Brief study finds that sensationalised Cannabis headlines breed clicks - Oxford cannabis study sparks flurry of anti-cannabis stories from Fleet Street.

Written by on February 14, 2019

“Smoking cannabis as teenager could increase the risk of depression in adulthood by almost 40 per cent, a landmark study by Oxford University has found. Researchers warned that use of the drug in adolescence may be responsible for around 60,000 cases of the condition in subsequent decades – around one in 14 of all cases.” The first paragraph of the Telegraph story declares. The paragraph started with a large case bright red letter to signify importance like a decorative font etched by monks in by-gone times. Such is the cynical world of newspaper-ing that the writers and the editors know that this is all that most will see, as well as the sensationalised headline.

A study in 2015 showed that 60% of news articles that were shared online were never read, as such all of the information that was conveyed to the readers, if you could call them that, was done so in the headlines. As a result, there have been great lengths gone to in the world of news to come up with headlines that get your message across and will make it to the top of the list when it comes to eye catching syntax. The first paragraph helps the google searches and the actual details of the story are hidden well beneath, in the hopes that anyone who does want to find out the information that the headline was based on will have given up as a result of the length of the article.

The research paper, a joint effort between researchers at McGill University in Canada and the University of Oxford, examined research conducted over 11 previous major studies, involving around 23000 people with their ages ranging from adolescence into their 30s. The study found that the people who had tried cannabis in their teenage years had a 37% higher risk of depression between the ages of 18 and 32, they were also more than three times more likely to commit suicide.

The numbers themselves are intriguing and seem well represented in the first paragraph of the piece. It is troubling however that there are no other parallels drawn to these results. It is not taken into account what the mental state of these people was before they started taking cannabis, whether there were any other substances taken, what levels of those substances, the strength and regularity of cannabis use as well as things like socio-economic status, external activities (i.e. exercise) and social interaction. Indeed, it was noted that in some cases the subject may have only used cannabis once, but their results would be held with the same weight as a heavy regular user.

The study comes at a time when the UK government is once again looking at the legal status of cannabis as a result of some well publicised campaigns for the substance to be made available for medical use.

What does arise from the articles about this topic, which could lead to positive results, are the number of comments about the unknown strength of cannabis taken, the differences in ingestion methods and the need to educate young people about the use of the substance. More education is certainly needed regarding this substance as the number of young people using the drug increases. However, at the same time it seems that this will be difficult to do with a media determined to catastrophize everything to do with the drug itself. There is very much a place for study into the effects of cannabis, and these should continue and become more frequent and robust, but education must follow and be based on facts and not just attention grabbing, fear inducing, headlines, which appear to have become the norm.


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