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Editor's note: Come see Paul Armentano and many other top marijuana experts and advocates in discussion at NORML's 38th national conference taking place this week from September 24–26 in San Francisco. Click here to learn more.
Writing in the journal Science nearly four decades ago, New York State University sociologist Erich Goode documented the media's complicity in maintaining cannabis prohibition.
He observed: "[T]ests and experiments purporting to demonstrate the ravages of marijuana consumption receive enormous attention from the media, and their findings become accepted as fact by the public. But when careful refutations of such research are published, or when later findings contradict the original pathological findings, they tend to be ignored or dismissed."
A glimpse of today's mainstream media landscape indicates that little has changed -- with news outlets continuing to, at best, underreport the publication of scientific studies that undermine the federal government's longstanding pot propaganda and, at worst, ignore them all together.
Here are five recent stories the mainstream media doesn't want you to know about pot:
1. Marijuana Use Is Not Associated With a Rise in Incidences of Schizophrenia
Over the past few years, the worldwide media, as well as federal officials in the United Kingdom, Canada and the U.S. have earnestly promoted the notion that smoking pot induces mental illness.
Perhaps most notably, in 2007 the MSM reported that cannabis "could boost the risk of developing a psychotic illness later in life by about 40 percent" -- a talking point that was also actively promoted by U.S. anti-drug officials.
So, is there any truth to the claim that pot smoking is sparking a dramatic rise in mental illness? Not at all, according to the findings of a study published in July in the journal Schizophrenia Research.
Investigators at the Keele University Medical School in Britain compared trends in marijuana use and incidences of schizophrenia in the United Kingdom from 1996 to 2005. Researchers reported that the "incidence and prevalence of schizophrenia and psychoses were either stable or declining" during this period, even the use of cannabis among the general population was rising.
"[T]he expected rise in diagnoses of schizophrenia and psychoses did not occur over a 10-year period," the authors concluded. "This study does not therefore support the specific causal link between cannabis use and incidence of psychotic disorders. … This concurs with other reports indicating that increases in population cannabis use have not been followed by increases in psychotic incidence."
2. Marijuana Smoke Doesn't Damage the Lungs Like Tobacco
Everyone knows that smoking pot is as damaging, if not more damaging, to the lungs than puffing cigarettes, right?
Wrong, according to a team of New Zealand investigators writing in the European Respiratory Journal in August.
Researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand compared the effects of cannabis and tobacco smoke on lung function in over 1,000 adults.
They reported: "Cumulative cannabis use was associated with higher forced vital capacity [the volume of air that can forcibly be blown out after full inspiration], total lung capacity, functional residual capacity [the volume of air present in the lungs at the end of passive expiration] and residual volume.
"Cannabis was also associated with higher airways resistance but not with forced expiratory volume in one second [the maximum volume of air that can be forcibly blown out in the first second during the FVC test], forced expiratory ratio, or transfer factor. These findings were similar amongst those who did not smoke tobacco. … By contrast, tobacco use was associated with lower forced expiratory volume in one second, lower forced expiratory ratio, lower transfer factor and higher static lung volumes, but not with airways resistance."
They concluded, "Cannabis appears to have different effects on lung function to those of tobacco."
Predictably, the scientists' "inconvenient truth" was not reported in a single media outlet.
Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and is the co-author of the book Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink (2009, Chelsea Green)?