Medical Marijuana and Peer Review Science

Henry Percy

Scientific study finds modest but significant reduction in nerve pain by those who use medical marijuana! (Full paper here.) The advocates of medical pot have been desperately hoping for years that science could prove what they just “know.” So with this first proof of the efficacy of lighting up, media outlets across the land lit up with the proof!

Here are the relevant bits: published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (“Medical knowledge that matters”). But how unbiased is the CMAJ? A Google search on “medical marijuana Canadian Medical Association Journal” turns up numerous articles going back to 2001 advocating for medical marijuana. In fact, that advocacy was a major cause for the sacking of the editor in 2006. So is the CMAJ’s role one of reporter or advocate?

Anyhow, the CMAJ is peer reviewed. Check that box! The current study was conducted by researchers who “used a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, four-period crossover design.” Check all the boxes! The scientific method at its best! Twenty-one participants divided into four groups: those doped up with weed of 9.4% THC, 6%, 2.5%, and placebo.

“Most of our participants had prior experience with cannabis ... none was using cannabis at the time of enrollment and they were not ‘experienced’ users, so that the lessons learned would be applicable to naive users of medical cannabis.”

So what are you trying to say, doctor? They used to be dopers, used to get high, but since they do not use now they would not know if they were high or not, therefore they would not know if they were in the high-potency or placebo group? My head hurts. Let me ask a simple question: How do you do a double blind when the guys in the first group stumble out with bloodshot eyes. “That was, like, totally wow, man. Totally mellow. Say, ya got any Ding Dongs?” Then the placebo group comes out grumbling. “That was some bogus herb, man. Tasted like oregano. Why couldn’t I have got the real deal?”

And the results, please? Those getting the 9.4% THC reported a pain number of 5.4 on a scale of 1 to 11, while those on placebo had a score of 6.1. First of all, what’s with the scale from 1 to 11? Was 10 just, I don’t know, too round a number? I know, 1 to 11 has 10 degrees rather than 9, but who except professional study junkies are used to an 11-point scale? After all, the measure is a subjective one, not actually measuring something as, say, a strain gauge or an altimeter does.

So let me translate to a scale I can relate to. Suppose my old jalopy gets 20 miles per gallon (actually, that’s a safe supposition). One day I fill up and discover that I got 21.4 miles per gallon! Whoopee! A statistically significant finding! I would burn rubber to my humble abode to deliver the glad tidings. “Honey, I’m home! And guess what? The old buggy exhibited a 7% increase in mileage this past week! That’s statistically significant! No need to trade ’er in with mileage like that! We just saved $2.30! Let’s go out and celebrate!”

So why all the amazement that some people knew they were stoned, and some knew they were not? Oh, that’s right, it was double blind. And peer reviewed.


Henry Percy is the nom de guerre for a technical writer living in Arizona. He may be reached at saler.50d@gmail.com.

Scientific study finds modest but significant reduction in nerve pain by those who use medical marijuana! (Full paper here.) The advocates of medical pot have been desperately hoping for years that science could prove what they just “know.” So with this first proof of the efficacy of lighting up, media outlets across the land lit up with the proof!

Here are the relevant bits: published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (“Medical knowledge that matters”). But how unbiased is the CMAJ? A Google search on “medical marijuana Canadian Medical Association Journal” turns up numerous articles going back to 2001 advocating for medical marijuana. In fact, that advocacy was a major cause for the sacking of the editor in 2006. So is the CMAJ’s role one of reporter or advocate?

Anyhow, the CMAJ is peer reviewed. Check that box! The current study was conducted by researchers who “used a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, four-period crossover design.” Check all the boxes! The scientific method at its best! Twenty-one participants divided into four groups: those doped up with weed of 9.4% THC, 6%, 2.5%, and placebo.

“Most of our participants had prior experience with cannabis ... none was using cannabis at the time of enrollment and they were not ‘experienced’ users, so that the lessons learned would be applicable to naive users of medical cannabis.”

So what are you trying to say, doctor? They used to be dopers, used to get high, but since they do not use now they would not know if they were high or not, therefore they would not know if they were in the high-potency or placebo group? My head hurts. Let me ask a simple question: How do you do a double blind when the guys in the first group stumble out with bloodshot eyes. “That was, like, totally wow, man. Totally mellow. Say, ya got any Ding Dongs?” Then the placebo group comes out grumbling. “That was some bogus herb, man. Tasted like oregano. Why couldn’t I have got the real deal?”

And the results, please? Those getting the 9.4% THC reported a pain number of 5.4 on a scale of 1 to 11, while those on placebo had a score of 6.1. First of all, what’s with the scale from 1 to 11? Was 10 just, I don’t know, too round a number? I know, 1 to 11 has 10 degrees rather than 9, but who except professional study junkies are used to an 11-point scale? After all, the measure is a subjective one, not actually measuring something as, say, a strain gauge or an altimeter does.

So let me translate to a scale I can relate to. Suppose my old jalopy gets 20 miles per gallon (actually, that’s a safe supposition). One day I fill up and discover that I got 21.4 miles per gallon! Whoopee! A statistically significant finding! I would burn rubber to my humble abode to deliver the glad tidings. “Honey, I’m home! And guess what? The old buggy exhibited a 7% increase in mileage this past week! That’s statistically significant! No need to trade ’er in with mileage like that! We just saved $2.30! Let’s go out and celebrate!”

So why all the amazement that some people knew they were stoned, and some knew they were not? Oh, that’s right, it was double blind. And peer reviewed.


Henry Percy is the nom de guerre for a technical writer living in Arizona. He may be reached at saler.50d@gmail.com.