Wow, what a whopper there. The brazen Huffington Post Science article headline blares: “New Study Finds Marijuana To Be Effective Against Depression.”
While many of us turn to the HuffPo for our entertainment news, this is an example of why it’s probably not a good source to trust for science news. Because that headline isn’t just inaccurate — it’s an outright lie.
There has been no study that was just published that shows marijuana to be effective against depression. Because the research HuffPo references is a study done on rats. Measuring not depression, but rather chronic stress.
Look, I understand some hyperbole is necessary to sell newspapers. Or in this case, make you click on an article and share it with your friends on social media.
But you can’t turn a rat study on chronic stress into a human study about clinical depression. There’s a tiny bit of a leap there… across something as wide as the Grand Canyon.
And shouldn’t you mention you’re talking about a rat study in the first or second sentence? (And not the third paragraph, as this article does.)
To author Carolyn Gergoire’s credit, she was just spouting off the kinds of inaccuracies — without any healthy skepticism, apparently — found in the news release from the University of Buffalo, including this doozey:
“Chronic stress is one of the major causes of depression.”
This is the claim made by one of the researchers. Don’t you think that if we knew what caused depression, we’d probably be prescribing more effective treatments for it?
The fact is, nobody knows what causes depression. Chronic stress may very well be a significant contributing factor in some people’s depression, but many people experience chronic stress and don’t get depressed.
“In the animal models we studied, we saw that chronic stress reduced the production of endocannabinoids, leading to depression-like behavior.”
But let’s be perfectly candid here. A rat’s “depression” is nothing on par to the kinds of clinical depression that humans experience. In studies like this, a rat is said to be “depressed” if he doesn’t engage in as much activity as other rats. That’s hardly a definition of depression on par with what we see in humans. (And frankly, I’ve never heard of marijuana being a productivity or activity boost.)
While it’s not surprising that certain things may impact our brain’s endocannabinoids — the chemical compounds that activate the same receptors as THC (the active component of marijuana) — you can’t just claim a single preliminary rat study means that marijuana is “effective” against depression.
For example, pharmaceutical companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year pursuing chemical compounds that seem to do the job in rats. Only to find out that when they try out the same compound in humans, they get different results.
Which is to say that the rat’s brain and nervous system are not the same as the human’s brain and nervous system. That’s why rat studies are rarely given much attention in the mainstream press, because they are so far away from showing the evidence needed to qualify as good research in humans.
So thanks HuffPo for misleading millions of your readers with your wildly inaccurate headline. We’re still years away from determining whether marijuana is an effective treatment for clinical depression.
Read the full HuffPo article: New Study Finds Marijuana To Be Effective Against Depression
Read the news release it’s based on: RIA neuroscience study points to possible use of medical marijuana for depression