In Need of Change: Cannabis and the Media
Flip on the evening news or search the internet, you’re increasingly bound to find something about cannabis, yet there are only a few categories of information widely distributed and you are not likely to find anything positive or reliable. There are three forms of journalism pertaining to cannabis and health that are widely circulated on the internet, in print, and on TV, with just a few exceptions.
First there are internet weed blogs and depending on your locality, weekly or monthly newspapers that focus only on cannabis, rely on internal sources or personal knowledge of the author, are op-ed based and in the end, usually trying to sell the product they are discussing in an attempt for sponsored revenue. There are dozens of popular sites in this category and chances are the first search results when you search for cannabis on the web will be a handful of these resources. These can be hard to trust for medical information, or if the reader does trust them, the information is tough to discuss with those that don’t agree with cannabis, because the sources are just not reliable.
Then there is the daily nightly news, both local and national. These TV outlets rely on visual content to keep the attention of their audience. Thus they feature pieces on violence and criminality associated with cannabis. They focus on the excitement and sensationalism that cannabis, as an illegal substance, produces in the form of raids, seizures of large quantities of illegally grown product, and hash oil explosions but rarely place a benevolent face to an otherwise harmless plant.
Last there are online health blogs, usually catered towards young families or aging individuals trying to self-diagnose nonemergency ailments, like WebMD and the like. The internet is increasingly becoming the family doctor in many ways. Instead of visiting a dermatologist, for instance, where one would have to deal with co-pays, appointments, insurance and so on, one could instead easily click a button that will, for the given example, recommend a cold compress for a bug bite or certain moisturizers for irritated skin. That’s just one example on the low end of medical symptoms the public may search for. But people also reference the internet when they look up “When to check out a misshaped mole?” or “What does a heart attack feel like?”
Because of this wide-open field for targeted markets, pharmaceutical drug companies pounce on advertising spots to spotlight their latest prescription, thus making these public medical libraries very valuable and competitive. It only makes sense, then, there is little journalism on these sites that shed any positivity on cannabis as medicine. If anything, the most negative press about cannabis is sourced from these very blogs. Because of the sponsor’s competition with cannabis as medicine, and as a source of information on nonemergency health issues that cannabis has oftentimes demonstrated beneficial effects for, these blogs will emphasize the possible ill effects of cannabis that are equally as unfounded and without third-party, unbiased oversight as pro-cannabis internet blogs.
As a federally illegal substance, nobody has to be accountable for research, whether pro or anti cannabis. But if they are equal, why do health blogs only distribute anti-cannabis articles? Often times a blog or article starting with “Bad News For Pot Smokers” will be featured. It is because these pieces a) trigger an inquisitive and curious audience to a hot political and health topic and b) generates a link to another advertised webpage with the same Big Pharma sponsors. In effect, the dominating mainstream thought is strengthened that cannabis is bad for your health.
There is very little journalism that touches on the benefits of cannabis that is published in reputable health journals yet overwhelming anecdotal evidence of its benefit (for anything, mind you, because it is condoned in modern medicine that it is schedule-1 for a reason—that being there is no medical benefit of cannabis whatsoever).
A large portion of the American public is then shut off from information that should otherwise be accessible. Many people will only trust news if it comes from a platform that is enjoyed by a non-particular market audience. In other words, lest you are completely consumed in one ideology (Fox News on one side of the spectrum and weed-only blogs on the other) and will avoid other sources at any cost, the chances are you enjoy things that others not like yourself may enjoy as well. Thus, the media in this category is called “mainstream”, meaning a) it is widely distributed and b) it is seen as generally neutral. One example is network TV’s nightly news. Whether it’s Dateline, 60 Minutes, or 20/20, across the board people view these networks generally “mainstream”. Granted, these news programs are sponsored by the same large corporations as the online medical libraries and there is little to no contradictory journalism to the message of those corporate sponsors.
This underlines the challenge for cannabis to gain a foothold in “mainstream” society. Cannabis, still, is seen as an “alternative” or “holistic” approach to medicine. The language used in everyday American life, here, is part of the paradigm shift that needs to take place in order for cannabis to be widely accepted. Cannabis cannot become mainstream until nightly news widely distributes information on cannabis that appeals to a wide spectrum of the population. To this effect, they will have to cease sensational pieces focusing on the criminality of cannabis and, alongside online medical libraries, distribute more journalism on the benefits of cannabis. There is gaining media attention for children with epilepsy in search of CBD-rich cannabis to help their symptoms, yet that is a very small fraction of the nationwide population that would benefit from cannabis use.
There are zero recorded fatalities that cite cannabis as the cause of overdose. Prescription overdose however kills 46 people every day in the United States. Unfortunately, the medical libraries and nightly news will not do any in-depth reporting on that comparison.
 Rosenberg, Martha. "The Links Between WebMD and Eli Lilly." Counterpunch.org. 10 Mar. 2010. Web. 11 June 2015. <http://www.counterpunch.org/2010/03/15/the-links-between-webmd-and-eli-lilly/>.
 "Opioid Painkiller Prescribing." CDC.gov. Center for Disease Control, 1 July 2014. Web. 11 June 2015. <http://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/opioid-prescribing/>.
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Shift Cannabis Co. is a boutique consulting firm focusing on boutique cannabis cultivation and retailing.