Newsweek The Daily Beast: Marijuana Can Kill You and/or Make You Kill Your Baby

Tony Dokoupil, a senior writer at Newsweek and The Daily Beast, emailed to say that this piece ran at the latter publication, not the former.

"The upsides of legalization have been wildly oversold, and the potential downsides blithely ignored," reads one of the most awful pieces Newsweek The Daily Beast has run about drugs in a long time, titled "Why Legalizing Marijuana on Election Day Might Not Be a Good Idea." In defense of author Tony Dokoupil, who says he is ultimately opposed to prohibition, the case his story makes is not only his case, but that of Mark Kleiman and the authors of Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know. 

But because it's published in a widely read outlet, we're going to address its inaccuracies and hyperbole, point by point:

Every year about 375,000 people end up in the ER with marijuana-related “averse reactions,” more than any drug other than cocaine. Some of those cases are the result of multiple drug interactions, where marijuana gets the blame while cocaine does the damage. But for many tens of thousands of ER visits marijuana is the only drug mentioned. And there’s even data suggesting that, as the authors of “Marijuana Legalization” put it, “marijuana can kill.” Between 1999 and 2007, the Centers for Disease Control, somewhat curiously, attributed 26 deaths to cannabis use—half in the subcategory “dependence.”

According to the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS), the 375,000 instances in which marijuana is noted in an ER visit are not necessarily instances in which marijuana caused an "averse reaction." Rather, the survey tells us that in those 375,000 cases, marijuana was "commonly involved in an emergency department visit." So, if you smoked a joint on Tuesday, and on Thursday you blew a tire in your work vehicle and careened into a guard rail, then had your blood drawn at the ER, marijuana was involved in your emergency room visit. While people do ocassionally get so high that they call for an ambulance, the NHAMC survey doesn't distinguish between people who go to the ER with drugs in their system, and people who go to the ER because of the drugs in their system.

Furthermore, marijuana is not the second most "involved" drug in emergency room visits. According to the NHAMCS and the CDC, it actually comes in fifth, after alcohol (involved in four million ER visits a year), pain relievers (595,000 visits), drugs to treat insomnia and anxiety (433,000), and cocaine (422,000). Again, those drugs are "involved" in visits, but their use wasn't necessarily the cause. Lastly, to cite statistically insignificant data as evidence that marijuana kills is simply bad journalism. Can't we get a frightening anecdote with that slop?

On to the next point:

Drug treatment programs for marijuana have fives times the number of enrollees as they did just two decades ago. Most are referred by the U.S. criminal justice system, but many are not—and enrollment has more than doubled in European and Australian programs as well.

If you concede that the spike in rehab admissions is caused by government coercion, you've undermined your point that rehab admissions are evidence marijuana is more addictive. Nevertheless, this is a good time to note that the proliferation of drug courts over the last two decades, which now number roughly 2,000, coincides with increased mandatory treatment for marijuana users:

These marijuana users are not more addicted than meth users or pill poppers. Many of them are recreational smokers who don't need rehab, but prefer it over jail time or a criminal record.

Another questionable claim:

Marijuana use may also have measurable domestic costs. Only two holidays a year show a spike in sudden-infant-deaths: New Year’s Day is one, and the other is the day after 4/20, when pot use is celebrated.

While there's no hyperlink for this data, I didn't have a hard time finding the study it came from. "SIDS Spikes on New Year's Day: UC San Diego Study Suggests Link Between Sudden Infant Death and Alcohol," reads the press release from UC San Diego:

The number of babies who die of SIDS, or sudden infant death syndrome, surges by 33 percent on New Year’s Day. The suspected reason? Alcohol consumption by caretakers the night before.

The study also found a rise in SIDS just after April 20 (or 4/20), a counterculture celebration of cannabis, and after July 4, which is also known as an inebriated time, though the rise on neither of these date is as dramatic as on New Year’s. [emphasis added]

The authors acknowledge important limitations to the current study. The large datasets contain very little information per case, Phillips said, so “we could not specify the detailed mechanisms and cannot determine whether alcohol is an independent risk factor for SIDS, a risk factor only in conjunction with other factors or a proxy for risks associated with occasions when consumption increases.”

