Why Marijuana Advocates Are Criticizing Chelsea Clinton

September 27th 2016

Chelsea Clinton made a pretty bold assertion about the health risks of marijuana during a campaign event in Ohio on Saturday. The daughter of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton implied that multiple deaths in Colorado, where the substance is legal for medical and recreational purposes, could be attributed to pot.

After she acknowledged that, "anecdotally," evidence supports the use of cannabis for treating certain medical conditions, Clinton said that "we also have anecdotal evidence now from Colorado where some of the people who were taking marijuana for [medical] purposes — the coroner believes, after they died, there was drug interactions with other things they were taking."

There are at least two problems with Clinton's claim, first reported by Marijuana.com.

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The first is that there have never been any documented cases of fatal marijuana overdoses — and that includes deaths resulting from interactions between marijuana and other drugs. In fact, as ATTN: previously reported, researchers have found that, when combined with prescription drugs such as opioid-based painkillers, marijuana enhances the effects in a positive way.

"Cannabis can synergize with certain medications such as opiates to actually increase the analgesic, or pain relieving, effects of the drug," Dr. Michele Ross, a cannabis researcher and founder of the IMPACT Network in Denver, Colorado, told ATTN: on Tuesday. "What it doesn't seem to synergize with is the side effect of the drugs. So, for example, whereas opiates can depress your breathing, slow it down, cannabis will not enhance that."

The second problem with Clinton's claim is that it characterizes existing research into marijuana medical benefits as "anecdotal." This is similar to the way her mother has described marijuana research on the campaign trail, calling for increased research into the medical properties of cannabis while seemingly denying the growing body of scientific literature on the subject.

"There have been over 20,000 studies published on PubMed [a federal database of biomedical research]," Ross said. "This is not anecdotal. This one plant has been researched more than Tylenol, more than Adderall, more than any other medication."

The comments have frustrated legalization advocates who feel it's inappropriate to promote misleading ideas about marijuana on a national stage.

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Hillary Clinton has made a point of respecting state laws that permit marijuana for medical and recreational purposes. She's even vowed to reschedule marijuana under federal law, downgrading it to a less restrictive category that would legally require greater access to the substance for researchers. But advocates worry that her daughter's comments can have unintended effect on public perceptions of cannabis at a time when legalization efforts are ongoing throughout the U.S.

"Anyone who has experience with marijuana or is even vaguely familiar with the research knows that cannabis has never lead to an overdose death in recorded history," said Tom Angell, founder of Marijuana Majority, a non-partisan organization advocating for marijuana reform. "Chelsea Clinton has a huge platform, and I hope that she will take the opportunity to quickly correct the record."

ATTN: reached out to the Clinton campaign for clarification on the comment, but a representative was not immediately available. We will update this story when we receive a response.

RELATED: Where Your Representatives Stand on Marijuana

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