TV Quack Dr. Oz Spreads Junk Science To Discredit Marijuana

Marijuana Use vs Risk vs Disorders
Don't worry about that flat red line at the bottom. We're only interested in the lines that rise over time.
Charlie Sheen
Marijuana? What do you think I am, some amateur? (Image: CharlieSheen.com)

Dr. Mehmet Oz, the television doctor known for promoting Reiki “energy” therapy and numerous unproven snake oil “cures”, has co-authored an article entitled ”Marijuana: Is there a responsible way to approach its increasing use?“ It appears in Friday’s Health & Fitness section of The Idaho Statesman, the largest newspaper in the state of my birth, and has been syndicated elsewhere.

In the scant 650-word piece, the authors managed to cram in ten different ways to undermine support for medical marijuana. If you thought Dr. Oz was batty when he’s promoting seances with the dead, pushing unproven magic weight loss cures, or interviewing Charlie Sheen about the virus in goat’s milk that cured his HIV/AIDS, wait’ll you read his opinions on medical marijuana.

1) Doctors shouldn’t joke about medicine (especially if they promote joke medicine)

Dr. Oz Fat Loss
What, the guy who says green coffee beans are a miracle fat burning pill might be misinformed about cannabis? (Image: YouTube)

The seriousness with which they treat the marijuana issue is revealed in denigrating pot-pun lines, like the opening “…facts about its risks and benefits seem harder to come by than a sober fan at a Willie Nelson concert,” the warning that “some think it can send your health up in smoke,” and the advice “don’t go one toke over the line.

But the jokes about pot aren’t as troubling as Dr. Oz and his co-author, Dr. Michael Roizen, Chief Wellness Officer of the Cleveland Clinic (which sells Reiki “energy” services), irresponsibly spreading junk science and misinformation to discredit marijuana in literally every paragraph.

2) Doctors shouldn’t say there are medical marijuana prescriptions.

More than 31 million U.S. adults smoke marijuana, and almost 8.5 million use pot a lot, according to a recent study published in The Lancet Psychiatry. Somewhere around 1,246,170 folks in 24 states have authorized prescriptions for medical marijuana

Cop Pat Down
Pictured: police reacting to a medical marijuana patient’s prescription.

Nobody has a prescription for medical marijuana. It is a Schedule I drug and prescriptions cannot be written for it. Drs. Oz & Roizen know this; as physicians, they have to abide by the DEA’s prescription regulations regarding dangerous medicines that, unlike marijuana, can kill you.

Instead, millions of patients in half the country have physicians’ recommendations to use marijuana for medical purposes. A prescription would protect these patients’ medical information under HIPAA; a prescription would allow health insurance to cover costs; a prescription would prevent employers, landlords, government, firearms dealers, courts, and law enforcement from abridging these patients’ civil rights.

3) Doctors shouldn’t try to fool patients by hiding important details.

Ironically, the more folks smoke pot (the increase since 2002 is about 30 percent), the less people believe it delivers real physical and psychological risks.

Brain on Drugs Ad
I wonder why people back in the day thought marijuana was riskier?

There’s nothing ironic about fewer people finding pot use risky these days. In 2002, their baseline was set when there was only eight medical marijuana states that had been around for just six years. The Bush Administration was telling us marijuana leads to terrorism, pot had become 20 times stronger, and kids who find dad’s stash will shoot their friends.

Fourteen years later, folks are just beginning to form a more accurate perception of marijuana’s risks after generations of Reefer Madness propaganda. People now know that marijuana is safer than alcohol and tobacco, that marijuana is incapable of fatal overdose, and marijuana can be used for medical purposes. They’ve seen 25 states allow medical use and 4 states legalize all adult use, and those states are seeing tremendous benefits.

But the egregious omission comes from their use of The Lancet study to tell you “31 million” adults toke, “8.5 million” toke a lot, toking’s increased “30 percent”, and risk perception has dramatically declined, but failing to mention the most important finding: despite those changes, there has been “no increase in marijuana use disorders (1.5%).

Marijuana Use vs Risk vs Disorders
Don’t worry about that flat red line at the bottom. Drs. Oz & Roizen are only interested in the lines that rise and scare less-informed people about marijuana.

