PBS journalistic integrity questioned

September 29th 2021, Boston’s Public Broadcasting station WGBH released its NOVA documentary entitled “The Cannabis Question.”  A week later it sponsored a panel discussion on the same topic.  WGBH asked panel discussion attendees their opinion of the presentations.  So this is what I sent to them:

Perhaps you think “The Cannabis Question” is a balanced presentation because it does a reasonable job presenting some of the science of two chemicals in cannabis, THC and CBD.  Unfortunately, much of the science goes over the heads of a general public not trained in magnetic resonance imaging, for example.  However, the public does relate to personal stories.  That’s why you featured seven such stories in the program – all from users claiming benefits of cannabis. 

Nowhere were viewers introduced to the victims of THC use, even though some of the risks that create THC victims were identified by your expert interviewees.  Risks such as addiction, psychosis, schizophrenia, suicide, cannabis hyperemesis syndrome, and traffic crashes.  Of course victims of suicide and traffic fatalities could not be interviewed.  But I know for a fact that many victims’ families are not only willing to testify, but have done so. 

Your frequent false statements prove the program’s lack of balance.  I expected the foolish and inflammatory statements from the Drug Policy Alliance, but I did not expect the narrator’s reference to a “cannabis wellness industry.”  That industry is responsible for more deaths and destroyed lives than you admit in your comparison of THC safety with that of other drugs.  That does not qualify as a wellness industry.

You never even mentioned driving impairment and the increased potentially thousands of traffic deaths and hundreds of thousands of traffic injuries implicating THC.

If NOVA is interested in presenting the science and victims of THC driving impairment, let me know.  If you want to interview the families of other victims, I can put you in touch with a great number of them.

Here are a few of the false, misleading or irresponsible statements in the film:

  1. Narrator 1:25: Federal law blocks science

Nonsense. How do you explain over 35,000 peer-reviewed cannabis manuscripts in the scientific literature, or the scientific work you yourself cited at UCLA, Washington University, UC San Diego, Johns Hopkins and the various hospitals where your interviewees work?

  1. Frederique of the Drug Policy Alliance 34:49: Cannabis is a driving force fueling mass incarceration, targeting poor people and communities of color.

You’re preaching a false narrative.  Disparate treatment continues in states that have legalized marijuana as Dr. Cunningham, one of the film’s interviewees pointed out. There are certainly some exceptions, but generally, incarceration is fueled by bad behavior.  States like Colorado that have legalized marijuana found that racial differences in arrest rates for drug-related crimes did not disappear after legalization, they actually increased.  So don’t sell legalization as a cure for racism.  It does not solve the problem.

  1. Dr Cunningham 48:01: Cannabis users show an across the board improvement in a number of different cognitive tasks that require executive function.

Dr Cunningham cautioned that her findings have not been peer-reviewed.  And I will tell you that literally thousands of peer-reviewed studies show THC impairs executive function.  See the book, “Cannabis in Medicine” published by Springer in 2020, edited by Dr. Ken Finn for some of these references.

  1. Narrator 5:45 Cannabis consists of over 400 compounds, 100 of which are cannabinoids. 

That’s irrelevant for smoked marijuana.  The pyrolysis of marijuana results in an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 compounds, most of which have never been characterized.  You have no idea what you’re sucking into your lungs.

  1. Narrator 42:50: Cannabis is safer than other medications we’ve used for decades.

I presume the narrator is speaking of opioids when he mentions “other medications.”  That’s faint praise.  A 9mm bullet is half as deadly as a .45 caliber bullet.  And a .22 caliber bullet is half as deadly as 9mm bullet.  That doesn’t mean we should shoot people with .22 caliber bullets because it’s safe to do so.

  1. Narrator 2:27: A majority of people now live in states where cannabis is legal.

First, it’s still illegal at the federal level, it’s just that federal laws are not enforced.  Second, the majority of towns, cities and counties still outlaw licensed marijuana drug dealers in California and Colorado where recreational marijuana is legal.  Except in mostly big cities, people don’t want drug dealers in their neighborhood.

  1. Narrator 43:20: About 9% of users will develop a cannabis addiction.

That’s an out-of-date reference, based on low concentration THC products (something you incorrectly term potency), and it refers to adults.  For adolescents it’s far higher.  In Colorado, 48% of all marijuana users in the last 30 days claim daily or near-daily use.

  1. Narrator 35:20: Over 40,000 are behind bars for cannabis, mainly for possession.

Most possession sentences are the result of a plea bargain down from more serious offenses.  I don’t know the number in prison for possession only, but it’s far less than 40,000.

  1. Narrator 24:30: Promoted the use of Epidiolex for Autism.

This may be valid.  I hope it is.  But promoting it before data are available is as intelligent and responsible as Donald Trump recommending hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid 19.

  1. Frederique 34:59: Cannabis is an essential service.

It’s only been deemed an essential service in states where the politicians are drinking the Kool-Aid, like Polis in Colorado and Newsome in California.

  1. Frederique 50:39: We need to legalize cannabis. We need to pump more money into research to learn more about this substance. 

This is the fundamental problem we’re facing.  Legalize first, then study the effects. That makes as much sense as Nancy Pelosi’s comment that we need to pass the Obamacare bill to find out what’s in it.  States have legalized marijuana before learning of its adverse effects.  Now that we know those effects, we are ignoring them because the industry is too powerful, the taxes it generates are too alluring, because politicians are either ignorant, compromised, or spineless, and because a gullible public has been misled by an industry that has little sympathy for the victims it is creating daily.  And because the Public Broadcasting Service and other media outlets won’t disclose the full truth.

  1. Narrator 3:45: THC is used to treat PTSD.

You can treat PTSD (or anything else) with Macbeth’s eye of newt if you want to.  That doesn’t mean it cures PTSD.  THC in low doses only has a positive temporary effect of masking some PTSD symptoms, as pointed out by Dr Vandry, one of your interviewees.  Effective long-term treatment requires psychotherapy as well as medications to control symptoms.  Promoting self-medication to treat a serious condition like PTSD is irresponsible.

I could go on, but it should be perfectly clear by now that NOVA’s film, “The Cannabis Question” doesn’t qualify as journalism.  It’s simply pro-pot propaganda.

See the video: https://youtu.be/9xynzrI3nW8


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