To summarize: The study wasn't about marijuana, but alcohol; the authors say it has limitations. Yet Newsweek The Daily Beast (and presumably Kleiman and company) uses it to suggest marijuana is associated with an increase in SIDS. Update: Beau Kilmer, co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center and co-author of Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know, emails in response to the SIDS study mention:

On page 80 of our book, here’s what we write after mentioning the SIDS study:

“There are a number of hypotheses (e.g., parental caretakers are more likely to sleep in; exposure to smoke), but at this point there is no compelling evidence linking this spike to marijuana rather than other factors, such as concurrent alcohol use”

Your piece implies that we attribute this finding to marijuana, which just isn’t true.

Duly noted. Also, Kleiman has responded to Dokoupil's piece here.

On to the next one:

As for the war on pot, it’s just not as high stakes as you might assume. About 750,000 people are arrested on possession charges every year, a howlingly large number. But virtually none of those folks end up in prison. Fewer than 400 people are serving state or federal sentences for marijuana possession alone, and many of those people plead down to that charge, or have serious histories of violence.

To say that almost nobody goes to jail simply for pot possession allows you to discount prisoners in states where possession gets prosecuted as possession with intent to sell (like Florida); people who go to jail for failing drug court, failing to stay off pot during probation, and/or failing to pay fines and fees associated with their sentence; and people incarcerated under three strikes laws. 

At the same time, focusing only on the few pot users who go to prison ignores both the thousands of nonviolent dealers, growers, and traffickers who go to prison, as well as the millions of people whose lives are ruined by less harsh penalties for pot possession. Imagine how hard it would be to get a job if the first result Google returned for your name was a mugshot or a local news story about your arrest. So you don't go to jail--a judge can still confiscate your license, sentence you to in-patient rehab, force you to report the arrest to your employer, or give you a curfew. He or she can fine you, too, and lock you up for contempt if you don't pay. Those things have ramifications.

To his credit, Dokoupil closes the piece with an almost sensible suggestion:

The better decision is incremental reforms at the state level and a hands-off approach from the feds. Let people grow pot, and sell it, but not for profit, and without advertising, and in a tightly regulated marketplace. Tinker every year, adding new provisions and privileges as much needed new research comes in. And always update the law with a sunset provision. That way the process can’t be hijacked by lobbyists and special interests—and only one thing goes up in smoke.

I daresay pot dealers in Colorado and Washington would find a way to make money even if it were forbidden. We should allow them to: Profit incentivizes competition, competition leads to choice, choice is freedom for the consumer. Furthermore, the process has already been hijacked by lobbysts and special interests. Cop unions, drug law reformers, alcohol companies, the rehab industry--they've all weighed in on the pot issue with their wallets. Legalizing marijuana without allowing people to legally make money on marijuana, or express their opinions about how the system should work, is a recipe for failure.

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  • R C Dean||

    But because it's published in a widely read outlet,

    Wait, I thought it was in Newsweek.

  • John||

    You beat me to it you bastard. Has it been published somewhere other than Newsweek?

  • Bobarian||

    The exact same thing I was going to post. I guess some things are just obvious.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    Nuts, I was way behind too - I guess a citation to circulation figures for the $1 value publication is needed.

  • Another David||

    Maybe he's counting the Internet.

  • Sudden||

    Demon weed, "averse" reactions, half-truths, deception, and outright paranoia stroking behavior.

    And the old media outlets wonder why they are falling quicker than cooked jobs report.

  • Spoonman.||

    sell it, but not for profit

    That does not compute. Selling is always for profit.

  • R C Dean||

    You've obviously never seen my year-end brokerage statement.

  • robc||

    Profit can also be negative.

