How Pro-Marijuana Misinformation Hurts the Movement and the Industry

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If I’m being honest, I cringe more than I’d like to while scrolling my cannabis-filled social media feeds.

From the influencers to the activists, the industry players to the “consultants” and the genuine advocates to the brand accounts clearly run by social media agencies with only a vague understanding of the plant, many of these well-meaning individuals consistently and irresponsibly spread misinformation.

“Cannabis is not addictive.”

“Marijuana cures cancer.”

“Smoking weed is actually good for your lungs.”

I cringe because negative-leaning misinformation was the fuel for the fire of prohibition — not to mention the unjust, 80-year drug war that ruined untold lives and demonized a plant that never deserved such a bad rap in the first place. And even though our well-meaning friends and colleagues are trying to help the world move beyond those decades of misinformation by spreading the good news about this plant, they’re not doing cannabis any favors by disseminating positive-leaning “facts” that aren’t actually true.

In short, misinformation is misinformation, and we need to avoid it altogether. Or as my friend and colleague Constance Finley said more eloquently during a taping of my Civilized podcast Cannabis & Main: “Remember that, as broadly helpful as this plant is, the more we responsibly communicate about it from an evidence-based mechanism and manner of talking, the more we’re going to be taken seriously.”

Honesty, the Best Medical Marijuana Policy

Finley, founder and CEO of Constance Therapeutics, continued: “So if you throw out a chart that says, ‘Oh my god, CBD is good for over 200 things,’ and you start tracing it down and, well, [one of those things is that] there was a study that said [CBD helped with] in vitro one time, that CBD might have had an interplay in this connection. But it doesn’t belong on a chart on the internet as research. It belongs as a very early indication of potential benefits.”

Constance Therapeutics has a unique business model that avoids the current pseudoscience around the plant. They emphasize the importance of one-on-one consultations with the patient, integrated communication with the patient’s traditional physician and carefully tracked treatment regimens that will tell everyone involved a story of what’s working and what’s not.

As Finley and her staff recommend different patent-pending tincture and vaporizable concentrate formulations for their patients, they also prescribe a healthy dose of real talk during their consultations and follow-ups — making sure to communicate all known possibilities with their patients.

“It’s OK to say to patients, ‘There’s one study [saying] if you have a rare disease that shows [cannabis] might help you, and we know that CBD isn’t harmful, awesome. Let’s do a customized blend for you and see if that helps, and let’s pay careful attention, and let’s keep good records so you actually know if that helps — not whether or not you had a better day’,” said Finley. “Cannabis is so broadly helpful that we can kind of make it seem like snake oil. And the positive is that it truly is that broadly helpful… but let’s really try to stick to evidence. Let’s not put [out] bad science because we’re anxious to prove how good our plant is.”

Ultimately, there are more things we don’t understand about cannabis than things that we do, and that means it’s important to acknowledge when we either don’t know the answer to a question ourselves or when there simply isn’t an answer to that question. That unique brand of straightforward honesty is what has made Finley a valued partner to the mainstream medical community, as those physicians have slowly come around to the idea of marijuana as medicine.

“We tell our patients: ‘We’re not doctors, we’re not scientists. What we can do for you is give very in-depth cannabis knowledge that’s founded on what we know, and what we don’t know we don’t say,’” Finley said. “And that attitude has led a lot of very serious physicians to trust us with their patients.”

And when Finley’s patients first experience the surprising-to-them efficacy of medical cannabis as their symptoms wane, fade and sometimes disappear, she again speaks plainly.

“When people used to rush up to me and say, ‘You’re an angel!’ I would say, ‘No, I’m not an angel. Cannabis is an incredibly powerful plant, and I’m paying attention to what it has to give.’”

Ignorance Isn’t Bliss

There’s not a lot of reliable cannabis education in these still-early days, but it’s our job as conscientious consumers to know this — and to communicate clearly with those looking for answers as well as those who think they have all the answers.

It doesn’t help that our current recommendations and retail model are built around an entry-level position that requires no medical, pharmaceutical or prescribing training or experience and typically pays $12-$16 an hour. And this is not a knock on budtenders, most of whom work hard and do their best to send their customers and patients home with a strain or product that will cure (or at least help) what’s ailing them — unless any of these men and women are spreading bad information, which some of them do (knowingly or unknowingly).

It’s more of a knock on the dispensary infrastructure we’ve inherited as cannabis has crept back into the retail environment. And it seems wrong that while we still need to see a licensed professional pharmacist to procure a cold-and-flu medicine worth a damn, we consult well-meaning 21-year-olds working through their English degrees for medicine to treat our post-traumatic stress syndrome, autism or insomnia.

More than anything, this call for the spread of fact-based information is a challenge for the cannabis community to be better. We all have areas of expertise, and we all have categories that need a little work. But many of our friends and colleagues don’t know which is which, and so they’ll continue to ask us advice — for themselves or for a family member.

And next time someone reaches out to you for advice, I hope you think long and hard before repeating a statistic you saw on Facebook or a “fact” you heard in a webinar. Do the research yourself until you’re confident that your truth is, in fact, true. Spread quality, well-vetted information and educate those around you responsibly.

And if you don’t know the answer, say those words that can sometimes be hard to say: “I don’t know.”

Liberating, right?

TELL US, have you heard any irrational claims about what cannabis can do?

Originally published in Issue 34 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE