The federal agency in charge of conducting research on the effects of marijuana and other drugs is significantly paring back rhetoric about cannabis’s supposed potential to cause addiction and overdose.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) quietly made several significant changes to its main webpage about marijuana.
While an earlier version of the page used the phrase “marijuana addiction” three times, that changed. That’s when NIDA edited the page to instead use the term “marijuana use disorder.”
How can people get treatment for marijuana addiction
What treatments are available for marijuana use disorder
And whereas the older text simply stated that “30 percent” of people who use marijuana may develop overuse issues, the new copy broadens that to read “between 9 and 30 percent,” reflecting varied findings on the matter among different studies.
The earlier version of the page defines a drug overdose as when a person “uses too much of a drug and has a toxic reaction that results in serious, harmful symptoms or death.”
The new edit seems to narrow the definition to include only instances in which a person “uses enough of the drug to produce life-threatening symptoms or death.”
The new version then says: “There are no reports of teens or adults dying from marijuana alone.”
While the older page states: “There are no reports of teens or adults fatally overdosing (dying) on marijuana alone.”
Whereas the older page used phrases like, “A marijuana overdose doesn’t lead to death,” the revised version more simply states, “There aren’t any reports of teens and adults dying from using marijuana alone.”
An earlier section titled, “How can a marijuana overdose be treated?” was completely deleted from the new page.
Taken together, the shift seems to reflect a narrowing of the definition of overdose to include only life-threatening situations and a desire by NIDA to avoid usage of the word in relation to marijuana.
What Does It Mean?
The changes are subtle, but they hint at the shifting conversation around marijuana, which a growing majority of Americans now believe should be legal. While NIDA didn’t say why it made the edits, it seems likely that the agency is concerned that using overly scary rhetoric like “addiction” and “overdose” — terms that many people believe should not be associated with marijuana — could cause the target audience to not take the rest of its advice on cannabis’s health effects seriously.
The new edit also downplays talk about marijuana’s role as a potential “gateway” to the use of other drugs. While even the older page made sure to note that “the majority of people who use marijuana don’t go on to use other ‘harder’ drugs,” it singled out cannabis use alone as “likely to come before use of other drugs.”
But the new version throws other, legal drugs into the mix, and now reads:
“Use of alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana are likely to come before use of other drugs.”
The new update also adds sociological context that was missing from the earlier version:
“It’s also important to note that other factors besides biological mechanisms, such as a person’s social environment, are also critical in a person’s risk for drug use and addiction.”
In the edit, NIDA is also more clearly stating that scientific research doesn’t support claims that smoking marijuana leads to lung cancer.
“Researchers still don’t know whether people who smoke marijuana have a higher risk for lung cancer.”
“Researchers so far haven’t found a higher risk for lung cancer in people who smoke marijuana.”
Separately, the addition of a few words in another section undercuts prohibitionists’ claims that legalization itself has led to dramatic increases in marijuana potency and that the trend is harmful across the board.
“The amount of THC in marijuana has been increasing steadily, creating more harmful effects.”
“The amount of THC in marijuana has been increasing steadily in recent decades, creating more harmful effects in some people.”
In another small but notable change that reflects the targeted public audience’s increasingly sophisticated understanding of marijuana, the page now refers to cannabis sativa and cannabis indica, whereas the February version only mentioned the former.
And whereas the earlier webpage used the outdated term “contact high” to describe the potential effects of secondhand marijuana smoke, the phrase “passive exposure” is now used instead.
This isn’t the first time that NIDA has updated its website to reflect shifting evidence and attitudes about marijuana.
- So is this a steap in good direction? Let us know in the comments below.