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FDA Studied Social Media as Part of Its Marijuana Review

As you probably know, President Joe Biden ordered the FDA to conduct a review of marijuana for the purposes of determining whether it should be moved from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act. Now we learn that part of the FDA’s review process involved studying social media posts.

I have been following and writing about the cannabis industry for more than a decade. I am also a very big supporter of anecdotal evidence as a source of information for making medical decisions. But I must admit to being skeptical about information gleaned from social media. Anecdotal evidence compiled by doctors and advanced practice nurses is one thing. What people say in their social posts is a different matter altogether.

An Eight Factor Analysis

Following the 2022 directive from Biden, the FDA commissioned its Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) to carry out the marijuana analysis. The CDER says in a newly released report that they followed an eight factor analysis protocol. Here are the eight factors they considered:

  1. Marijuana’s actual or relative abuse potential.
  2. Scientific evidence of its pharmacological effects.
  3. Current scientific knowledge of the drug.
  4. Marijuana’s history and current abuse patterns.
  5. The scope, duration, and significance of marijuana abuse.
  6. Any potential risks to public health.
  7. Marijuana’s dependence liability.
  8. Whether or not marijuana is a precursor (gateway drug).

Although we do not know the details or the findings of each of the eight factors, we do know the outcome: the FDA has recommended that marijuana be rescheduled. Now it is up to the DEA to do its own analysis and render an official decision.

The Social Media Angle

In terms of studying social media, researchers wanted to know what people were actually saying about cannabis outside the constraints of a medical setting. They wanted to know what people were telling their friends about marijuana’s therapeutic effects.

The report specifically states a desire to know marijuana’s “effectiveness for several therapeutic purposes such as anorexia, anxiety, nausea, and pain,” along with user comments about nonmedical purposes, benefits and negative effects, [and] experiences with access.”

I get what they were trying to achieve here. I only question their methodology. Let’s be honest. We all know that one of the major goals on social media is to generate likes and followers. We also know that there is no shortage of social media users willing to post just about anything in order to drive up both. That automatically makes anything reported on social media suspect.

A Completely Different Setting

It would be one thing if the FDA were looking at social media to learn about people’s recreational habits. Some of that was being considered, but most of what they were looking at involved marijuana’s therapeutic effects. Yet social media is a completely different setting compared to a doctor’s office or a medical cannabis pharmacy.

Imagine a patient visiting the Utah dispensary Beehive Farmacy in Brigham City. What motivation does that patient have for being less-than-honest with a medical cannabis pharmacist? The patient is using medical marijuana Utah to get relief from some sort of medical condition. Lying about marijuana’s therapeutic effects does not help.

The same is true in a doctor’s office. People hoping to use cannabis therapeutically have no motivation to be dishonest. But on social media, there are plenty of reasons to post disinformation. Posting inaccurate information to get likes and followers is the social media equivalent of clickbait.

I am all for taking a serious look at medical marijuana’s anecdotal evidence. I just think that social media is the wrong place to look for it.

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