By Paul Armentano, AlterNet. Posted September 23, 2009.
Writing in the journal Science nearly four decades ago, New York State University sociologist Erich Goode documented the media's complicity in maintaining cannabis prohibition.
He observed: "[T]ests and experiments purporting to demonstrate the ravages of marijuana consumption receive enormous attention from the media, and their findings become accepted as fact by the public. But when careful refutations of such research are published, or when later findings contradict the original pathological findings, they tend to be ignored or dismissed."
A glimpse of today's mainstream media landscape indicates that little has changed -- with news outlets continuing to, at best, underreport the publication of scientific studies that undermine the federal government's longstanding pot propaganda and, at worst, ignore them all together.
Here are five recent stories the mainstream media doesn't want you to know about pot:
1. Marijuana Use Is Not Associated With a Rise in Incidences of Schizophrenia
Over the past few years, the worldwide media, as well as federal officials in the United Kingdom, Canada and the U.S. have earnestly promoted the notion that smoking pot induces mental illness.
Perhaps most notably, in 2007 the MSM reported that cannabis "could boost the risk of developing a psychotic illness later in life by about 40 percent" -- a talking point that was also actively promoted by U.S. anti-drug officials.
So, is there any truth to the claim that pot smoking is sparking a dramatic rise in mental illness? Not at all, according to the findings of a study published in July in the journal Schizophrenia Research.
Investigators at the Keele University Medical School in Britain compared trends in marijuana use and incidences of schizophrenia in the United Kingdom from 1996 to 2005. Researchers reported that the "incidence and prevalence of schizophrenia and psychoses were either stable or declining" during this period, even the use of cannabis among the general population was rising.
"[T]he expected rise in diagnoses of schizophrenia and psychoses did not occur over a 10-year period," the authors concluded. "This study does not therefore support the specific causal link between cannabis use and incidence of psychotic disorders. … This concurs with other reports indicating that increases in population cannabis use have not been followed by increases in psychotic incidence."
As of this writing, a handful of news wire reports in Australia, Canada, and the U.K. have reported on the Keele University study. Notably, no American media outlets covered the story.
2. Marijuana Smoke Doesn't Damage the Lungs Like Tobacco
Everyone knows that smoking pot is as damaging, if not more damaging, to the lungs than puffing cigarettes, right?
Wrong, according to a team of New Zealand investigators writing in the European Respiratory Journal in August.
Researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand compared the effects of cannabis and tobacco smoke on lung function in over 1,000 adults.
They reported: "Cumulative cannabis use was associated with higher forced vital capacity [the volume of air that can forcibly be blown out after full inspiration], total lung capacity, functional residual capacity [the volume of air present in the lungs at the end of passive expiration] and residual volume.
"Cannabis was also associated with higher airways resistance but not with forced expiratory volume in one second [the maximum volume of air that can be forcibly blown out in the first second during the FVC test], forced expiratory ratio, or transfer factor. These findings were similar amongst those who did not smoke tobacco. … By contrast, tobacco use was associated with lower forced expiratory volume in one second, lower forced expiratory ratio, lower transfer factor and higher static lung volumes, but not with airways resistance."
They concluded, "Cannabis appears to have different effects on lung function to those of tobacco."
Predictably, the scientists' "inconvenient truth" was not reported in a single media outlet.
3. Cannabis Use Potentially Protects, Rather Than Harms, the Brain
Does smoking pot kill brain cells? Drinking alcohol most certainly does, and many opponents of marijuana-law reform claim that marijuana's adverse effects on the brain are even worse. Are they correct?
Not according to recent findings published this summer in the journal Neurotoxicology and Teratology.
Investigators at the University of California at San Diego examined white matter integrity in adolescents with histories of binge drinking and marijuana use. They reported that binge drinkers (defined as boys who consumed five or more drinks in one sitting, or girls who consumed four or more drinks at one time) showed signs of white matter damage in eight regions of the brain.
By contrast, the binge drinkers who also used marijuana experienced less damage in 7 out of the 8 brain regions.
"Binge drinkers who also use marijuana did not show as consistent a divergence from non-users as did the binge drink-only group," authors concluded. "[It is] possible that marijuana may have some neuroprotective properties in mitigating alcohol-related oxidative stress or excitotoxic cell death."
To date, only a handful of U.S. media outlets -- almost exclusively college newspapers -- have reported the story.
4. Marijuana Is a Terminus, Not a 'Gateway,' to Hard Drug Use
Alarmist claims that experimenting with cannabis will inevitably lead to the use of other illicit drugs persist in the media despite statistical data indicating that the overwhelming majority of those who try pot never go on to use cocaine or heroin.
Moreover, recent research is emerging that indicates that pot may also suppress one's desire to use so-called hard drugs.
In June, Paris researchers writing in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology concluded that the administration of oral THC in animals suppressed sensitivity to opiate dependence.
Also this summer, investigators at the New York State Psychiatric Institute reported in the American Journal on Addictions that drug-treatment subjects who use cannabis intermittently were more likely to adhere to treatment for opioid dependence.
Although a press release for the former study appeared on the Web site physorg.com on July 7, neither study ever gained any traction in the mainstream media.
5. Government's Anti-Pot Ads Encourage, Rather Than Discourage, Marijuana Use
Sure, many of us already knew that the federal government's $2 billion ad campaign targeting pot was failing to dissuade viewers from toking up, but who knew it was this bad?
According to a new study posted online in the journal Health Communication, survey data published by investigators at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania found that many of the government's public-service announcements actually encouraged pot use.
Researchers assessed the attitudes of over 600 adolescents, age 12 to 18, after viewing 60 government-funded anti-marijuana television spots.
Specifically, researchers evaluated whether the presence of marijuana-related imagery in the ads (e.g., the handling of marijuana cigarettes or the depiction of marijuana-smoking behavior) were more likely or less likely to discourage viewers' use of cannabis.
Messages that depict teens associating with cannabis are "significantly less effective than others," the researchers found.
"This negative impact of marijuana scenes is not reversed in the presence of strong anti-marijuana arguments in the ads and is mainly present for the group of adolescents who are often targets of such anti-marijuana ads (i.e., high-risk adolescents)," the authors determined. "For this segment of adolescents, including marijuana scenes in anti-marijuana (public-service announcements) may not be a good strategy."
Needless to say, no outlets in the mainstream media -- many of which donated air time to several of the beleaguered ads in question -- have yet to report on the story.