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While criticizing the media for getting the science wrong on marijuana, media gets the science wrong

How bad is marijuana for your health? What recent press coverage gets wrong.

In an otherwise good critique of the media’s coverage of health issues of marijuana, Slate’s Brian Palmer includes this paragraph:

If you are considering smoking pot—or quitting—here is what you need to know. Smoking marijuana once is very unlikely to harm you. It takes at least 15 grams of cannabis to kill a person, and probably much more than that. A healthy person would have to smoke dozens of joints in a single session to risk death from overdose. People who do die from the acute effects of marijuana die in accidents: A recent study suggested that more than 10 percent of drivers killed in car accidents test positive for cannabis.

What’s wrong with this paragraph?

The regulars here should see a couple of things immediately.

I have written to Brian asking him to address these, but haven’t heard back yet.

[Thanks, Paul]

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43 comments to While criticizing the media for getting the science wrong on marijuana, media gets the science wrong

  • NorCalNative

    The 15-grams-fatality point is linked to a study on PubMed that shows the abstract only, not the full research. If Slate is using “correct” numbers from a study, I smell NIDA.

    And, testing positive for cannabis metabolites is a much different animal than current impairment.

    • Duncan20903

      Sure, that’s highly accurate. If you tried to swallow 15 grams of cannabis all at once it’s definitely enough to suffocate a human being to death.

  • Frank W.

    B-B-BUT “Colorado is seeing a rise in injuries and explosions as marijuana smokers attempt to distill hash oil in their homes and garages”

    ‘Pot Addictions of the Rich and Famous”

    “Even Lady Gaga also admitted to being addicted to marijuana”
    YAHOO HEADLINES DON’T LIE!! I NEED MORE EXCLAMATION MARKS!!

  • Krymsun

    According to which US Government authority you want to believe, the lethal dose of marijuana is either about one-third your body weight, or about 1,500 pounds, consumed all at once.

    “.. in order to induce death a marijuana smoker would have to consume 20,000 to 40,000 times as much marijuana as is contained in one marijuana cigarette. NIDA-supplied marijuana cigarettes weigh approximately .9 grams. A smoker would theoretically have to consume nearly 1,500 pounds of marijuana within about fifteen minutes to induce a lethal response.”

  • claygooding

    They moved the Reform Committee hearing one day,,5.09,2014,,I suppose they are having trouble trying to figure out where the evidence is that will prove that cannabis is a danger too society.

    PS: Even if 15 grams would kill you the person that can smoke 15 grams in 15 minutes would need a set of lungs like I ain’t ever seen and I been too chili cook offs and goat ropings.

    • allan

      yeah… the giant rolling paper that came w/ Cheech and Chong’s Big Bambu album held somewhere between 1/2 and 1 oz. A joint that big couldn’t be smoked in 15 minutes by one person.

      In fairness to Darwin… we do know from experience that someone, somewhere can and eventually will be fatally stupid with anything and yet I still have yet to hear of anyone dying from 15g of cannabis. Or 150g…

      Is Brian Palmer not a pot head? I have doubts about his credentials as a journalist and any pot head w/ a computer and interwwweb knows better.

      • Freeman

        Went to a concert around 1979 with a group of friends (about 10 of us). We had adjacent seats all in the same row. The night before the show, every one of us scored our own baggie (good gold-bud — anybody remember that stuff?), plus we all chipped in for an extra ounce just to roll one big party joint. After cleaning, we had about 3/4 OZ for the joint. Paper was missing from my Big Bambu album, so we went up the street and bought a roll of ez-wider (anybody remember those?). Rolled out three strips about a foot long and gummed them together into one big paper, and rolled a (for real) FATTY!

        The night of the show, when the band took the stage, we lit that sucker up. It was a cigar — hit it like a joint and you’re choking for the rest of the night — had to hit it quick and short just to keep from immediately coughing it right back out. We passed it back and forth among our group a few times, and very quickly we’d all had enough, so we passed it to the row behind us. That joint went back at least six rows and across three aisles, and to our surprise actually made it back to us three times, at which point we roached it. The next weekend we rolled five normal-sized joints out of the roachweed.

        So yeah, I know from personal experience that it takes at least a half hour to smoke that much in one sitting, and that was with the help of a few hundred RUSH fans. *

        * No humans were harmed in experiencing this episode.

  • darkcycle

    Oh man, the comments at the Salon piece are …um…well…no descriptor comes to mind. Over 400, so I’m out, but what a bunch of fools and ninnies.

  • thelbert

    solzenitzen tells us that prisoners in russian labor camps would swallow a block of wood as a means of suicide. i think a half-ounce of weed would work almost as well. of course if you try to smoke half a lid, suicide would be the last thing on your mind.

