Debunking Scary Marijuana Headlines 2

Opinion-editorial By Brit Smith, host of Blunt Talk

BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — For our second edition of Debunking Marijuana Headlines, we're looking at an article from Martha's Vineyard Times about a group of out-of-towners who overdid it with edibles while on vacation.

2.MV's Headline: "Edibles Blamed for Edgartown Overdoses."

BS Rating: 2/5

What this article is about: This local news article tells the story of three people from Pennsylvania who visited Martha’s Vineyard, and were taken to a local hospital because they were going “in and out of consciousness” at a restaurant. One of those people said it’s because all three of them had eaten a cannabis-infused edible for the first time.

The writer of this article describes the scenario as a 60-year old woman “overdosing” on THC, the “main ingredient in cannabis.” It says when first responders arrived, two women and a man were “on the floor… in and out of consciousness.” It then describes how one of the women managed to come around enough to mutter the words “15 milligrams….. THC… edible…. All three ….. First time.” The next line solidifies a narrative of disapproval by quoting the Police Chief saying “We all knew this was coming.”

Most of this article is based on a police report, and it recounts the events of that day. But it’s also written in a way that could easily lead an uninformed reader to take on the same prohibitionist opinion as the local Chief of Police. The piece includes problematic language surrounding cannabis consumption, and relies on opinion-ridden quotes from an authority figure who seems to have expected legalization to turn ugly all along.

Rebuttal:

Opinion As Fact

This report could influence the readers’ view of cannabis in many ways. Firstly, it includes judgmental quotes from the Edgartown Police Chief Bruce McNamee, who gives this antiquated assessment: “The candy bars have six to eight servings, but no one takes one bite of a candy bar and puts it away.”  

That’s like assuming that because many people don’t stop at one sip of soda, every adult who tries a vodka coke is going to knock back the entire thing like a shot. Even though some people like chugging cans of cola when its not mixed with an intoxicant, it doesn’t mean they will choose to do the same with a liquored-up drink. This also applies to cannabis candy bars.

In this situation, the Chief gives this opinion as a statement of factual inevitability (“we all knew this was coming”), and his belief may well be taken as fact, which can unfairly sway an unassuming reader.

In reality, any legally sold cannabis-infused edible in the state of Massachusetts has a large warning sign on the packaging label explaining what is recommended for an individual dose. When the chocolate bars are unwrapped, the law says it must have perforated marks on the actual product that shows exactly what a person should eat. So unless the consumers at the Martha’s Vineyard restaurant totally ignored the warning labels, they had been at least visually informed on the optimal amount to take.

Word Selection

The Police Chief may have developed his assessment that adults can’t tell what constitutes one dose from a recent presentation he attended, called “The Physiology of Addiction: Effects of Drug-Taking Behavior on the Adolescent Brain.” McNamee says while he was there, he heard about the “spike in overdoses because of edibles.”

Which leads me to problematic reporting point number 2: The use of the word “overdose.” This article is riddled with the phrase. Is experiencing unpleasant side effects such as anxiety, nausea, and heart-racing really considered an ‘overdose?’ Health experts say that word is heavily associated with dangerous and often fatal amounts of a substance, like opioids. 

You technically can’t die from cannabis use, but you can have an uncomfortable amount. So to avoid the deadly connotation of the word “overdose”, Canadian medical professionals have widely agreed upon the more appropriate term “cannabis toxicity.” While “overdose” may be a technically correct term for taking more of something than was advised, using that word in this context is just another way readers can be unduly influenced into thinking marijuana is as physically dangerous as other substances.

Lastly, there’s one spectacularly ridiculous sentence at the end of this article, attributed to the Center for Disease Control, which, for me, strips the entire piece of its credibility, because it is both untrue and it does not make sense: “According to the CDC, while a fatal overdose from marijuana use is unlikely, it’s not harmless.” Yeah, read that over again. Where do I start?

A “fatal overdose from marijuana use” is not only “unlikely,” it is all but impossible. In the history of human medical literature, there are precisely zero recorded cases of marijuana ingestion causing a fatality. Researchers say ingesting 1500 pounds of cannabis in 15 minutes might kill a human, but they’re not sure anyone can physically do that. As a reminder, the general guidelines say 5-10 mg of an edible is enough—these folks on the Vineyard took 15 mg. Hardly close to an amount that could ever be “fatal.”

If there were such a thing as a “fatal overdose from marijuana use”, it would certainly not be considered “harmless.” Most people concede; fatal means dead. And a fatal overdose of anything is, by definition, pretty harmful. Bad grammar alert, if nothing else. 

There’s the abundant inclusion of the unnecessary word “fatal.” As we mentioned, marijuana ingestion has never caused a fatality. That buzzword is just one more way readers could be misguided into believing that edibles are highly dangerous, when they are simply easy to over-ingest.

In reality, more education surrounding the safe and responsible consumption of cannabis edibles would go a long way. Not just for consumers, but for both the media and law enforcement, who together craft news articles on what they’re wrongly dubbing “marijuana edible overdoses.” While it accurately recounted what happened that day, the misleading language land this piece a BS rating of 2/5.

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Blunt Talk is a podcast about cannabis hosted by Brit Smith every Monday. You can listen to all previous podcasts on iHeartRadio.

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