Most cannabis research is false. A bold statement. So what does it mean? In 2005, Stanford University professor John Ioannidis published the paper “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False.”
In it, he argued that most published research findings are false due to a combination of factors such as small sample sizes, inadequate adjustment for multiple comparisons, and conflicts of interest.
The paper made quite an uproar in the scientific community. While some criticized Ioannidis for simplifying the problem, most agree there is a replication crisis in scientific literature. For example, one study may find cannabis increases the risk of heart attacks. But if no other cannabis research can replicate its findings, is the study telling us anything authentic or valid?
The replication crisis doesn’t only affect sociology, medicine or psychology. It also affects cannabis studies. Leading to an uncomfortable conclusion: most cannabis research is false.
Most Cannabis Research is False
Is most cannabis research false? The replication crisis has led to calls for more transparency and rigour in the cannabis research process. But ultimately, the only way out is to evaluate studies based on their replication rate.
Can adolescent cannabis use lead to psychosis or an increased risk of developing schizophrenia? Are cannabis consumers less likely to abuse opioid-based pain medication? Does cannabis make you a more compassionate person? Can it lead to poor cardiovascular health? Will cannabis impair your driving?
Some studies answer in the affirmative, others in the negative. Prohibitionists and public health busybodies like to cite studies that show cannabis’ negative qualities. Proponents of cannabis tend to mention the positive studies.
But most cannabis research is false, whether it confirms your bias or not.
10 Ways Most Cannabis Research is False
The replication crisis has affected studies on cannabis in several ways, including:
Lack of replication: Many studies on cannabis have been criticized for their inability to be replicated. This calls into question the validity of their findings.
Lack of standardization: There is a lack of standardization in the way cannabis is used and administered in studies (not to mention the strains used, their specific cannabinoid content, etc.). This makes it impossible to compare results across different studies.
Small sample sizes: Many studies on cannabis have small sample sizes, which can lead to unreliable results.
Lack of control groups: Some studies on cannabis have lacked proper control groups. This makes it difficult to determine the specific effects of cannabis.
Uncontrolled variables: Many studies on cannabis have not controlled for other factors that could affect the results, such as tobacco use or poor diet. Sometimes, researchers won’t even account for underlying medical conditions.
Limited generalizability: Some researchers conduct studies on cannabis on specific populations, such as patients with a particular medical condition, which can limit the generalizability of the results to the general population.
Publication bias: There is a tendency for researchers to publish positive or negative results than inconclusive results. This leads to an over-representation of “findings” in the literature.
Funding bias: Studies funded by industry stakeholders, such as pharmaceutical companies. This makes the study more likely to produce favourable results than studies funded by other sources. This ultimately creates a bias in the literature.
Lack of transparency: Some studies on cannabis have been criticized for lack of transparency in their methods and results. This makes it challenging to evaluate the robustness of their findings.
Prevalence of observational studies: There is a high prevalence of observational studies in cannabis research, which are prone to bias and confounding. They are less substantial than RCTs (randomized controlled trials) in determining causality.
This overreliance on observational studies means most cannabis research is false. Just as funding bias results in slogans like “Follow the Science,” which is ultimately synonymous with “Follow the Money.”
“Studies Say” is the Modern Equivalent to, “The Scriptures Say…”
We’re not here to bash anyone’s spiritual beliefs. If you find solace in Holy Scripture, then all the best. But if you try and argue that your interpretation of the scriptures is describing a reality we all must follow, we’re going to have a problem.
Likewise, we won’t call out anyone using cannabis research studies to help navigate the world. You may be on a vegan diet and, therefore, like reading studies confirming the lifestyle’s benefits.
But, once you begin arguing with others that the vegan lifestyle is the only way to live, and you support these opinions by referring to “studies,” then it’s time to step back and reassess.
Both “scriptures” and “studies” express authority or provide evidence for a particular belief or claim.
Scriptures refer to religious texts or teachings considered sacred or authoritative by those who follow that faith.
Studies, on the other hand, refer to scientific research findings. These are supposed to be based on empirical evidence and subject to rigorous testing, verification, and replication.
The failure of much modern research, including cannabis research, to replicate findings is no small matter. That is why most cannabis research is false.
When you read: “Randomized controlled trials evaluating the therapeutic use and safety of marijuana are lacking, but a growing body of evidence suggests that marijuana consumption may be associated with adverse cardiovascular risks.”
You can roll your eyes. There is no “growing body of evidence” because, without RCTs, there is no evidence. Without replication, all you have is an opinion.