4) Doctors shouldn’t ignore research disproving cancer scares

Any smoke, be it from a wood fire, a cigarette or a joint, delivers toxins to the lungs. Inhaling deeply and holding your breath when smoking marijuana increases exposure…. researchers from Health Canada found… sidestream (secondhand) marijuana smoke with more carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) than secondhand tobacco smoke.

Tashkin Cancer Study
C’mon, doctors, we’ve known marijuana smoke doesn’t cause cancer for a decade now.

Yes, exposure to the smoke from burning vegetable matter of all types does contain toxins and carcinogens. But these doctors are using scary words that imply danger while leaving out the important information that debunks the danger.

We’ve already explained that nobody dies from marijuana overdose, so it’s not toxic. Marijuana smoke contains carcinogens, but that doesn’t mean it causes cancer; just like H2O contains two explosive hydrogen atoms and the oxygen necessary for fire, but that doesn’t mean water burns. Chemistry matters.

The chemistry in marijuana smoke matters, too. The delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) molecules among the carcinogens seem to prevent the smoke from causing cancer. Even among those tokers who are inhaling deeply and holding their breath, there is “no association at all” between their marijuana use and head, neck, and lung cancers.

5) Doctors shouldn’t fail to mention safer methods of administering medicine

…hydrocarbons also contribute to inflammation throughout your body, including in your joints, your back, your arteries and your brain… you may actually increase the pain from which you’re seeking relief.

Opioid Prescriptions
Tell you to pay for an office visit every month to renew your pain prescription? Or tell you to grow a cheap safe houseplant? What would your doctor do? (Image: Washington Post)

Chronic pain is the number one condition for which patients get physician’s recommendations to use marijuana medically. Studies show it is very effective for pain management, especially when applied to neuropathic pain, without the toxic and addictive side effects of opioid painkillers. Recent surveys have shown that access to medical marijuana correlates with a reduction in opioids prescribed and fewer opioid overdose deaths.

But let’s pretend that there could be enough inflammation from hydrocarbons in marijuana smoke to increase the pain beyond the analgesic capabilities of the cannabinoids. There are vaporizers, tinctures, topicals, and edibles that pain patients can use to eliminate any of the harms associated with smoking – like inflammatory hydrocarbons. Shouldn’t the doctors know about these methods of harm reduction?

6) Doctors shouldn’t undercut harm reduction methods with unrelated risks

These same inflammatory molecules don’t seem to accumulate when marijuana is eaten. But if you’re going to eat pot brownies, gummies or hard candies, beware of kids‘ access to them. Overdoses are dangerous….

Gummy Vitamins
48,000+ kids under age 6 “poisoned” nationwide (2014) by non-toxic gummy vitamins aren’t as scary as 47 kids under age 10 “poisoned” in Colorado (2015) by non-toxic gummy marijuana.

The doctors will acknowledge that there are marijuana-infused edibles to eliminate smoking’s harms, but then they make that alternative scary by threatening a danger to children. Nobody wants to see kids ingesting marijuana, but that’s a risk borne from bad parenting, not a risk from the marijuana-infused edibles.

Kids face no more danger from eating unsecured marijuana gummies than eating unsecured vitamin gummies – they’ll experience discomfort, but both are non-toxic and the kids will recover in a few hours with no lasting effects. The kids won’t fare quite as well if they eat unsecured chocolate laxatives, unsecured gelatin alcohol shots, or unsecured candy-looking laundry pods.

The difference is that the blame for thousands of kids nationwide getting sick and occasionally dying every year on these products is placed on the irresponsible adults who let the kids get into the easily-opened, sometimes-transparent packages of drug-infused candy or candy-looking poisons. But if a few dozen kids are made temporarily ill by accessing marijuana products, the blame is placed on the products and laws are passed immediately to restrict their shape, reduce their potency, label their dangers, ban their advertising, and require their packaging in opaque, childproof containers.

7) Doctors shouldn’t stop following up on the latest research

One study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed frequent marijuana smokers LOST eight IQ points between the ages of 13 and 38! And even if they quit as adults, the researchers found the youthful indulgers’ mental ability did not fully recover. Fortunately, folks who start smoking pot as an adult do not show such a decline in IQ.

Carl Sagan
Just imagine how smart this rocket scientist would have been if he didn’t smoke pot!

The doctors are relying on Madeline Meier’s 2012 study that had followed over one thousand New Zealanders over forty years. When it came out, marijuana prohibitionists finally had the evidence to back up the stereotype of the dullard pothead. They added the “lost eight IQ points” scare to their repertoire and have been using it ever since.

