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Are Bots Spreading False Health Claims About Marijuana?


A new study from researchers at USC looked at Twitter activity in the last seven months of 2018, particularly tweets that used cannabis-related terms. “Prevalent topics of posts included using cannabis with mentions of cannabis initiation, processed cannabis products, and health and medical with posts suggesting that cannabis could help with cancer, sleep, pain, anxiety, depression, trauma, and posttraumatic stress disorder,” the results read, in part.

The problem, according to researchers, was that over half the tweets in question were generated and posted by “bots”. They note that they “used methods to distinguish between posts from social bots and nonbots.”

I have no idea what that means, but it doesn’t matter. The researchers go on to assert that many of the health claims in these tweets are false or misleading because the federal government hasn’t given the claims their seal of approval, i.e. FDA approval.

In other words, any health claim that didn’t stick to treating epilepsy in children or a few other narrow designations is considered false, and many of those claims came from what the researchers deemed bots. So even though millions of people use cannabis for the ailments listed above, any tweets to that effect are considered false, unproven and misleading.

“We’re in a period of time where these misleading messages are pervasive online,” said Jon-Patrick Allem, assistant professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and lead author of the study. “We want the public to be aware of the difference between a demonstrated, scientifically backed piece of health information and claims that are simply made up.”

Again, claims from those who use cannabis for non-approved ailments fall into the “made up” category, despite the fact that relief these people feel is very real. 

To be sure, there is a lot of false information on social media and on the Internet in general. A certain amount of due diligence is involved if you’re going to let things you see online affect your decisions in real life, or IRL. But bots or not, people finding relief for things like “cancer, sleep, pain, anxiety, depression, trauma, and posttraumatic stress disorder” from cannabis is very real.

A “false health claim” would be saying something like “this aspirin gives me the ability to fly in the air for minutes at a time.” Saying marijuana helped you stop throwing up and gave you an appetite is something that literally happens a million+ times every day, all over the world.

Speaking for all the nonbots out here, labeling the relief we get from cannabis as false says more about the government than it does us.