Their headline story on the on-line edition proclaims: Early cannabis abuse ‘does lead to heroin addiction’. Now a headline like that is crying out for some investigation.
Taking cannabis as a teenager really does pave the way to heroin addiction in later life, say scientists.
Researchers have found that cannabis acts as a ‘gateway’ drug, because exposure during adolescence primes the system to crave the chemical stimulation of hard drugs.
Now this is quite politically important right now. The UK has seen some slight softening in its stance towards cannabis with howls of protest being heard from papers like the Mail. A finding like this would indeed be important in the ongoing political discussions. Results like this, have been jumped on to back-up calls for tighter restrictions.
So, can we check out this story? Well, we are given comments from a Dr Yasmin Hurd of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York and told that:
The study, published online today in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, looked at the behaviour of young rats exposed to cannabis. These rats took in much larger doses of opium when trained to self administer than other rodents.
So, quickly online to the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, and we can see abstracts and articles of papers published in July. We can also search PubMed, which lists loads of published medical papers, to see what Dr Hurd has been up to. And I draw a blank. Neuropsychopharmacology has lots of interesting papers, some about addiction, some using rats, but none by Dr Hurd and none that could even remotely support this headline. Dr Hurd has published lots of interesting things – it looks like she has interests in the genetic basis of addiction. But again, nothing to support this article.
So, I do not know if this article has any grounding? I do not know if any research really supports this headline. The facts in the newspaper article do not check out and I have no way of seeing how the journalist arrived at their conclusions. This is important because it is a long jump from some experiments on rats to pot smoking teenagers becoming heroin addicts.
What would have really helped is if the Mail had published it references, we could then look at the papers ourselves to see what is going on. In the olden days, before Google, before the web, it was very hard for your average Mail reader to access academic journals. Now it is very easy to get hold of the abstracts for almost anything. My feeling is that if papers were to publish URLs, (tinyurl.com is a great tool for this), then this would help to involve people in scientific debate and evaluate findings themselves. It may even encourage researchers to make sure their abstracts read well. Quackery breeds from misinformation, unconfirmed facts and downright lies. Better science reporting will help the ‘war on quacks’.
However, two things do not give me hope. Firstly, as I pointed out in my last posting, the journalists themselves rarely have a scientific training and cannot or will not evaluate claims themselves. And secondly, and more insidiously, sometimes it would appear that the papers’ agendas often go against better scientific reporting. If you want to bash the government for being soft on drugs, why let the facts get in the way of a good story?