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Media Coverage Influencing Cannabis Clinical Trial Outcomes?

Many people are interested in medical cannabis – and media coverage could be impacting clinical trial results suggests a new study.

Researchers at Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Clinical Neuroscience analysed 20 published clinical studies in which cannabis has been compared with placebo for clinical pain treatment. They observed no difference in pain reduction between cannabis and placebo.

They also delved into a potential connection between placebo and therapeutic effect indicated by the cannabis studies, and media and academic journal coverage. The researchers found cannabis studies received much greater media attention than others, regardless of the magnitude of the placebo response and therapeutic effect of medicinal cannabis.

In a nutshell, a placebo response involves a person’s positive attitude towards a treatment having real results. But there’s more to the placebo effect than just that.

Commenting on the observations, the study’s first author and postdoc researcher Filip Gedin said:

“We see that cannabis studies are often described in positive terms in the media regardless of their results. This is problematic and can influence expectations when it comes to the effects of cannabis therapy on pain. The greater the benefit a treatment is assumed to have, the more potential harms can be tolerated.”

However, the researchers note their study combined trials of varying designs and quality, so results should be interpreted with caution. Their findings have been published in the journal Pharmacy and Clinical Pharmacology and can be viewed in full here.

Placebo or therapeutic? Perhaps it can be both. Some previous research has indicated the cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD) may assist with pain management due to a combination of  pharmacological properties and expectations of pain relief. A study led by researchers at the USA’s Syracuse University delved into the ability of CBD to reduce pain along with placebo effect impact, which led to this observation.

So, does it really matter in the big scheme of things? If patients are getting relief, isn’t that the main goal? As the Karolinska Institutet researchers point out, the impact of positive media coverage on cannabinoid clinical trials generally could muddy the waters in terms of distinguishing between the two, or their contributions to overall results.

Terry Lassitenaz
Terry Lassitenaz writes exclusively for Hemp Gazette and has done so since the site launched in 2015. He has a special interest in the political arena relating to medical cannabis, particularly in Australia, and addressing the many myths surrounding this incredibly useful plant. You can contact Terry here.

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