News organizations running ads that promote the use of cannabis for the treatment of serious medical conditions are acting irresponsibly — and that is an understatement. Please see the following letter sent to Greg Moore, editor-in-chief of The Denver Post, and Ricardo Baca, editor of the news organization’s online marijuana section — known as “The Cannabist.”
Greg Moore, Editor
The Denver Post
Ricardo Baca, Editor
Dear Mr. Moore and Mr. Baca,
We are writing to express serious concerns regarding The Denver Post’s The Cannabist website’s recommendations of various marijuana strains to “treat” mental illnesses, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We are writing as concerned professionals with extensive experience in mental health treatment, medicine, and/or public health.
The Denver Post’s website provides information from Leafly.com listing 92 Colorado-specific strains of marijuana with 88 claimed to treat depression, 25 to treat PTSD, 23 for bipolar and 40 for ADHD (see attached document assembled by Bob Doyle, chairman of Colorado SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) Coalition). And a few strains are noted to treat cancer. The improper treatment or delay in effective treatment of mental health issues and major psychiatric illnesses can exacerbate the problem and could lead to additional harm to the patient and/or those around them.
In light of the serious potential impact of your recommendations, including possible delay in medical treatment for serious and potentially life-threatening mental illnesses, and the potential for worsening of those illnesses by the marijuana you recommend, we request that you release the data upon which these recommendations for dispensing the specific marijuana strains as a treatment for bipolar disorder, PTSD, ADHD and depression are based. We are sending a copy of this letter to medical authorities with knowledge of science and regulatory policies and procedures.
The absence of critical information on the website for those accepting your advice to use the various marijuana strains is alarming and demonstrates a failure to appreciate the potential implications of your protocol. For each of the strains, we request to know the recommended dosage, duration, the THC and CBD content, whether you’re recommending they be used with or without FDA-approved medication or behavioral treatment for the condition, what contraindications are known and whether other physical or mental health issues should preclude certain people from using the strain.
We look forward to your prompt reply given the seriousness of the claims on your website and their potential negative impact on serious psychiatric conditions your website claims will be “treated” by particular strains of marijuana.
Chair, Colorado SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) Coalition
Christian Thurstone, M.D.
General, child and addiction psychiatrist
A. Eden Evins, M.D., M.P.H.
Associate Professor of Psychiatry
Harvard Medical School
Director, Center for Addiction Medicine
Massachusetts General Hospital
Here is how Denver Post Editor Gregory Moore responded in an e-mail dated Aug. 6:
Dear Mr. Doyle:
Thank you for your email. I appreciate your concern about some aspects of claims about the medical benefits of marijuana, and surely you have the right to raise them. Likewise, many other people believe that the plant for centuries has demonstrated medicinal value and so the debate rages. As to your specific concerns about Leafly, we partnered with Leafly when we started the Cannabis earlier this year because we believed its crowd sourcing method was of particular value to people who use marijuana or were contemplating using it. I believe your concerns really rest with Leafly and I would suggest you contact them directly in Seattle. While the gravity of the content is definitely not the same, what Leafly is doing is not all that different from, say, Rotten Tomatoes. In both cases, the market determines the value of its information and they both use the crowd to evaluate the products. You are free to disagree with what Leafly is doing and addressing those concerns with federal authorities is also your right. We continue to see value in what Leafly provides our users and believe it is a service to the marijuana smoking community, which, after all, is our primary audience for the Cannabist. We do not believe we are endorsing product for specific medical purposes any more than we believe we are endorsing a particular product advertised in our newspaper. The market determines whether those products provide the value claimed. I think my point is clear. As I said, your questions and concerns are best directed to Leafly, which to our knowledge enjoys a terrific reputation in the cannabis community.
Thanks for writing.
So, SAM issued this statement in response to Mr. Moore.
“Comparing a web site making claims for treatment of serious mental health issues to a web site rating movies and TV shows is absurd and demonstrates a reckless approach to The Denver Post’s posting of medical claims on their own web site,” said Bob Doyle, chairman of Colorado SAM.
“People should be concerned that The Denver Post did not appear to have, or feel the need to possess, any medical documentation supporting the claims or any listed medical protocols, such as dose or duration, for each of the strains,” he added. “Why is the medical marijuana industry receiving a free pass when it comes to established protocols for determining and dispensing of medicine?”
I also continue to stand with SAM supporters who are calling for The Post and Leafly to provide the requested information and to end these reckless practices.
I also join SAM supporters who are also calling on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other state and federal regulators to get off the sidelines to protect public health and safety and patients seeking treatment.
On Aug. 12, Sue Rusche, chief executive officer of National Families in Action, filed her response to Mr. Moore’s letter. Among its passages:
“In an e-mail, Denver Post Editor Greg Moore explains how marijuana medicines are evaluated for safety and effectiveness — not by scientists, not by doctors, not by the Food and Drug Administration, but by social media.
“If your doctor diagnoses you with an illness, he or she can write a prescription for a medicine you can fill at your pharmacy. Prescriptions and pharmacies – as opposed to recommendations and dispensaries – signal that the medicine has passed randomized, controlled trials and been approved by FDA. You know without having to think about it:
- that the medicine is free of contaminants,
- it has been tested in animals to make sure it is safe for human use,
- it has been tested in humans to ensure it will treat your illness effectively,
- what it contains and at what strengths,
- what dose to take and how long to take it,
- what side effects you might experience, and
- whether it is safe to use with other medicines you may be taking.
You have none of these guarantees with medical marijuana. But no worries. The crowd will take care of you just fine.”