The cannabis business, while populated largely by serious, well-intentioned people, has more than its share of crazies and mercenaries. Go take a look at just about any Internet forum devoted to cannabis, and you will find people trading in all kinds of conspiracy theories and making all kinds of wild claims both for and against cannabis.
Predictably, given the current state of civilization, some cannabis advocates and peddlers of elixirs now declare that their products can alleviate the symptoms of COVID-19—or even cure it.
No one is as critical of the quacks than the marketers of legitimate products sold for legitimate uses and advocates of sensible, safe marijuana public policy. The Washington Post earlier this month published an op-ed written by Baltimore history teacher David A. Guba Jr. headlined: “No, cannabis is not a miracle cure for covid-19.”
It’s disheartening that such a message needs to be delivered to a mass audience, but the fact is that there is so much chicanery in the cannabis business that it’s now joining with “essential oils” and other quack cures as major presence in multi-level marketing schemes and in online marketing schemes like email spam and Facebook ads. That’s bad not only because people are getting ripped off and misled, possibly in dangerous ways, but also because CBD and some essential oils are also legit products with valid uses.
Peter Jonathan Hanna has more than 8,000 followers on Twitter. In his pinned tweet, he declares that “Cannabis cures all diseases” and that it is “the most powerful medicine in history.” Perhaps he’s never heard of penicillin — or perhaps he thinks it was a fake cure invented by the wicked masterminds of the pharmaceutical industry.
On March 31, Hanna, who is selling a book full of his thoughts about cannabis, proudly pointed to a High Times article that mentioned the “Coronavirus cannabis prepper kit” he was promoting on YouTube. The kit includes weed, food and a semi-automatic rifle.
The same day, Hanna tweeted: “My family and I have the coronavirus.” In a subsequent tweet on March 16, he said he was “99 percent sure” they had the virus, and he posted a video on YouTube where he asked viewers to weigh in on the question. He hasn’t mentioned it since, at least on Twitter, and he didn’t respond to a message seeking comment.
If somebody with 8,000 followers can be said to be fringe, the same can’t be said of former NFL player Kyle Turley, who has more than 48,000. Turley played offensive tackle for the New Orleans Saints, the Kansas City Chiefs and the St. Louis Rams until 2007. He began using medical cannabis to address lingering pain from game injuries and to combat “bouts of depression and rage,” as the Los Angeles Times put it.
In mid-March, just as it became clear the pandemic would be severe, Turley started promoting a CBD product online. “@NeuroXPF CANNABINOIDS CAN HELP BOOST YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM AND WIN THE WAR AGAINST #COVID19 ask @drsanjaygupta,” he tweeted on March 19, pasting in an ad promising that the CBD oil would “Boost Your Immune System” and “Crush Corona.”
Turley is or was an owner of NeuroXPF, the company that makes the oil. He also is or was an owner of a cannabis dispensary in Moreno Valley, in Riverside County. After getting a warning letter from the Federal Trade Commission, which has taken a hard line on companies selling supposed COVID remedies, he claimed he had relinquished his stakes in those businesses, which has not been independently confirmed. He said selling off his ownership has freed him to speak as a “private citizen.”
And speak, or rather yell, he has. “CANNABIS WILL PREVENT & CURE COVID19!!!!!!!…..commence the hate,” he tweeted on March 29. There is some research indicating that CBD and other cannabinoids can have calming effects, but much remains unknown about how that might work, whether it works similarly for everyone and whether it’s effective for every kind of emotional or behavioral malady.
Meanwhile, while it’s possible that some cannabis components might be antiviral agents, there is nothing like proof of it, much less any evidence that anything in the plant might be effective against COVID-19, a virus that is only months old. Nonetheless, the people making these claims point to this preliminary research as “proof” that cannabis will cure the virus.
Turley was still going strong this week. After having name-dropped Dr. Sanjay Gupta, one of the few TV-famous doctors who offer sound medical advice, Turley started yelling at him in all-caps, too, for not pushing cannabis as a treatment or cure for COVID-19. Gupta has in recent years become a careful advocate of medical cannabis, promoting it as a palliative for things like pain and seizure disorders only when there’s evidence for the claims.
There are many, many more examples of people with large followings promoting pot as a cure for the virus. Filmmaker and outspoken Hindu nationalist Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri tweeted that “Cannabis is a magic plant.” The tweet was accompanied by a picture of what looked like a still from a news show reporting that “Weed Kills Corona Virus.” When it was pointed out to that the picture was a fake created on a meme site, he refused to back down. Agnihotri has 313,000 Twitter followers.
“There is absolutely no proof or substantiated science indicating that somehow either cannabis or hemp cure or mitigate COVID-19,” pot lawyer Hilary Bricken wrote on her firm’s blog. Businesses and consumers “need to be on the lookout for snake-oil cures and/or curative claims being shamelessly pedaled across the cannabis and hemp industries during this volatile time.”
Prohibitionists are making crazy claims as well. When the Drug Policy Alliance promoted an online festival, the proceeds of which would be directed to COVID-19 relief, Kevin Sabet, founder and president of the anti-cannabis group tweeted: “We’re trying to stop people dying, and you’re encouraging behavior that makes COVID-19 worse.”
Asked by multiple people how an online festival could make the virus worse, Sabet asked whether the event was “going to have anyone online using drugs” and whether it would “have messages promoting drug use.”
The people making this claim have more of a leg to stand on than do the cure-promoting quacks, but just a bit. Many doctors warn that smoking or vaping could make COVID symptoms worse and make it harder for the lungs to fight off the disease, although new research from France shows that a strikingly low number of smokers have gotten sick from the virus.
In any case, the legit cannabis industry as a whole, including the Drug Policy Alliance, has repeatedly warned about the potential risks from smoking, and also warned pot users not to share smoking or vaping devices. Most have suggested using edibles until the pandemic has passed.