  • R C Dean||

    You have seen my year-end brokerage statement.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Once I get rid of my debt, I have a fool-proof investment plan: buy used guns.
    1) They won't lose much, if any, of their value, ever.
    2) If anyone tries to steal them, you have guns.
    3) You have guns.

  • Duncan20903||

    What good are guns without bullets?

  • Malcolm Kyle||

    Duncan, you do realize you're talking to a baked penguin?

  • Duncan20903||

    I'll bet you didn't know that Sunkist is organized as a non-profit under the laws of the States of California and Arizona.
    http://sunkist.com/about/faqs.aspx#2

    People often confuse mark up with profit. Every year the Girl Scouts of America sell several carloads of cookies. If you buy $10 worth of GS cookies the Girls take $7 as (non) profit.

    Other people confuse non-profit with the idea that no one gets paid. Since I enjoy beating up the Girl Scouts, the CEO of that outfit takes an annual salary of just under $450,000. Please don't misunderstand. I'm willing to wager dollars to dirt that Ms. Cloninger could find a comparable position at a for profit concern with a 7 figure salary. Maybe even some fat stock options and a golden parachute.
    http://www.charitynavigator.or.....orgid=6551

    Non-profit status does not mean that the people running the organization aren't getting paid.

  • John||

    Between 1999 and 2007, the Centers for Disease Control, somewhat curiously, attributed 26 deaths to cannabis use

    That is three people a year. I bet more people choke to death on cat furballs every year.

  • ||

    If THC has actually killed someone I'll eat my hat*. This does not include driving into a divider while high, this means the THC itself killed the person.

    * I don't wear a hat, but I do have a job and I do bring home the bacon. No one knows.

  • ||

    MONGOLOID YOU'RE A MONGOLOID

  • ||

    MY FRIENDS WERE UNAWARE

  • John||

    7 creepiest serial killers. WARTY only made number 7. I demand a recount.

    http://pjmedia.com/lifestyle/2.....n-history/

  • ||

    After six murders, Kemper beat his own mother to death with a claw hammer, decapitated her, had sex with her head and then used it as a dart board.

    The man's got panache.

  • ||

    Some of those guys are...impressively insane. But can you really compare them to Warty?

  • ||

    It's not fun any more, Mr. Gein!

  • Bobarian||

    So, do you know how to get blood out of a clown suit?

  • SugarFree||

    Have they ever been able to determine the LD50 of marijuana? Various sources estimate it at 1:20,000 to 1:40,000... which means smoking 1,500 pounds in 15 minutes for a average adult male.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    You'd die from asphyxiation from 10% of that dose.

  • SugarFree||

    Well, I doubt you could smoke .001% in that amount of time. A pound and a half in 15 minutes? Is that even possibly to light and inhale that much marijuana in that time span?

    Maybe if you ate it as raw THC, but even then your still way, way off the LD50.

  • SKR||

    Like the rhesus monkeys in the acrylic boxes they pumped mj smoke into.

  • ||

    Depends on the form, Saccharin Man.

    I looked up in my handy dandy PDR on Marinol as an analogue and found this:

    The estimated lethal human dose of IV drobinol is 30 mg/kg (2100mg/70kg). Significant CNS symptoms in antiemetic studies followed oral doses of 0.4 mg/kg (28 mg/70kg) of Marinol capsules

    PDR 66th Edition. 2012.

    The nifty thing about THC being lipid soluble is it greatly slows the amount the crosses the blood brain barrier, otherwise it would take a whole lot less of an inhaled or ingested dose to get the desired affect.

    I recall read studies a while back where THC was directly injected into the brain of mice and found that THC is quite a powerful little molecule and toxicity leading to CNS depression was achieved with pretty low doses.

  • SugarFree||

    So 840 doses of Marinol (2.5) is lethal?

    I haven't played with a PDR in a while, is 30 mg/kg the LD50?

  • ||

    Yep. But the control group is not terribly large. Marinol is legal in OK, and not super difficult to obtain (Sch. III). But reducing the pill to a soluble form and go IV mainline is certainly not unheard of and that is from anecdotal professional experience.

