Accurate information needs to be the foundation of a legitimate cannabis industry. Unfortunately, the general media is so quick to report on cannabis-related news that misleading facts make their way into headlines, securing more page views by worrying the public.

A recent study from King’s College London sparked an epidemic of catchy headlines implying that a study found that “skunk” cannabis leads to an increased chance of psychosis and related symptoms. News agencies like The Guardian, The Independent, and Forbes were quick to break the story, and may not have fully understood the findings from this particular study, which is titled: “Effect of High-Potency Cannabis on Corpus Callosum Microstructure.”

For the last eight decades, political factors have kept general cannabis research in America from being approved, funded, and conducted. The scarcity of cannabis science is detrimental, as most “facts” are based on years of oppression and skewed clinical findings.

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The Smoke Reports team is committed to evaluating cannabis news in an unbiased way, especially when it directly involves a scientific study. We want to make sure readers have access to information that comes from research and empirical data.

In an age where advertising revenue is often more important that factual information, it is sad to see cannabis science being misrepresented just to fuel dramatic content for major media articles.

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The actual conclusion of the study was that out of a limited number of participants, there did exist a pattern between degradation of the microstructure of the corpus callosum and frequent, high-potency cannabis consumption. The results appeared in both individuals with and without psychosis, prompting the research team to call for raised awareness and further studies.

Why Media Needs to Be More Honest When Reporting on Cannabis Science

Understanding the results of scientific studies requires experience with statistical analysis. For clinical research to produce impactful results, there have to be certain checks in place to remove bias and ensure any conclusion is specifically focused on the conditions of the study.

True clinical cannabis studies are so infrequent, that many of the results directly contradict the findings of other trials. Because the United States still maintains many obstacles keeping meaningful cannabis studies from being conducted, we have had to rely largely on research conducted in other countries like Israel, Spain, and England.

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The scientific community is committed to the reproducibility of clinical results. If a study conducted in Spain is to be considered substantial, a research group in South Africa needs to be able to replicate the same findings (or at least similar enough to establish a pattern) using the same conditions as any previous studies.

This is where science and media truly differ; science knows how difficult it is to confirm clinical conclusions, while the media knows how effective it is to reproduce gripping headlines about the dangers of cannabis, or “skunk,” as is the preferred slang used in this round of reporting.

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Effect of High-Potency Cannabis on Corpus Callosum Microstructure

Reading through a fourteen-page scientific article is not everyone’s cup of tea, and yet fourteen pages is a simple paragraph when compared to more robust clinical studies. The fact of the matter is that all scientific research for cannabis is important, because a legitimate cannabis industry and community will ultimately need clinical evidence to promote the efficacy of medical cannabis.

This study from King’s College London is actually very careful to maintain its scientific integrity, even with the absence of consistent cannabis materials. Statements are made with caution, and make sure to note the degree of certainty when referencing other studies. Here are the results and conclusions published in Psychological Medicine:

Results: Across the whole sample, users of high-potency cannabis had higher total CC MD and higher total CC AD than both low-potency users and those who never used (p = 0.005 and p = 0.004, respectively). Daily users also had higher total CC MD and higher total CC AD than both occasional users and those who never used (p = 0.001 and p < 0.001, respect- ively).

However, there was no effect of group (patient/individuals without psychosis) or group x potency interaction for either potency or frequency of use. The within-group analysis showed in fact that the effects of potency and frequency were similar in FEP users and in users without psychosis.

Conclusions: Frequent use of high-potency cannabis is associated with disturbed callosal microstructural organization in individuals with and without psychosis. Since high-potency preparations are now replacing traditional herbal drugs in many European countries, raising awareness about the risks of high-potency cannabis is crucial.

This study examined the effect of cannabis on the structure of the corpus callosum, a portion of the brain that connects the left and right cerebral hemispheres, allowing the two sides to communicate. The study evaluated a group of 56 people with first-episode psychosis (FEP), 37 of which were cannabis users. The study also evaluated a control group of 43 individuals without psychosis, 22 of which were cannabis users.

--- Marijuana use among teens --- Image by © Tom Dee Ann McCarthy/CORBIS

Image by © Tom Dee Ann McCarthy/CORBIS

In total, this study looked at 99 individuals, all self-reporting on their consumption of cannabis, as well as their history with other unidentified narcotics. In terms of sample size, reproducibility, and conditional variables, this study has only exposed a pattern and is calling for further studies to be conducted with a larger sample size, and more consistent methods of reporting consumption.

Another clinical variable that was not even questioned in previous articles was the actual cannabis that was being consumed. In terms of cannabis, patients simply reported their historical frequency of use, and an estimate as to whether the cannabis consumed should be classified as either”hash-like” with low-potency, or “skunk-like” with high potency.

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These generalizations were so quickly absorbed as fact by media outlets, that headlines literally read that “skunk” cannabis was causing psychosis. While the study did find that frequent use of high-potency cannabis may lead to an increased chance of microstructure damage to the corpus callosum, it only examined 99 individuals who were reporting on experiences with both cannabis and “other drugs.”

Cannabis is so complex and varied, that it is incredibly hard for clinical studies to administer consistent medical cannabis for a long-term study. This is very important to remember when observing scientific cannabis findings, as it is very easy for media, even inadvertently, to embellish or misrepresent the actual scientific patterns uncovered during these limited studies.

According to senior researcher Dr. Paola Dazzan, “when assessing cannabis use it is extremely important to gather information on how often and what type of cannabis is being used.”

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Smoke Reports supports all cannabis studies, because clinical data will help all of us to better understand our relationship with cannabis. Check out our blog for future examinations of cannabis in medical journals. For the most up to date info on Smoke Reports, follow us on Twitter @smokereports or like us on our Facebook page.