This article originally appeared on VICE US.
Any real pothead knows being sick is no obstacle when it comes to getting high. A sore throat, chest cough, or upset stomach might stop an amateur, but the truly dedicated know that smoking weed through whatever ails isn’t just possible—it can actually make you feel better. There’s gotta be some science behind that, right?
Thanks to the fact that cannabis is still federally illegal, not so much. But thanks to a new study, published earlier this month in the American Journal of Health Promotion, there is evidence suggesting that people who are already excited about weed have an inflated view of the plant’s proven medicinal properties.
Researchers at the University of Buffalo surveyed attendees at the Ann Arbor Hash Bash, an annual weed-centric event that began as a pro-cannabis demonstration in 1972. Around 500 attendees were given a quiz that asked them how often they used cannabis, where they received their information about cannabis, and then asked them questions about what illnesses marijuana had proven to be effective in treating. The results showed a wide gap between participants’ knowledge of weed and conclusions about cannabis from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, with the majority of responders believing weed was effective in treating epilepsy, depression, and some forms of cancer—beliefs the NASEM says are not backed by sufficient evidence.
“There were considerable discrepancies between cannabis users’ knowledge and available evidence, highlighting the need for more research and education,” the study concluded. This is undeniably true—there is a ton of conflicting information about what cannabis can do and what the risks of cannabis use may be, and it can be hard and time-consuming for even the most passionate pro-pot advocates to parse.
But, as researchers noted in a statement about the study, that doesn’t mean respondents were totally off-track. Instead, they drew from personal experience rather than established medical data, the bar their answers were measured against. “Marijuana remains a Schedule I substance, which prohibits scientists from conducting the clinical trials necessary for properly informing NASEM conclusions,” the statement said.
Even though anecdotal experience isn’t generally the soundest basis for medical knowledge, it remains a viable option due to the structural barriers that prevent cannabis from being studied. It stands to reason that people with decades of experience with the plant might know more than what the limited scope of government-approved research encompasses; people with PTSD and parents of children with autism form two robust groups of medical cannabis advocates, despite the fact that the results they testify about are not backed by “sufficient” research (yet).
So, is smoking weed the answer to every health woe? No, and until more clinical trials are conducted, we won’t know exactly what it is good for. But if I know anything about people who love weed, I know that’s not going to stop true believers from conducting their own experimental medical marijuana trials whenever they get sick in the meantime.
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