Friday, April 30, 2021

"The Marijuana Conspiracy" and The Research Dodge

The Canadian film "The Marijuana Conspiracy," released in the US on 4/20, illustrates in part the absurdity and politicization of research into marijuana's effects. The film, based on a study that happened in 1972 in Toronto, begins with footage of politicians (all old, white men) railing against marijuana use. We then meet an old, white male addiction researcher downing a martini who hires an unscrupulous hippie-type researcher out for fame and fortune who recruits young women pot smokers for a study aimed at discovering marijuana's harms. 

The women were locked in a building for 98 days, with no escape to take a walk outside or see their friends or families, while being constantly observed by researchers. Even the joints they were given to smoke nightly couldn't counter the effects of this strange, unnatural setting and the film (and doubtlessly the study itself) devolves into melodrama. Like many rats put in a cage, the women were pointlessly overdosed with pot. Yet, they remained productive and experienced no ill effects, although some members of both the smoking group and the nonsmoking control groups had difficulty assimilating after their isolation. The results of the study were never publicized due to political reasons, and it took decades for Canada to finally legalize pot (the US still hasn't done so). 

Anti-marijuana groups in the US like SAM continue to push their scare tactics in the place of sound research. Just this week opponents to a California bill pushing back against a proposed ban on billboard ads for licensed cannabis businesses touted a study they say claimed marijuana use is up among youth in the state following legalization. On closer look, however, the study they cite is an an analysis of the CA Dept. of Education's Health Kids Survey which found no such rise in use, only a slight rise in self-reported use by 7th graders that could be the result of a change in the survey question to clarify that "use" meant vaping or edibles as well as smoking. 

The group performing the "multilevel logistic regression analyses" on the data is the quasi-academic group PIRE (Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation), which has no direct affiliation with a university and instead lists a group of "client/partners" including the DOD, DOJ, NIH, etc. and among its "academic partners" the Center on Addiction & Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, long known for its anti-marijuana studies and rhetoric.

Meanwhile, Bill Nye "The Science Guy" did a 4/20 podcast with Columbia researcher Margaret Haney, who lamented the lack of placebo-controlled studies on cannabis, even while admitting the limitations of the placebo she uses (pot from which THC has been removed, easily identified by study subjects as weak weed). She did note that California researcher Donald Tashkin found no connection between marijuana smoking and lung cancer in longitudinal studies, and that there is some evidence of anti-tumor properties of cannabis. 

Haney called the research "early, early" on cannabis and the brain cancer (glioma) that killed President Biden's son Beau, despite the fact that Spanish and Italian studies on gliomas and cannabis date back to 1998, and were confirmed in the US in 2004. A new study just released has found potential anti-cancer properties in CBD. Biden mentioned his son when he called for curing cancer in his speech to Congress this week, but is not in favor of legalization, only bringing cannabis down to a Schedule II drug (which could mean years of more research). 

An article published this week found that a total of 29,802 peer-reviewed studies on the topic of cannabis and cannabinoid research have been published in 5474 journals, with a steep increase in the past 20 years. Of these, 12,420 were from the US. Yet politicians continue to take the "research dodge" claiming we need more research on the plant that's been used for centuries: a new study found archeological evidence of ancient medical cannabis use circa 100 B.C. in China. 

I've also been watching the French series "Family Business" on Netflix, where a family that owned a butcher shop gets into cannabis, anticipating legalization there. It has charming moments, as when the father smokes it to help with his loneliness after his wife dies, and he rediscovers playing the guitar. Grandma and her granddaughter are tasked with the real work (growing) and get to smoke it a little too. But it devolves into sick violence, some of it perpetrated by a woman, and lost me there. 

A couple of high points in "The Marijuana Conspiracy": one of the girls' mothers (Paula Boudreau) gets high on marijuana brownies and boogies away her arthritis pain, and the daughter (Kyla Avril Young, whose father is Geddy Lee of the rock band Rush) performs a sweet and soulful version of the Brewer & Shipley song "One Toke Over the Line." Young told "The Illuminderdi" about the program: "I really hope it fosters more discussion, about the people that have been impacted negatively by drugs charges. There are so many people who are incarcerated today over minor drug charges, especially minorities and people of color. And if we can inspire people to look into those stories and to donate and help those families that have struggled and are still struggling, then it’s done its job.”

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