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Marijuana Eases Spasticity in MS Patients


1 Star

Marijuana Eases Spasticity in MS Patients

Our Review Summary

This story lacked many of the vital ingredients of any health news story.

It didn’t: 

  • offer any independent perspective;
  • quantify harms or benefits of the marijuana extract use;
  • scrutinize the quality of the evidence;
  • challenge the implication that subjective evidence was OK despite limitations in objective measurements. 


Why This Matters

A story like this turns the website (in this case) over to researchers to talk about their work without any challenge from any other expert independent source. News consumers should be cautious whenever they see a story like this. And given the desperation of many people with MS, an incomplete story like this is particularly unfortunate.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

If the marijuana extracts are experimental, we could understand why costs might not be mentioned – which they weren’t.  But since the story never explained whether these are available products or not, we have no idea of availability nor of cost. 

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

Absolutely no numbers were provided to give a sense of the scope of the suggested benefit.   How many people who took the extracts benefited?  You’d never know from the story.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

Absolutely no numbers were provided to give a sense of the scope of the potential harms of taking the extracts.   All the story said was, "Side effects vary greatly."  What were they?  How many people had them? 

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The story included this curious quote from the researchers:

  • "Although some objective measures of spasticity noted improvement trends, there were no changes found to be significant in post-treatment assessments." But subjective assessment of relief of spasticity suggested significant improvement after treatment, they write.

But science is all about objective measurement, and the story never did anything to address this questionable assertion.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


There was no exaggeration of the muscle spasm symptoms of MS.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

A HealthDay story reported:

  • Another expert, Dr. William Sheremata, director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center at the University of Miami School of Medicine, also doesn’t think MS patients necessarily benefit from marijuana use.  Sheremata noted that the objective measures in the study did not show any benefit from marijuana. "Those are the only valid measures. Subjective responses are subjective; they really don’t have much in the way of validity," he said. "I am not convinced that the use of marijuana benefits patients as a whole."

But this WebMD story included no independent perspective – a major shortcoming.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The story stated that "many existing therapies for this condition are difficult to obtain, ineffective, or associated with intolerable side effects.  But we are not told anything about what these therapies are – nor are we given any details about all of these suggested shortcomings.  So readers are not able to make any meaningful comparison based on the story.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The story described "marijuana extracts" but never clarified whether they were now available or still experimental.  Also, many people would want to know how these extracts – taken by mouth – differ from smoking marijuana – which the story never explained.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

A HealthDay story quoted a Mayo Clinic neurologist saying, "the idea of using cannabis to treat MS has been around for a long time." No such context appeared in this story.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Not Satisfactory

The story discloses that it lifted a quote from a news release.  We appreciate that admission.  But we judge the story unsatisfactory on this criterion because it clearly relied on a news release without putting any independent perspective in the story – something other stories managed to do easily (See "Source" criterion below.)  It’s difficult to see how/if any independent reporting went into this story.

Total Score: 1 of 10 Satisfactory


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