Debunking Scary Marijuana Headlines, Part 4

Girl holding marijuana in hand , close-up

(Science Photo Library RF)

By Brit Smith, host of Blunt Talk

BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — In the wake of medical marijuana legalization, there has been a new study by the University of Massachusetts Amherst that looked into how many calls have come in to the Regional Center for Poison Control and Prevention in Massachusetts between 2009-2016 regarding children aged 0-19 taking medical cannabis products.

But several news outlets are misinterpreting the study’s data, and falsely reporting on what the UMass report says.

Let’s take a look at this article from Wicked Local’s Millbury-Sutton Chronicle, and see what the author is claiming versus what the UMass study actually found.

The Wicked Local author makes a major and unfounded claim right off the bat: “In the years since [medical] marijuana has become legal in Massachusetts, a slew of new products have hit the market that could cause serious—or even fatal—consequences if they fall into the wrong (tiny) hands. And recently-released data suggests that just might be happening.”

Let’s pick that claim apart:

AUTHOR’S CLAIM #1: “A slew of new products have hit the market that could cause serious ….. consequences.”

ANALYSIS: That finding was NOT reflected in this UMass study. Out of 219 cannabis-related calls, 215 had “moderate, minor, or no effect,” “unable to follow,” or “not followed.” The only consequence that may have been considered ‘serious’ was NOT definitely marijuana.

Here’s what the UMass Study actually says: “Moderate and minor effects were the most common medical outcomes reported… the single call for a ‘major effect’ from a single-substance cannabis exposure involved two unrelated adolescent males (age 17 and 18 years) with no known health problems who collapsed while playing sports, hours after smoking what they believed to be marijuana….. A sample of the substance they used was not available for analysis. This case suggests the possibility of contaminated marijuana as the cause of the clinical effects.”

AUTHOR’S CLAIM #2: “A slew of new products have hit the market that could cause ... fatal consequences.”

ANALYSIS: This claim is easily proven false. The UMass Study clearly states: “No deaths were reported.”

Of note: No medical studies in history have ever determined death due to cannabis, from either the black market or the regulated market.

AUTHOR’S CLAIM #3: “...consequences if they fall into the wrong (tiny) hands. And recently released data suggests that just might be happening.”

ANALYSIS: By saying “tiny hands,” the author makes it sound like UMass found mostly toddlers being exposed to medical marijuana products.

But the data shows it was not mostly “tiny hands” involved. The study actually found it was mostly teenagers taking pot products from home on purpose: "Teenagers aged 15 to 19 years were involved in the highest number of cases (81.2%.) 91% of that group were classified as “intentional exposure.” 92.7% of that group were exposed in their own residence.”

AUTHOR’S CLAIM #4: “These products pose a risk because they are designed to be appetizing and appealing to eat, taking the form of brownies, cookies, candies…. Of course children are interested in these types of treats.”

ANALYSIS: This anecdotal statement from a toxicologist in Worcester is in fact mirrored in the UMass study, which found that out of the younger kids who are getting their hands on marijuana, edibles are the most frequent cause; “Among the cases involving children aged 0 to 4 years, most (86.4%) were due to ingestion.”

But the study also shows that for most of the poison control calls (which were for teenagers), edibles were not the issue: “For teenagers aged 15 to 19, 78.7% were related to inhalation.” And again, 91% of those older teens were classified as "intentional exposure."

While it is incredibly important to keep all intoxicating products out of the hands of young children, this article and dozens like it are not accurately portraying what the UMass study found.

What it shows is that that over 8 years, Poison Control got 219 calls about 22 toddlers ingesting pot edibles either at home, in another residence, or at school. And 178 older teens intentionally took medical marijuana flower from adults, mostly inside their home.

The bottom line should be; keep ALL your marijuana products in their packaging, out of reach, and out of sight of anyone who’s not an adult. Oh, and talk to your teens about not smoking your stash.

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Blunt Talk is a podcast about cannabis hosted by Brit Smith and Rami Abou-Sabe. You can listen to all previous podcasts on iHeartRadio.

WBZ NewsRadio's Brit Smith (@wbzbritsmith) reports

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