Scientists Call Out Huberman On Marijuana Misinformation

Andrew Huberman, a renowned longevity scientist, has come under criticism for his podcast episode explaining marijuana's effects on humans.

The last few weeks have been tough on Huberman, a neuroscientist and tenured professor at the Stanford School of Medicine. First, the New York Magazine published an article detailing his alleged personal life drama. Then, the Daily Mail reported that supplements sold by the scientist are scientifically unproven.

Now, an episode of the Huberman Lab podcast about marijuana's effects on the brain and the body has caught the attention of scientists working in the field of toxicology and cannabis research.

Virtually everything Huberman said in the video is inaccurate, according to Matthew Hill, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at the University of Calgary whose research focuses on cannabinoids.

"It is incredibly disturbing to me that someone claiming to be a scientist can talk with such authority on something they clearly know nothing about," Hill wrote on X, a social network.

Ryan Marino, M.D., a board-certified physician practicing medical toxicology and addiction medicine, called the video "20 minutes of made-up nonsense."

Marino wrote on X, "It is absurd that this man is considered an authority in science communication."

Responding to criticism, Huberman said he consulted with Stanford School of Medicine colleagues for the episode. He also invited his critics for a discussion and encouraged followers to share their constructive critiques in the special section of his website.

Huberman's lack of empirical evidence

Daniele Piomelli, a distinguished professor of anatomy and neurobiology at the University of California, Irvine, says Huberman's video is mostly factually inaccurate.

"It is disheartening to hear a scientist utter so much nonsense with so much confidence," Piomelli tells Healthnews.

He explains that Huberman treats cannabinoids THC and CBD as if they were identical or, at least, very similar in their actions, although they are not.

According to Piomelli, THC produces its effects by interacting with the endocannabinoid system, including cannabinoid receptors. Meanwhile, CBD produces its effects by interacting with multiple neurotransmitter systems and minimally with the endocannabinoid system.

Therefore, the psychological and physiological effects of THC and CBD are completely different.

Huberman implies this or that brain structure in the effects of cannabis as if we had empirical evidence for such implications. We mostly don't. He weaves a nice narrative, but it's just a narrative.

Piomelli

Moreover, Huberman makes strong statements about the varieties of cannabis, "sativa" and "indica," as if they were appreciably different, like "arabica" and "robusta" for coffee, but they are not. Piomelli says the genetic and chemical composition of plants ascribed to the two varieties mostly overlap.

"What is more likely is that they can produce distinctive 'feels' in experienced users due to the presence of this or that aromatic terpene. That's important from a subjective perspective and for causing placebo-based differentiation," he adds.

Huberman is correct that different people respond differently to cannabis — for example, some will experience relief from anxiety, whereas others will experience the opposite. However, the difference should not be attributed to the use of "sativa" versus "indica."

Piomelli says, "There are, however, many other much more likely explanations, ranging from dosage, level of experience with the drug, age, sex, stress, etc."

Many unknowns about marijuana’s effects

In the United States, marijuana will soon be reclassified as a less dangerous Schedule III drug, along with ketamine, anabolic steroids, testosterone, and products containing codeine.

Despite the rapid expansion of the global cannabis market, which is projected to grow from $57.18 billion in 2023 to $444.34 billion by 2030, the evidence of cannabis's medical effects is mixed.

Many studies report an inability to draw conclusions due to inconsistent findings and a lack of rigorous evidence, according to a 2019 review. Moreover, mild harms are frequently observed, and it is possible the harms of cannabis-based medicines may outweigh the benefits.

The use of marijuana poses multiple health risks. When people begin using cannabis at an early age, the drug may impair their thinking, memory, and learning functions. Some studies link the use of cannabis in adolescence to a significant decline in general knowledge and in verbal ability, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Marijuana has also been associated with temporary psychosis and long-lasting mental disorders, including schizophrenia, especially in those who started using cannabis in their teenage years.

Other mental health disorders linked to marijuana use include depression and social anxiety, as well as thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts, and suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Regular cannabis use can also have physiological effects, including the following:

  • Breathing problems like daily cough and phlegm, more frequent lung illness, and a higher risk of lung infections.
  • Increased heart rate, raising the risk of heart attack. Regular users may also be at a 34% higher risk of developing heart failure.
  • Problems with child development during and after pregnancy. Children exposed to marijuana in the womb have an increased risk of problems with attention, memory, and problem-solving. Moreover, research suggests marijuana may elevate the risk of preterm birth.
  • Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome defined regular cycles of severe nausea, vomiting, and dehydration.


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