On December 19, the Oregonian, Oregon’s only statewide daily publication, published a story on their website Oregonlive.com which had the sensational headline “Oregon sees spike in teens poisoned by marijuana.” The headline is so misleading that we thought a proper response was warranted.
That headline creates a couple of very flawed perceptions, most importantly the idea that cannabis actually “poisoned” these adolescent children. We would argue that what they experienced could be considered an “overdose,” but use of the word “poisoning” is hyperbole.
We do not doubt that the poison control center was called in cases that are mentioned, up from 40 the previous year, but many were not reported to poison control. Why? Because the threat to the children was insignificant in most cases. The article does not address how many of the kids were actually treated in hospitals as compared to families simply calling the poison control center for advice. In actuality, some may have been treated at home without ever seeking medical care.
The quotes in the Oregonlive article from Dr. Robert Hendrickson, Associate Medical Director of the Poison Control Center at Oregon Health & Science University, explains a lot:
“I think you can look at it two ways. It’s increasing and that is a concern. On the other hand, 70 cases for the entire state in a whole year is pretty small,” explained Hendrickson. “Most people who we get a call about do well. Their symptoms last for a couple of hours and then they get better and go home.”
That seems to be a fairly minor problem. The doctor didn’t seem terribly concerned about the physical harm to the kids. What if we were to stack those outcomes and statistics up and then compare them to alcohol, meth, opiates, or cigarette use by teens? Which, of all these substances, poses the biggest threat? Interestingly, we don’t see articles every few months from the Oregonian addressing those serious threats posed to teens across the state.
The article’s author, Lynne Terry, even plays to the shrillness of the headline further with her reporting, as she tries to paint as bad a picture as she can before admitting the insignificance of the problem as follows:
“There’s no antidote for marijuana poisoning. You just have to wait it out. In severe cases, patients must be put on a ventilator and kept in the hospital for perhaps a day or two. That was not not case with any of the teens in the past two years.”
So, there were no “severe” cases reported. They did mention, however, a infant that was put on a respirator and a total of two infants who had been severely affected within the past two years. That is not really germane to the article, which was addressing teen cannabis use or consumption. That fact seemed to be added to bolster the “poisoning” headline.
Toward the end of the article a not-too-minor fact learned from Dr. Hendrickson is noted. “There have been no deaths in Oregon attributed to marijuana.”
All we can say is—no kidding. There has never been a single death anywhere directly related to marijuana use, ever.