Consumers flooded with dubious claims about marijuana’s health benefits

BAKERSFIELD.COM:

Spend a few minutes surfing Twitter and you’re likely to encounter a startling claim that comes without proof:

Cannabis cures cancer.

The online world is awash with such posts, startling scientists and physicians who are urging marijuana proselytizers to hit the brakes.

“We know that a component in cannabis — CBD — might be useful in treating cancer,” said Dr. Joseph A. Califano III, director of the Head and Neck Cancer Center at the University of California, San Diego. “But we don’t know if marijuana can stop or cure it. In some cases, cannabis might make things worse. It’s going to take time to find out.

“What’s happening right now with marijuana reminds me of tobacco at the end of World War II. There was an explosion in its use, but little science to let people know what we were dealing with.”

The admonition appears to be falling on deaf ears.

Marijuana is increasingly described online as a magical elixir, not only for cancer, but also for virtually every disease. The claims are often unattributed and are rarely tied in a substantive way to mainstream science. And they aren’t likely to fade.

Six months ago, it became legal in California to sell recreational marijuana in licensed shops. Customers have been lining up, and many turn to the store’s “bud tenders” to tell them which strain of weed can alleviate their aches and pains or help them to sleep.

Most bud tenders have no formal training in medicine or science.

Zach Lazarus recognizes the potential for abuse and works to avoid it.

“Our employees are not licensed physicians, nor do they pretend otherwise,” said Lazarus, co-founder of A Green Alternative, a marijuana store in Otay Mesa.

“They just help facilitate the sale of marijuana. The consumer uses his own discretion, and hopefully advice from his physician, if he needs it.”

Even if consumers turn to experts for advice, the matter may be confusing. That’s led to many questions:

–– One of the most shared marijuana claims on Twitter says, “Cannabis cures 7 out of 10 cancer patients.” If that’s untrue, why are people allowed to say it?

The claim is untrue, and there are lots of reasons it gets out there, beginning with the First Amendment. There are few restrictions on what you can say or publish. And when a comment like that is posted online it can be difficult — maybe even impossible — to rein it in. Some such posts are shared by bots, rather than humans, speeding their distribution. Scurrilous posts can go viral in a snap.

It also appears that a lot of people simply want such comments to be true. That’s understandable, to a degree. About 610,000 people will die of cancer in the U.S. this year. People are desperate for good news.

The reality is that good news is hard to come by. There’s a website that says, “There are now 100 scientific studies that prove cannabis cures cancer.” The site links to scientific papers that focus on specific experiments. The papers do not provide clear, replicable evidence that marijuana can cure any form of cancer.

Read more at Bakersfield.com

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