    • Alternative

      Another way was to make sure you were the last man to leave the work camp tent at 04:00; the camp guards were operating a ‘no last man’ policy, and would wait at the exit with clubs. I read all 3 volumes as a teenager. it set me up for life —who could ever feel sorry for themselves after reading a first hand account of Stalin’s labor camps?

  • N.T. Greene

    “The estimated lethal dose of intravenous dronabinol is 30 mg/kg,[36] meaning lethality is unlikely. The typical dosage administered is two 2.5 mg capsules daily; for an 80 kg man (~170 lb) to die from a THC overdose, this would translate to 960 capsules infused intravenously to achieve this high a dose.”

    (wikipedia)

    …although we don’t have access to raw data, and this is for synthetic THC — it says basically that 2.4g of PURE THC might kill someone. If we figure that, say, a given strain is about 10%THC (and you’re using a magical 100% efficiency method just to get clean numbers here) — that means you’d have to have about .8oz or so’s worth of THC injected intravenously all at the same time to -maybe- die. Assuming your body doesn’t metabolize it fast enough.

    So I guess “at least 15 grams” is close enough. (Only about 10 grams off from what I’ve been able to gather. Ha.) …if you’re extracting the THC and injecting it in a pure form. Via a smoked method I’d say that the chances of dying from an overdose is nigh impossible — the delivery method is too inefficient, and the metabolic rate in relation to that method of delivery is too high for blood levels to rise to the required levels.

    That and I’ve never known anyone to smoke until they literally passed out. Nevermind died.

    • B. Snow

      You might not literally “pass-out” – But, you can sure as hell faint!
      If you’re standing (or driving) and you manage to take a huge enough hit (and possibly standup too fast, or hit a major dip in a road) – whatever happens to you in the few seconds you’re blacked-out can actually be dangerous. That’s not the weed’s fault though.

      You’ve generally gotta put some concerted effort into smoking that much that quick.
      A giant gravity bong hit can do the trick = although I wouldn’t recommended it unless you have people around to catch you or “help you” to fall carefully/slowly – maybe if you setup a mattress or something. It’s worth doing once or twice maybe if you’re young & healthy with no heart-related problems.

      Beyond the first couple times the novelty is gone – its like somebody hit the reset switch on your consciousness, And you lose a couple seconds as your brain “re-loads”…
      Its also a waste of weed at that point… You’re not gonna get any “higher” than a certain (hard to define) level… Your blood-pressure can slow to the point at which you faint, And that stops you from smoking – however briefly. If you do that more than two or three times = face it then you’re basically trying to hurt yourself.

      You’d need help reloading the bong (or whatever) to keep doing it, and surely – you’re almost certain to hit a “couch-lock” state eventually.

      AKA, “WTF was I just doing?”, “Where the hell am I?”, “Who the hell am I?”, “Who the hell are these people?”, etc… (noticing your surroundings and recalling the moments surrounding the fainting) Ohhh, Right – I was getting severely stoned – “Okay then, I’m good, no really here go ahead…” I mean it IS intriguing, but loses its appeal pretty quick.
      This is what makes me -a bit- skeptical about the whole ‘dab’ing thing, you’d have to be loony to do that alone. And if it’s several people you’d need a group of designated non-dabbers = What with the torches, red hot metal, and the glass? – Right?? TBH, *full disclosure* I haven’t smoked since that ‘became a thing’, I will eventually, when the opportunity presents itself…

      This is the one thing that could make people “panic” again – and it seems to be doing so at least a little bit = with all the DIY/”at-home” BHO people. Seems like we’d want to continue (semi-discretely) urging people to be VERY very careful w/ all that.

      I just thought of one other possibility – the “passing-out” in the form of getting really high – laying down, falling asleep & then “half waking-up” becoming consciously aware that your asleep = and not immediately capable of waking up.

      That isn’t necessarily “weed related” – but it can happen, and it can cause people to panic a more than a tiny bit, = Dreaming like that for a just a short time can seem like much longer (IMO) – sometimes its referred to as sleep-paralysis. That happened to me one of the first times I ever smoked – it was maybe the 3rd time in as many weeks, and they were really long/busy weeks.
      (Many people/cultures have described sleep-paralysis & blamed it on the Supernatural, or Alien-abductions, you name it!)

