Thirty states have legalized cannabis in the United States for medical purposes. It is also legal in nine other states and Washington, D.C., for recreational purposes. Despite increased legalization and use, conclusive evidence regarding the health effects of cannabis remains limited.
News media have been a prominent source of information regarding the effects of cannabis; however, news outlets are often criticized for providing incomplete information on the harms and benefits of using cannabis.
Ryan Halvorson, Christopher Stewart, Aishwarya Thakur and Stanton Glantz of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education of the School of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, conducted a content analysis of the articles published in two newspapers: GreenState and San Francisco Chronicle. GreenState is a specialized publication targeted at people interested in cannabis while the Chronicle is a general audience newspaper. The authors analyzed 17 GreenState articles and four from the Chronicle.
Results showed that nearly 25 percent of the GreenState articles were promotional in nature. Several promotional articles were included in the “Health” section. GreenState articles often relied on anecdotal evidence to support their claims. For example, in an article about maternal cannabis use and academic performance, the author claims to know “several healthy babies whose mothers used cannabis throughout their pregnancy.” But there is also evidence that cannabis use during pregnancy has negative health effects.
On the other hand, the San Francisco Chronicle interviewed well-established research physicians, and used quotes of medical experts. The newspaper also cited findings of articles published in famous medical journals, whereas GreenState made claims without citing peer-reviewed research.
The authors said, “The public, clinicians, and policymakers need to be aware of this pattern and treat information in publications like GreenState with an appropriate level of skepticism until the quality of reporting improves to general journalistic standards.”
To read the full text of the study: https://bit.ly/2tIWyz1
Halvorson, R. T., Stewart, C. C., Thakur, A., & Glantz, S. A. (2018). Scientific Quality of Health-Related Articles in Specialty Cannabis and General Newspapers in San Francisco. Journal of Health Communication, 23(12), 993-998.