They then paid no attention to the researcher in 2013 who debunked the conclusion using the same data and published his results in the same peer-reviewed journal where Meier’s study was published. They ignored that there were only 38 examples of early-onset frequent-use subjects to prove this IQ loss, a dubiously small sample. They paid no heed to a 2016 study of over 2,200 teenagers that showed no short-term effect on adolescent IQ in heavy marijuana users. They never acknowledged another 2016 study of over 3,000 pairs of twins, where one twin tokes and other abstains, showing no decline in adolescent IQ based on marijuana use.

8) Doctors shouldn’t confuse bureaucracy with efficacy

When used in a well-regulated program to address specific medical issues, marijuana can convey some benefits.

Delta-9 THC Molecule
Sorry, until I can see your medical marijuana card, you’re just a placebo.

As they conclude the article, the doctors attempt to portray themselves as “fair and balanced”. If they didn’t recognize the medicinal benefits of marijuana that are so well-known and obvious, they’d lose the smidgen of credibility that Reiki-believing, pharmaceutical-shillingweight loss snake-oil salesmen might still retain.

But how does a well-regulated program change the pharmacological effects of cannabinoids on medical issues? Why must one define bureaucratically which specific medical issues may be treated for marijuana to convey some benefits?

Numerous medical issues are treated by marijuana because our bodies have receptors for the cannabinoid molecules in the plant. These external plant-based molecules, or phytocannabinoids, mimic our body’s endocannabinoids – the molecules we produce internally - that help to regulate many of our bodily functions. This endocannabinoid system couldn’t care less whether you’ve registered with the state, qualified with some specific condition, got a card, shopped in a dispensary, and followed strict regulations for medical cannabis use. Your body will experience the same benefits from smoking an illegal marijuana joint for entertainment at an outdoor midnight Pink Floyd laser light show.

9) Doctors shouldn’t compare medical marijuana with toxic alcohol

…treat it with the same understanding of its inherent risks and benefits as you do — or should — alcohol, which can be used in a recipe for a tasty fish stew or be a toxic substance that kills.

The doctors’ article, with titles, is just over 650 words, all carefully arranged to lead uninformed readers to assume the worst. It uses the word “risks” seven times relating to seven other scary words: “toxin”, “toxic”, “carcinogen”, “dangerous”, “ammonia”, “cyanide”, and “health up in smoke”. It uses the word “benefits” six times, but then undercuts them immediately, like so:

  1. There are ”around 1,246,170 folks in 24 states” benefiting from medical marijuana… but they’re a fraction of the millions of adults and kids smoking pot.
  2. Medical marijuana can provide benefits of “pain relief… stimulate appetite… ease Parkinson’s symptoms”… but that only “may” outweigh the health risks plain old pot smokers suffer.
  3. You may ”feel less back or joint pain” as a benefit of medical marijuana… but smoking it may “increase the pain”.
  4. You can avoid smoking’s ”inflammatory molecules” and benefit from eating marijuana… but then kids will suffer “dangerous — and increasingly common” marijuana overdoses.
  5. There seem to be medical marijuana benefits for diabetes, spasticity, nausea, and pain, maybe… but only if your state passed a medical marijuana law and you qualify for a card.
  6. Marijuana has medical benefits and it’s “increasingly accepted”… but it’s super potent now, so we should treat it like alcohol, “a toxic substance that kills”.

10) Doctors shouldn’t spread their ignorance to others on TV

Treating marijuana like alcohol is a gross misunderstanding of both substances and an insult to marijuana. Treating marijuana as more harmful than pharmaceuticals is a gross misapplication of drug regulation and an insult to patients. Treating marijuana with more skepticism than Reiki is a gross dereliction of scientific duty and an insult to audiences. Treating marijuana to a reefer madness write-up from TV’s quackiest doctor is just gross.

Russ Belville
About Russ Belville 199 Articles
Russ Belville - or "Radical" Russ, as he is known on-air - hosts The Marijuana Agenda, a live news and talk radio program for the cannabis community, weekdays at 3pm Pacific on MJAgenda.com.  The show is based in Portland, Oregon, but "Radical" Russ has traveled over 300,000 air miles in the past five years, bringing his show to report live from hundreds of cannabis conferences, marijuana expos, hemp festivals, and legalization events in over 70 North American cities.