The Marketing of Cannabis Part 2: Bad Science

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, The Marketing of Cannabis Part 2: Bad Science

In the last article for ISMOKE Magazine, we took a belligerent look at the political and media marketing of conceptualised cannabis. With feedback a plenty from the article, we shall delve into the realms of Doctor Frankenstein’s lab for a summary of scientific anomalies.

I would like to fully stipulate that I am not a scientist; frankly, the eye for detail needed to become one is something I don’t possess. I once got told off by a science teacher for not working a tap properly, henceforth, my scientific days were over. How was I supposed to be the next Hawkins when I was unable to grasp the methodology of a good sturdy lab tap? Evidently, domestic tappage is something exceedingly different to our scientific brothers‘. It has been said, that in a lab; you don’t turn a tap on to get water, you turn them on to get the tears of Carl Sagan. And with that entire sentence of bullshit resting upon your mind, you now see why I am not cut out for science. I admit this, and it is not my shame to do so. Better men than me should take up the mantle of sorting the string theories from the woolly stories.

, The Marketing of Cannabis Part 2: Bad ScienceIt is with no shame to bow down to those who have knowledge, humility maketh the man. I dare say Stephen Hawkin couldn’t play an Gibson Les Paul like I could. Moving on…

It is somewhat a curious practice in our modern age that anyone with a keyboard and google can proclaim to translate a scientific paper. Yes, I admit, having been involved in drug reform for a little while now; I cite, speak and delve into science – that is the nature of the beast. So, am I a hypocrite for waxing lyrical at hyperbole’s ugly cousin – propaganda? When ‘news’ papers push the boundaries and interpret science in a way that is reminiscent to a child with a Harry Potter polyjuice set, am I also a hypocrite for my own attempts at scientific interpretation?

In a word, no. Why? Because, frankly, I don’t make things up.

, The Marketing of Cannabis Part 2: Bad ScienceYou cannot be a “fan” of scientists, this is a scientific impossibility, but if I were, I’d be sending damp panties to Doctor Ben Goldacre of Bad Science. Most will know Dr Ben from his work in the Guardian newspaper, his work sends shivers down the apathetic spines of lazy journalism. Fed up with the modern day world’s need to bolster opinion over science, Dr Ben makes it his mission to rectify any ramblings – no matter what the subject matter.

To quote from Dr Ben:

“You know when cannabis hits the news you’re in for a bit of fun…”

, The Marketing of Cannabis Part 2: Bad Science and indeed he is correct. Being emotionally involved in the cannabis debate, I was often left angered and upset by another round of Daily Mail science. With every fabricated scare story, I felt the plight of myself and the thousands out there with deliberating illness was hindered. As sad as it is, the Daily Mail tragically does sway opinion of the devout voting classes. Arguably, this is why Gordon Brown reclassified cannabis to Class B – to win the Daily Mail vote in his political time of crisis.

To save sanity (irony?), I now look upon the drug debate as a game. Emotionally removing myself from the equation is a must to keep objectivity, and to keep stress levels in check. I can now laugh at the scare stories with the best of them, indeed, it is funny.

Dr Ben is someone I cite often, I’ve never received a rebuttal to his work on the fields of the debating war. To me, he is the hired gun. If he were a film character, he’d be a Tarantino style figure, with a wallet that says Bad Science Mother Fu… indeed. He also holds his pen sideways to look cool. I shall of course stop there as you get the picture.

, The Marketing of Cannabis Part 2: Bad ScienceAimless flattery? Not a bit of it. In all seriousness, the world cannot progress if not for the grounded work of such esteemed figures. Left uncontested, bad science will have a knock on effect in our everyday lives. Bad science leads to an intellectual malaise.

As we all know, there are a few fields of contention when discussing cannabis. There’s psychosis of course, and then we have stronger strains that are so potent that they can create a nemesis for batman.

Dr Goldacre has left these two points in parts, labeled, in the garage, and awaiting someone to put them all back together again. Please do visit these articles if you’ve not seen them:

http://www.badscience.net/2007/07/blah-blah-cannabis-blah-blah-blah

http://www.badscience.net/2007/03/reefer-badness

Cannabis and science go together like wii fit and drinking coca cola. Sure, you can try and do both, but you’ll end up making a sticky mess of things. I was led to believe there was a simple premise to abide by in science; if you can’t measure it, you can’t do science on it. This doesn’t stop papers though. In turn, I often thought that we had an unwritten rule in society – if it’s in the newspaper, perhaps best to treat it as factual as Hagar the Horrible. Evidently, this is not the case. I have lost count of the number of times that I cite from the Lancet, Professor Nutt, Dr Goldacre, or Dr Lester Grinspoon – only to be met with a rebuttal from the archives of the Daily Mail’s finest. The proclamation that these are fact and must be true as it is in the paper is actually something embroiled in such insaneness that it’s hard to argue against. Sometimes, you just don’t know where to start.

