12 Nov CLEAR Submits Press Complaints On Misreporting Of Cannabis Study

The 'Independent' Press Standards Organisation.

The ‘Independent’ Press Standards Organisation.

CLEAR has submitted formal complaints to IPSO against the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail and the Guardian concerning their reporting of a study titled “Long-term Effects Of Marijuana Use On the Brain”.

A copy of the study can be downloaded here.

The misreporting is the usual failure to distinguish between causation and correlation. All the newspapers report the differences observed in the brain as being caused by cannabis when the study is explicit that it does not even address the issue of causation. It is just as likely that the differences in the brain cause people to use cannabis rather than vice versa.

This is an excerpt from the complaint against the Daily Telegraph:

The study does not even address the issue of whether cannabis causes such changes in the brain. Indeed, the abstract explicitly states “longitudinal studies are needed to determine causality of these effects”.

Also, on page 5 the authors state:

“Unfortunately, the cross-sectional nature of the present study cannot directly address whether these reductions are the cause or the consequence of marijuana use. However, neurotoxic effects of cannabis have been widely reported in the animal literature. Based on the animal literature, potential mechanisms that may lead to OFC reductions due to cannabis neurotoxicity may, therefore, include neuronal loss, changes in cell size, or a reduction in CB1 density. It is possible, however, that these OFC abnormalities may reflect preexisting pathophysiology related to vulnerability to marijuana abuse and dependence.”

Put simply, the study does not even attempt to show that the reduction in OFC is caused by cannabis and it could be that the reduced size of the OFG motivates people to use cannabis – exactly the opposite of what the Daily Telegraph has reported.

Also on page 5, the authors state:

“…we acknowledge that longitudinal studies are needed to address causality of these neural abnormalities”.

The NHS has published an analysis of the Daily Telegraph’s report and describes it as misleading for exactly the reasons set out above: http://www.nhs.uk/news/2014/11November/Pages/claims-cannabis-rewires-the-brain-misleading.aspx

This complaint is the latest in a series concerning inaccurate, misleading and distorted reporting on cannabis where as well as straightforward inaccuracies, the Daily Telegraph habitually fails to distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact. This well established pattern leads to the inescapable conclusion that either the Daily Telegraph is incapable and incompetent to report on such science or that it is deliberately distorting and misrepresenting such studies in order to mislead its readers.