I’m a fan of Snoop Dog. And Willie Nelson, Melissa Etheridge, Whoopi Goldberg, Tom Hanks, Jean Luc Picard (er, Patrick Stewart) and quite a few other celebrities who have endorsed or partnered with cannabis companies of late. While celebrities always make good marketing, they don’t make good medical role-models.
I don’t doubt that many of these endorsers have had great experiences with cannabis, and may even have felt some relief from whatever their symptoms may be, but their getting behind particular products makes me uncomfortable. There are two reasons: the Placebo Effect, and Conflict of Interest.
The Placebo Effect is real. Many people feel what they’re led to expect. We see this all the time with conventional medications, and it’s why we always include a placebo arm in drug trials. Studies show that up to 40% of people will get such a placebo benefit! This doesn’t mean the medicine is helping, it means that user is expecting it to and then feels what they expect.
The cannabis industry is full of examples of this. From tinctures sold for use under the tongue, to creams for knee or back pain, to pretty much any adult use of CBD, these are marketing devices that stem from user experience, not backed by research, and are really taking advantage of the Placebo Effect.
Why does this matter? If someone feels better, isn’t that good enough? Well, sure if a patient comes to me doing something that I know is a placebo but is feeling better, I try very hard to avoid “bursting their bubble”. If they’re feeling better, that is good. However, since usually people are coming to me for guidance, it is unethical to recommend to them something that isn’t backed by an accurate representation of the science.
The other problem with the Placebo Effect is that it is fickle. Since the benefit is entirely based on the user’s belief, if anything comes along, even unconsciously, to undermine that belief then “poof” away goes the benefit. Real medicines works whether you believe they will or not.
This is where most of these endorsers go wrong – they confuse their own experience with science – or they accept someone’s say-so that the science is good because they want to believe it.
Then it gets worse. These endorsers often make money from their endorsement – this creates a Conflict of Interest. At this point, all bets are off. Why is Brand X the one to buy? Well, if So-And-So uses it, it must be good. Or not. Maybe they truly believe in the product, maybe they like being paid. Brands certainly wouldn’t pay for the endorsement if it didn’t help sell more product.
I don’t have a problem with Snoop or Willie saying they like their brand of weed best and you should try it too. That’s a recreational statement: buy mine and you’ll have a good time. I do have a problem when they stray into medical territory. Why do they always feel the need to talk about their sore hands or anxiety disorder? Once we’re on subjects like those, we’re into the realm of health and there’s a reasonable expectation of specific outcomes. In other words, when it comes to healthcare: no, your cannabis is not better than others’. Stop the baloney.
We, as a society, recognize that sick people are… sick, and may feel confused, desperate, and not be in their best place for decision-making. As a result, we regulate very tightly what drug companies can say about their products – they can only describe what has been proven to and approved by the FDA, and they are also required to address the risks associated. Those TV commercials with the long list of scary side effects are done that way to ensure that the viewer gets a picture of the risks and benefits, not just the rosy patina of what they want to hear.
As an aside, I’m not defending the marketing practices of pharmaceutical companies. I don’t think that they should market drugs to consumers. Doctors’ offices across the world are clogged with patients demanding certain medications because of these ads – most often these aren’t the right drug for the patient. It’s also clear that those drug companies have various ways of marketing to physicians that are inappropriate and the medical community has worked hard over the past 20 years to decrease this messaging. The most recent data show that those efforts have largely failed. Drug companies are smart and they know that marketing to both consumers and physicians pays off.
Nonetheless, we don’t need to fall for it. We can rise above and enjoy our recreational cannabis without needing to justify it as “medicinal”. We can also accept that cannabis can be used as medicine, but not at the say-so of some celeb but on the basis of science-backed advice from your knowledgeable and caring cannabis-specialist physician.
Consult with a Qualified Boston Medical Marijuana Expert Today
Those considering using THC, CBD, or any type of medicine found in cannabis to help manage their condition should consider speaking to a trained medical expert who is knowledgeable about using cannabis therapeutically. Massachusetts medical marijuana doctor Jordan Tishler, M.D. sits on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and has years of experience helping patients treat pain and other ailments using cannabis. He and the team at InhaleMD stand ready to assist patients in determining whether medical marijuana is right for them. For more information, or to set up a virtual consultation with the team at InhaleMD, call us at (617) 477-8886 today.