  • John||

    That number is so small it could be true. In a country of 300+ million people who knows what people do. There could be the one in a hundred million person who has some kind of violent alergic reaction to it. Some one could distill the stuff and stick up their ass. Who knows. But three per year is so small that it has no meaning whatsoever in the overall debate.

  • ||

    They have to dose rats with a huge amount of purified THC in order to kill them, so I strongly doubt anyone has ever died of a THC overdose. I can imagine a few people dying of asthmatic allergic reactions to the smoke, though.

  • John||

    That has to be what it is.

  • ||

    One of the things I noticed absent from the study Riggs sourced (par for the course with him) is clinical effects R/T concomitant RX that may or may have also been present in bloodstream for a particular case, disregarding alcohol.

    Drugs such as sympathetic acting drugs (such as amphetamines), anticholinergics (atropine, antihistimines), TCA's (tricyclic anti-depressants), CNS depressants, Disulfram, Fluoxetine, Antipyrine, and Theophylline all have demonstrable effects when TCH is present in the bloodstream. These range from added hypertension and cardiotoxicity to increased/decreased drug metabolite clearance of either/or/both TCH and the concomitant drug.

  • ||

    I can't understand all your faggy doctor gobbeltygook. You talk like a fag, man.

  • ||

    I LEARNED IT BY WATCHING YOU!!!! SOB!!!!

    (runs from room)

  • ||

    What this simply means is did THC by itself cause a death or an adverse reaction? The article doesn't specify.

    Adverse reactions can be classified as peculiar adverse reaction, probable casually related, or causal relationship unknown.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    I've heard that 3-5 people die yearly from testing 9v batteries with their tongues.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    How is Dick Durbin even alive then?

  • R C Dean||

    Speaking of widely read:

    Drudge's current headline is Biden telling us "I'm going to give you the whole load."

  • Sudden||

    And Ezra Klein experienced the Chris Matthews "leg tingle" as he smiled deviously.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    I daresay pot dealers in Colorado and Washington would find a way to make money even if it were forbidden.

    If marijuana were legalized completely, they would, at least at first, make the most money as they already have the supply, customer base and distribution channels in place to take advantage of a newly opened market.

  • Raston Bot||

    what the fuck is a Newsweek?

  • SugarFree||

    Some place that thinks heaven is real and BatBoy strangled Marilyn Monroe... SHOCKING PICTURES INSIDE!!!

  • John||

    No. That is Weekly World News. Sometimes it is hard to tell the diference if you forget to remember that Weekly World News is the one that actually sells copy.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    Not for a number of years.... they vanished some time ago. A pity, it made standing in line at the store a little less boring.

  • Paul.||

    . But for many tens of thousands of ER visits marijuana is the only drug mentioned.

    Holy Mother of God... we should make this drug illegal!

  • ||

    i am sure that for many ER visits, chex is the only breakfast cereal mentioned.

    "doc, i was eating my morning chex when..."

    BAN CHEX. FOR THE CHIRREN!!

  • Mensan||

    Hmmm...

    My brother was eating Chex when he suddenly started having the symptoms of acute appendicitis which led to a rupture and emergency surgery. 20 years later he still won't eat Chex. You may be on to something.

  • Bobarian||

    The other day I ate a half box of Raisin Bran and nearly shit myself to death.

    Maybe Big Cereal has it out for libertarians?

  • NeonCat||

    They hate us for our moral fiber, wanting to replace it with insoluble fiber.

  • John||

    But for many tens of thousands of ER visits marijuana is the only drug mentioned.

    Think about that for a second. If my cat bites me and I go to the emergengy room, they are going to ask me if I have been taking any drugs. If I then say "marijuana", marijuana will be the only drug mentioned in my emergency room visit. But so what?

  • ||

    next time, try sharing and don't bogart the joint. duh.

    cats are pissy that way

  • ||

    Intercepted!

  • The Late P Brooks||

    This does not include driving into a divider while high, this means the THC itself killed the person.

