Cathy Reisenwitz

Listen up, pot virgins. According to what I’ve read, sometimes when you get too high, you start to think you’re going to die. A combination of a racing heart and acute paranoia sets in and while you realize that no one has ever died from too much Mary Jane, you just might be the first. It’s a thing, so I hear. Which leads me to wonder whether the entire media landscape only writes about weed when they’re stoned out of their gourds, because it’s the only way to explain their incessant sensationalist fear-mongering.

Whether it’s pot overdoses or flawed studies reported incorrectly, reading the stories leads stoners to ask: what have these journos been smoking?

Devout Christian mother-of-three, 31, becomes first woman in Britain to DIE from cannabis poisoning after smoking a joint in bed to help her sleep,” reads the headline, all-caps in original, from British tabloid Daily Mail. While her doctor may have gone on record saying the cause of death was “cannabis toxicity,” in reality that’s not actually a thing. According to Dr. Yasmin Hurd, a professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, claims that her death was the result of the half joint she smoked are “absurd.”

After Colorado legalized recreational marijuana use, the media began reporting a hoax story about overdoses killing 37 people the very day of the ruling as if it were true.

On the very, very long list of things that can give one a heart attack, I’ll bet stupid reporting ranks way above pot. Reporters, put down the bong and listen up. People die for absolutely no explainable reason. Some of them also smoke pot. These facts are scary, for sure. But no one needs you going around making people afraid of a plant which is known to reduce pain, anxiety, nausea, PTSD, and more, and might even fight cancer.

Now, Philly.com is reporting “Pot Smoking May Pose Heart Dangers, Study Suggests.” The Huffington Post reports Marijuana Use, Cardiovascular Complications Linked In New Study.

The study in question was conducted by two French anti-marijuana groups, The French Association of the Regional Abuse and Dependence Monitoring Centres (CEIP-A) Working Group on Cannabis Complications.

Between 2006 to 2010, when the population was over 62 million, there were 35 instances of cardiovascular complications related to cannabis use. The report notes, “The 35 cases described must be compared with the 1.2 million regular users in France.” In addition, for every case but 10 there were other drugs found in the patient’s system.

“A population-based study... did not reveal any independent association between cannabis use and the occurrence of cardiovascular risk factors in young adults.”

But that study got no traction compared with the one purporting to show that casual cannabis use causes “brain abnormalities.” Scary!

Scientist Lior Pachter has a great breakdown of what went wrong with that story. It begins with USA Today failing to fact check the lead researcher’s implausible claim that he is both a psychiatrist and mathematician. His paper isn’t much better, and features a terrible design. It highlights results which aren’t statistically significant and are impossible to replicate because the paper’s authors didn’t release any of their data.

And, of course, the paper claims to have established causation when it only (fails to really) establish correlation.

Despite some gains, most states and the federal government are still fighting the war on drugs. Derpy journalists keep playing up the dangers of weed, while ignoring the deaths resulting from police efforts to keep people from using it. There are an estimated 40,000 armed, no-knock police raids every year, most for non-violent drug offenses, and many of which result in needless deaths.

Besides deaths from raids gone awry, the war on pot has resulted the world’s largest prison population. It’s alienated communities from law enforcement.

This sensationalist, exaggerated reporting helps reinforce the public’s baseless fear of cannabis, boosting support for the deadly drug war.


Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz is a Young Voices Associate and a D.C.-based writer and political commentator.