      I kinda think that’s the sorta thing that’s happened to some of the Prohib-Idiots – and they were ‘scared-stoopid’ and/or mislead into the “drugs are bad mindset” older by Prohi-Bitches, or the truly “naive” & coincidentally often very religious that eagerly ascribe some sort of demonic “causal relationship” to these incidents…

      Personally, I’m inclined to think the proper term for this sorta stuff is a “-Rite-of-passage”, all the Nannies & Worriers out there have removed most of this from our modern, ‘culture’.
      So much, so that people don’t understand what’s going on when they stumble across (or into) one.
      And all-too often either “panic ensues” -or- other “shit-happens” = And, IMHO its all for the lack of a “medicine-man”, or some reasonable facsimile thereof.

  • Servetus

    Science illiteracy isn’t just a problem for a few journalists writing about drugs. It’s a national problem that’s been insidiously and successfully imposed upon all Americans by a few domestic subcultures that consider science a threat to their social status and world view. Efforts to correct the problem include beefing up U.S. science education with Common Core standards in education favoring STEM topics, but these programs are being opposed as well.

    The one opportunity I had years ago to be interviewed by a journalist on a science related topic–NMR in this case–made the problem crystal clear. While we were talking backstage, the young, newly-hired local TV anchor couldn’t pronounce the word ‘nuclear’, so he tried to spell it phonetically for himself in his notes. Despite his valiant efforts, the newscaster badly mispronounced ‘nuclear’ on the air that evening, and the TV station manager fired him for it.

    • N.T. Greene

      As a prospective educator, I have problems with STEM — namely, Common Core efforts seem to have the effect of making some students despise working with these topics through obtuse testing schemes and the reduction of information to what amounts to dead weight.

      I’m going to go a step further and say, quite frankly, that people just don’t know how to read anything with a critical eye or any imagination. We’re taught to take things in whole from the wee years right on through until high school. Even in college, I found myself in literature classes being forced to regurgitate preferred arguments over giving pieces actual thought — the footnotes were more important than any argument you could make.

      So I would argue that it is worse than just science illiteracy. We’re approaching a sort of functional illiteracy — we can read and understand words just fine, but we can’t give them any thought or criticism. Of course, this initially works poorly on children, who are more playful when it comes to learning. Why, my daughter takes much delight in getting something right after getting it wrong a few times!

      I’ve found, in my own experiences, that much effort has gone into standardization at the expense of wonder and awe. I remember in high school when an eclectic teacher put copies of the Tao Te Ching in our hands and asked us what we thought of them. For me, though I can’t remember the exact details, this is something that would change my life — for I found a grain of truth in something outside of my Catholic upbringing. From there, I would go on to question many things, and at a time when many are just derping about, I was giving the meaning of life some serious thought. Still do.

      This is why I am in education. I don’t want to fill the heads of the youth — I want to open them up, to show them that there’s a whole wide world out there, and that if you think about things and try to find the truth for yourself… you just might find something wonderful.

      Mind you, I’m not against STEM as a concept — it is just when you teach children about things in a flatline way, you’re only going to produce drones and dropouts. Some of the greatest scientists in history were misfits, people who experimented with strange things, and people who thought differently.

      More than standardized tests, we need field trips. Or at least that new version of Cosmos. I wonder if they show that at all in the South, though.

      /rant

      • allan

        thanks NT… watching my two kids go thru public schools was interesting. My son dropped out in 10th grade. Ended up going to the “bad kids” school. Class size there? 10 or 12 kids/ teacher. He loved that they actually discussed subjects. At the mainstream school it was 30 – 35 and my son hates being ignored when he has a question. For some odd reason I raised them both to think for themselves and challenge what others don’t question. As young teens they called me Dale Gribble. As young adults they’re beginning to see dad ain’t so crazy but the human world is truly batshit crazy.

        One of my fave posters from my anti-nukular weapons protest days:

        I look forward to the day when my children’s schools have all the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.

        with the change of a few words that also fits this protest movement pretty well.

      • Servetus

        …obtuse testing schemes and the reduction of information to what amounts to dead weight.
        Yeah, you’ve pretty much described my entire formal science education. Nearly every course is a pre-requisite for the next course. I had equations thrown at me constantly with little explanation of the science behind it. Before I could wrap my mind around the ellipitical integration of the Schrödinger wave equation, it was on to something else. One of my professors admitted that he didn’t really learn physics until he completed his degrees and was thereby allowed to study it again freely on his own.

        I don’t know why it’s still done that way, but if you can make it through the education system as presented, you get to be a scientist.

        • darkcycle

          I have friends who teach physics, as well as friends who are researches. I even have a good friend from college at CERN right now, she’s been there on and off for ten years.
          I think it’s done that way because there’s SO DAMN MUCH INFORMATION. If it was okay to take ten or fifteen years to complete a degree, then the understanding and integration of the knowledge would be a much larger part. As it is, just to learn the mechanics of the discipline is a four to six year task, and many aren’t even up to that. It also allows for the weeding out of folks like me, who are not “naturals” at the mathematics, before a huge amount of energy and money has been expended.
          Understanding falls to the student, at least in the very technical disciplines, seems to me.