    Does falling asleep in the bathtub count?

  • ||

    ok, now there's weak sauce and then there is this article.i mean seriously.

    i'll give em props for being correct about the incarceration risk people face for SMOKING (not dealing,trafficking,etc. mj which is way way less than many pro-legalization advocates claim.

    even *if* mj killed 3 people a year,considering how many people smoke it,that would make it incredibly safe,i don't buy the 3 people killed by pot without some references.maybe if the joint set your house on fire after you fell asleep and you died from asphixiation or something?

    the medical data is compelling and overwhelming.it's NOT dangerous. and from a law enforcement perspective,i am not responding to spouse abuse cases where a guy gets stoned and beats the crap out of his wife.happens all the time with alcohol.with MJ,if anything they'd lose their desire to beat the shit out of her,and focus instead on finding that last box of cheezy poofs and sit down and watch tv.

    unlike meth it doesn't make people paranoid,violent and unpredictable. and god knows i'd rather face 10 potheads vs. 1 person high on PCP.

    i posted a story the other day about some cop who got fired essentially for joining LEAP(but then won a 815k settlement, plus got his job back) and that pretty much says it all about how desperate the antipot people are.they know in an open, informed debate - they lose.

    i can think of about 10 illicit drugs i'd rather do than pot. pot is lame imo but that's the worst thing i can say about it.

  • Scarcity||

    and from a law enforcement perspective,i am not responding to spouse abuse cases where a guy gets stoned and beats the crap out of his wife

    Wow, Dunphy, I didn't think this would be possible on HyR but I think you've gone a bit too far with the pro-pot talk.

    and yes, /sarc

  • R C Dean||

    This baffles me.

    Why wouldn't you respond to an assault call, regardless?

  • Hyperion||

    There are people who take this seriously. I bet Leonhart has it taped to her bedroom ceiling and is just now putting new batteries in her giant dildo while reading it.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    people end up in the ER with marijuana-related “averse reactions,”

    So, they didn't like it?

    Why would they go to the E R to get their money back?

  • The Late P Brooks||

    To summarize:

    It's bullshit, all the way down.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Lastly, to cite statistically insignificant data as evidence that marijuana kills is simply bad journalism. Can't we get a frightening anecdote with that slop?

  • The Late P Brooks||

    "Drugs are baaad, children. Mmmmkaay?"

  • jway||

    We keep hearing about "legalizing marijuana for recreational use", but what it really appears to be is an attempt to legalize marijuana as a far safer alternative to alcohol.

    According to the CDC, alcohol kills 80,000 people every year in the U.S. while marijuana kills none, and marijuana's addiction potential is only about that of coffee.

    Since marijuana is far safer and far less addictive than alcohol, we could GREATLY reduce the amount of harm and addiction in society by giving people the right to switch from the more harmful drug, alcohol, to the less harmful drug, marijuana. And legalizing marijuana like beer and wine will also protect our children from a needless, and devastating, marijuana arrest.

    Paranoid old men in the federal government are keeping marijuana illegal and making our children LESS safe!

  • Sudden||

    If the crux of your argument for legalizing ganja is "TEH ALKOHOLZ KILLZ AND IZ TEH EVUL!1!!1!!1!" then kindly fuck off.

  • ||

    Is a utilitarian argument used in the service of a libertarian argument really all that bad?

  • Paul.||

    +1 prohibition argument to curb prohibition.

  • Hyperion||

    but, but.. gateway drug! First a joint or two, then next thing you know, the poor unsuspecting user is snorting bath salts and running nekked through the neighborhood eating faces of the innocent.

  • sarcasmic||

    It's a gateway alright. A gateway to the black market.

  • OldMexican||

    To his credit, Dokoupil closes the piece with an almost sensible suggestion:

    The word "almost" suffering a total revamping, I presume. Read on.

    The better decision is incremental reforms at the state level and a hands-off approach from the feds. Let people grow pot, and sell it, but not for profit, and without advertising, and in a tightly regulated marketplace.

