedingly hard to separate the truth from the hype.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

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