        • N.T. Greene

          I think we should be teaching conceptual physics at an earlier age. Like, far earlier. I guess I am not an expert in children’s education though. The idea of hands on experience of the rules of reality seems striking to me though. Perhaps someone thinks this is a valuable insight?

  • Common Science

    I still have the Big Bambu album with the rolling paper with the picture of completely wasted C & C holding each up. Now from one of the really dusty milkcrates pertaining to medical cannabis / lethal doses:

    “Thanks to Messrs. Parke. Davis and Co., several samples of Cannabis Americana fluid, extracts and solid extracts were prepared according to the U.S.P., and were tested upon animals for physiological activity…

    A dog weighting 25 pounds received an injection of two ounces of an active U.S.P. fluid extract in the jugular vein with the expectation that it would certainly be sufficient to produce death. To our surprise the animal, after being unconscious for about a day and a half, recovered completely. This dog received. not alone the active constituents of the drug, but also the amount of alcohol contained in the fluid extract. Another dog received about 7 grams of Solid Extract Cannabis with the same result. We have never been able to give an animal a sufficient quantity of a U.S.P. or other preparation of the Cannabis (Indica Arnericana) to produce death.”

    Excerpts from “Charas of Indian Hemp” by David Hooper, F.C.S, F.L.S. (Circa 1908)

  • “A recent study suggested that more than 10 percent of drivers killed in car accidents test positive for cannabis.”

    They might test positive for a lot of other things they took in the last week too. Were they also “suggested” in the study?

    • claygooding

      I think the statistics from SAMSHA place marijuana use around 10% so it means marijuana smokers get killed in car wrecks at the same percentage rates,,IIRC..
      That sounds like the similar fear mingering statement that marijuana is the number one illicit drug reported by ER’s,,since marijuana is the number one illicit drug naturally it is the most mentioned on the admittance forms.

      • Bottom of the SLATE page:

        ” *Correction, May 1, 2014: Due to an editing error, this piece misstated that almost 25 percent of drivers killed in car accidents test positive for cannabis. Almost 25 percent test positive for non-alcohol drugs; of those, about 12 percent test positive for cannabis.”

        His whole line about acute effects is not only all wrong, its all wrong.

        • Duncan20903

          .
          .

          12% of the 25% or 25% of the total? Big effin’ difference.

          I never like arguing with the Ignorati about driving. Anyone with experience knows that it’s a total non-issue but try telling that to people that believe that cannabis causes man teats. Those people will fall for anything an apparent authority figure tells them to believe.

          IIRC the 5 year study of the post mortem “(some) drugs” levels of Canadian cadavers of people who became cadavers in a car wreck should be in its 4th year. At least there’s a better than odds on chance that the Canadians won’t cook the books. No guarantees of course since they’ve got their fair share of idiot prohibitionists.

        • Howard

          “His whole line about acute effects is not only all wrong, its all wrong.”

          His correction is meaningless. He’s still inferring that the presence of THC or THC metabolites is responsible for ‘x’ amount of traffic fatalities. Throwing numbers around isn’t claim worthy of anything. It’s also very sloppy journalism.

          Not only does he get the science wrong when he purports to correct the ‘media’s’ misreporting of science, he can’t even get the correction of his own misstatements correct. Jeebus!

          Brian needs to put the shovel down and stop digging.

        • “People who do die from the acute effects of marijuana die in accidents”

          Lets say 1000 people died. One quarter of them had other drugs in their system besides alcohol. That’s 250 people. 12% of them test positive for cannabis, so that’s roughly 21 people out of 1000 smoked pot within the last week before they died in a fatal accident.

          Does that prove that people die in car accidents from the acute effects of pot? Not even slightly.

  • Nunavut Tripper

    A Huff Post article where a top US military official is whining about how legalization is hurting his drug war.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/29/john-kelly-war-on-drugs_n_5234833.html?utm_hp_ref=politics

    Sucks to be him .

    • jean valjean

      “The solution to the U.S. drug problem, Kelly argued, is destroying drugs before they arrive in the U.S. or Mexico. And “there’s almost no commitment to do that, based on what they see,” he said.
      That’s worked so well in the past hasn’t it. Yet another leech on the public purse desperate to hang onto his budget.