    So much for the incremental reforms by the state. What if one of the four-cornered states decides that "incremental reform" means to completely free the market?

    Notwithstanding the dumb errors he commits while attepting to discredit the use of marijuana, his contention that such a market can be "tightly regulated" leads me to think the guy must have his bedroom suffed with "Hello Kitty" dolls and posters of Justin Bieber, considering the ease with which one can grow marijuana plants (compared to moonshining or growing tobacco in your house); the freedom of the internet and social media. In short, he's naive to the point of confinement for his own safety.

  • The Hammer||

    Astoundingly, despite not mentioning that pesky Constitution thing, or anything about freedom, ownership of self, or individual liberty, he still comes to the conclusion that a "Hands-off approach by the federal government" with states 'incrementally' testing legalization (But banning any evil profit!) is the best approach. Jesus, standards for "Professional" writers have sunk absurdly low. This vague, poorly-researched, unsupported dreck still leads to the inevitable conclusion that the status quo is the worst of all possible worlds. This whole thing was an utter waste of time.

  • Raston Bot||

    I've heard the number of people who die each year from peanut allergies is about 10. And that killer poison is still legal.

  • Julio Cesar Samper Uribe||

    Well, if Newsweek had switched to hemp paper, they could still offer a print edition, right?

  • sarcasmic||

    I'll bet that these people who supposedly died from marijuana actually died of some accident, and because they had the stuff in their system marijuana was determined to be the cause of death.

    Dude dies in a car wreck, and it is found that he smoked a marijuana cigarette two days before. Cause of death: marijuana.

  • Zeb||

    Probably. It's a lot like the MADD stats for alcohol related accidents. If anyone involved int eh accident in any way, whether they were driving or not has any alcohol in their system, then it is an alcohol related accident.

  • sarcasmic||

    Many years ago I got hit by a car that ran a red light while on my bicycle.

    But whoops! I blew a 0.08! Alcohol related! The running of the red light was not a factor! It was alcohol related! A drunk guy jumped in front of a moving car! What red light? It was the alcohol!

  • OldMexican||

    Every year about 375,000 people end up in the ER with marijuana-related "averse reactions," more than any drug other than cocaine.

    Even if that were the case, it would still pale in comparison to the number of people that suffer "averse reactions" to such foods as peanuts.

  • ||

    Averse reaction = cop Beatdown

  • Mensan||

    I have never (NEVER, NOT ONCE, NEVER EVER EVER) seen a patient at the hospital due to an adverse reaction to marijuana. Cocaine? Absolutely. Meth? Yep. Alcohol? Frequently. Oxys? Hell yeah. Marijuana? Nope.

  • Mensan||

    So, if you smoked a joint on Tuesday, and on Thursday you blew a tire in your work vehicle and careened into a guard rail, then had your blood drawn at the ER, marijuana was involved in your emergency room visit.

    Marijuana from 2 days ago wouldn't show up in a blood test. THC only stays in the blood for about 4-6 hours. We don't usually draw blood to test for drugs anyhow. We normally do a UDS, and marijuana will show up in that for anywhere from a couple days ago to a couple months ago depending on frequency of use.

  • ||

    Ultrasound Doppler Sonography? -)))

    Joking, of course.

  • ||

    Its that a dip stick test, or do you do liquid chromography and mass spectrometry? I thought that normally was done by a dedicated lab.

  • ||

    At both of the hospitals where I was on staff, LC and MS were used to confirm stick tests, since both had them available in lab and pathology.

  • Mensan||

    I'll defer to the Doc on this one. All I do is collect the sample, and send it to the lab. They do all the sciency stuff down there.

  • Hyperion||

    Well this is certainly going to get a lot more interesting when Colorado votes to legalize. Then you will be seeing every news rag with declining readership, which is probably all of them, jump to put out horror stories on how the Devils weed is now going to turn the childins of CO into crack crazed zombie monsters.

  • ||

    Old school media: Still towing the lion for the WOD

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