, The Marketing of Cannabis Part 2: Bad SciencePerhaps more worrying is the seemingly favoured access that journalist has over scientist:

http://www.badscience.net/2007/07/cannabis-and-privileged-access

So, why is the world and his editor allowed to re-post science fact that have no resemblance to actual scientific study? Well, cannabis is not alone in this ethos as Dr Ben’s site will attest, but cannabis receives the headlines and vilification, it has all become a bit pantomime. The balance of science and cannabis seems to have all gone to pot.

Across the world, studies into the potential value of the plant are conducted in earnest. With new research into cannabinoids and cancer treatments, cannabis and pain relief and cannabinoids taking on Godzilla, these are exciting times. We rarely get to see these stories in mainstream media. It is for the blogosphere to report upon them – tragically, the lack of professional sheen on reporting the issue via a blog means they are rarely taken seriously, unlike the tabloid counterparts. This juxtaposition is tragically ironic too; as Dr Ben Goldacre’s mini campaign illustrates, the vital difference between a blog and a news piece (usually) is the subtle edition of primary source reporting.

A blogger must host the source material to hold any water, an interested reader has the necessitous choice of reading the scientific report for themselves. This is of course not the case with the Great British newspaper, they are allowed to treat science in the same vein as a Jerry Lewis film, filling the pages with their own brand of flubber.

, The Marketing of Cannabis Part 2: Bad SciencePersonally speaking, I believe a primary source campaign in the British media is actually a very important cause to champion. Not only for the cannabis issue, but to stop the laborious process of trawling through made up pieces that are designed to be humorous – or indeed inflammatory – over cornflakes and coffee. Science has now become redundant; a tool for an evocative and lazy piece. This holds inherent dangers. When the country dumbs down, a bigger wave of social apathy is the result.

Please do read his piece on primary source journalism here:

http://www.badscience.net/2011/04/when-journalists-do-primary-research

There is a distinct difference to science and cannabis in the U.S and the U.K. The U.S have a vast array of universities and teaching schools. The U.S has benefactors galore; independent study is fairly easy to achieve. This enables the scientific fraternity to cast an eye over medicinal benefits. As such, you rarely hear the rhetoric of “cannabis has no medical benefits” despite our transatlantic mutuality of a schedule 1 status. The argument that cannabis has no medical value has all but stopped in vocalisation.

In the UK, nothing could be further from the truth; we still cling to the “no medical value” line like a sinking lifeboat on board the titanic. No free thinking person would allow this degree of stupidity in any subject, but we still (for the most part) allow this sentence to go uncontested. With Sativex (the cannabinoid spray) being of schedule 4 status, the government’s greed perhaps is the rope that will hang itself. A glaring oxymoron. Sativex – in governmental policy terms – is hypocrisy in a bottle.

, The Marketing of Cannabis Part 2: Bad ScienceScience, in the UK, is applied to finding the harms in cannabis. Of course, this is by no means a bad thing, we should know the bad with the good, but after 40 years of searching for the evils of cannabis, we are still no further along. The progression of the benefits of cannabis has exponentially outweighed the bad. This doesn’t quash lazy stigmatisation though, and that says a lot about modern culture.

How are we allowed to address this subject with such inanity? Are there no governing bodies that protect the sanctitude of science like the Watchmen? Surely an alarm bell rings and a Bunsen burner lights a beacon in the sky when the Daily Mail goes to print? In a word, no. Science can be as mishandled as wonky football in a world cup – only, with less meaningful headlines. You don’t have to print facts, you can pass much away in the name of opinion.

Dr Ben Goldacre’s primary source campaign should be heeded, as this is something that needs championing. Only good can come from such sane ethics – in essence, this sends the message of; leave the science for the scientists and leave news for the… I think we best leave that sentence open ended don’t you? Dr Ben does a lot to sweep up insidious articles; his work for science fact over pseudo-science is something that adds exponentially to the cannabis debate. I for one feel a debt of gratitude.

Speaking as a lazy and inept philosopher, I ponder with hand on bearded chin whether cannabis and science do go together? As the UK government search for the mental health links that are proving fairly elusive, and with words like “may, possible and casual” having to grace the lexicon of even the most hardened of cynics, can science account for an anthropological issue?

We have all seen the detrimental side of alcohol. We’ve all seen the carnage on a Saturday night in town. But, do we pillory all that drink, or do we attribute that ample life factors play a role. As one group of friends have a nice quiet drink, another group will chose to go a bit Chuck Norris. Can this all be down to drink? Or has someone chatted up someone else’s girl, has someone been labouring on a point of contention, or has someone taken offence to a glib comment? Life throws things, and it is for the rational mind to catch them.

, The Marketing of Cannabis Part 2: Bad ScienceCannabis is a mood enhancer. Set a comfortable environment, and you’ll reap the positive benefits. Engineer a state of paranoia – either through law, stigma or mindless stereotypes, and you’re creating an environment for negativity. We can distinguish life’s angst in alcohol, but we seemingly are unable to apply it to any other substance. Science HAS to find the madness, nothing else will do.

Failing common sense though, we have to leave it to the real scientists to find the perspective that news headlines wilfully discard. So, let’s raise a glass to Ben Goldacre and primary source journalism.

By Jason Reed