    • Will American Pot Farmers Put the Cartels out of Business?
      http://tinyurl.com/lodjzmd

      “Facing stiff competition from pot grown legally and illegally north of the border, the price for a kilogram of Mexican schwag has plummeted by 75 percent, from $100 to $25, the Post reports:

      Farmers in the storied “Golden Triangle” region of Mexico’s Sinaloa state, which has produced the country’s most notorious gangsters and biggest marijuana harvests, say they are no longer planting the crop…increasingly, they’re unable to compete with US marijuana growers. With cannabis legalized or allowed for medical use in 20 US states and the District of Columbia, more and more of the American market is supplied with highly potent marijuana grown in American garages and converted warehouses—some licensed, others not.”

      Yep. Legalization is hurting his drug war.
      Boo Hoo Hoo.

      • N.T. Greene

        Legalization is kicking the shit out of his drug war.

        He can cry me a river, build a bridge, get over it, bomb the fuck out of the bridge, build another bridge, and get right back over it.

        I hate to say I told you so… no, wait, I don’t. If they asked me right now I would say “We told you so”.

      • claygooding

        I have seen no drop in retail so I doubt this one,,sounds more like an ONDCP tactic to try and convince voters legalization won’t hurt the cartels or stop the billions going across the border.

        • Legal Pot in the US Is Crippling Mexican Cartels
          http://tinyurl.com/lv2l7vh

          I don’t think the price is going down. It’s just starting to disappear. Been over a year since I have seen or heard of any brick in my area.

        • You gotta remember, while we are legalizing in the US, we are still also working on building the new “great wall of china” between the US and Mexico, if I am not mistaken.

        • N.T. Greene

          And if the drop in retail -was- 75%, that’s a 75% drop in retail and as such a significant drop in profit.

          So, uh, either way, it’s working…

  • allan

    Slate is one of those websites that crash my poor browsers, so I did not read the whole thing, just the snip Pete posted (which was all it took). But ya know, google is so handy. Did you know…?

    According to RealScience.com Mr. Palmer is #4 in the Top 10 of science bloggers…

    Slate calls him their chief explainer

    He writes for HuffPo, worked for CNN, is a Health and
    Science columnist for the WaPo…

    I sure hope he writes Pete back. He’s really got some ‘splainin’ to do. If you google “brian palmer” slate email his email is in the top link description.

  • Duncan20903

    .
    .

    I think that they just can’t help themselves. This one is from the “by hook or by crook using every trick in the book” category:

    Denver warns symphony to cancel classical cannabis concert

    /snip/
    The symphony announced plans last week to hold three fundraising concerts where patrons could smoke marijuana on an enclosed patio at a private art gallery — an event designed to raise funds and attract younger patrons at time of declining support. The marijuana industry came forward with sponsorship money and 65 people bought $75 tickets on the first day of sales.

    But in a letter sent Thursday to symphony President Jerome Kern, the city said “Classically Cannabis: The High Note Series” could violate city and state law.

    “If you go forward, we will exercise any and all options available to the city of Denver to halt the event and hold the business owners, event organizers responsible for any violations of law,” wrote Stacie Loucks, director of the department of excise and licenses. She warned that attendees would also be held accountable for eating or smoking pot in public.
    /snip/

    • Plant Down Babylon

      I’d LOVE to blow a hit right in Stacie’s face!

      Could she sue me?

      Is she gonna be there making sure our eyes aren’t red?

      Fuck that biatch (pardon my french).

      • War Vet

        Prohibitionists lack culture and won’t ever attend operas, plays, symphonies or art museums . . . you’ll never see them visiting Europe, Latin America, Asia or book stores as well. You’d have to attend a bar or McDonalds to blow the hit in her face . . . maybe a ball game.

  • Servetus

    Drug substitution is part of the reality of drug prohibition. A substance is made difficult to use by making it detectable in drug tests, so the consumer replaces it with a drug that’s not so easily detected. The substitute may be more harmful to one’s health than the original, but it’s not so harmful that it can be detected and land someone in jail, or get them fired, or get them into trouble with the government, or with their military commander.

    Now, new research from the University of Washington indicates that Army drug consumers are twice as likely to use synthetic marijuana as regular marijuana.

    Military personnel should not have their health potentially compromised by being forced to smoke saw-palmetto, or some other cannabis substitute possessing lesser-known qualities than cannabis. U.S. soldiers should be smoking the very best grades of marijuana that can be made available for medical and recreational use. Such quality assurance can only be guaranteed by making marijuana legal for adult consumption, military service personnel included.

  • allan

    oh my… couchmates… it seems Mr Palmer’s piece is a popular p/u for local rags, google the title, “How bad is marijuana for your health? What recent press coverage gets wrong” and there’s a boatload of articles. My guess is they all or mostly have comments…