Sensi: Reefer Stupidity

A story published in November 2017 in the Reno Gazette Journal shows how a news story reported incorrectly can reverberate across the Internet. The story’s headline: “Baby boy is reportedly first pot overdose death.”

Leland Rucker, senior editor at Sensi Magazine, says the claim originated from a case report filed in March about a Colorado infant who died in 2015 from myocarditis, an inflammation of heart tissue that can in some cases lead to cardiac arrest. Tests showed the infant had been exposed to marijuana at some point two to six days prior to his death.

Let’s remember that we’re talking about a case report, which is an account of anything seen by doctors that they feel should be mentioned to other scientists. It’s not an in-depth investigation into the cause of death. It’s a report.

Despite this, the Reno story suggested, completely inaccurately, that the doctors claimed to prove a causal relationship between marijuana and the boy’s death; and that they claimed, also falsely, that this was the first-ever reported case of a marijuana overdose.

However, if you read the document, the authors make no such claims. Dr. Thomas Nappe, an author of the case, told the Washington Post, “We are absolutely not saying that marijuana killed that child.”

Rucker says that this story is an example of sloppy journalism and not checking original sources. “The Denver television stations fell all over themselves with crazy headlines. 9News’s story was headlined “Colorado doctors claim first marijuana overdose death.” CBSNews nationally said: “Doctor’s debate whether death was caused by marijuana.” High Times twisted the original story even farther with a follow-up: “Doctor Retracts Claim That Baby Died Of First Marijuana Overdose.” Sorry, he never said it in the first place, so no retraction is necessary.”

The doctors noted that there have been case studies and reviews suggesting that marijuana — which causes an increase in blood pressure — could be associated with, increased risk of heart attacks in adults with other known risk factors. But it’s important to note the doctors merely observed this.

Claims like this are nothing new, but why aren’t the media doing a better job of reporting this stuff? Death from direct cannabis toxicity is widely considered to be impossible, and the DEA says that there have been no official documented cases of marijuana overdose.

Rucker says that the lesson here is that when you read something like this that’s too good to be true, don’t necessarily believe it. “Look past the headline before sharing.”

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