By this point, we’ve all heard that cannabis helps with pain. But where have most of us heard it from? Either from the Internet, or from a friend who heard it on the Internet.
And the Internet, as we know, isn’t always the most reliable source, especially for complex medical topics that require in-depth, 360-degree analysis as opposed to the superficial content we find on many websites. And that’s the keyword here – websites – because most people don’t scour academic and medical journals to find the answers to their medical questions.
But “website” is a broad term, so we shouldn’t paint with a broad brush. That’s why a team of researchers accessed the legitimacy of the information on the topic of using cannabis for pain, found on English-language websites on Google. “Encyclopedias (i.e., Wikipedia), forums, academic journals, general news websites, major e-commerce websites, websites not publicly available, books, and video platforms were excluded.”
Google was the only search engine included for obvious reasons. The search was performed in countries that have either decriminalized or partially legalized cannabis.
The team didn’t go past the 3rd Google page, and that was still probably overdoing the due diligence, since anything beyond the first page is mostly no man’s land. “The first search page contains 92% of website traffic, with a 95% decrease for the second page, a 78% decrease for the third page, and subsequent decreases for each following page of results.”
The researchers employed the DISCERN instrument to gauge the websites’ legitimacy on three counts – the publications’ reliability, their individual aspects, and an overall averaged score – using 15 questions in total.
The search produced 270 results. Of those, 216 were duplicates, and 18 were disqualified because they either belonged in one of the aforementioned categories, discussed cannabis from an addiction standpoint (N=1), or were invalid (N=1). That left 36 eligible websites.
The average score was 48.85 out of 75.00, so a little over 50%.
It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that “websites selling cannabis products/services scored the lowest, while health portals scored the highest.”
All of the five highest rated websites were either a health portal or a non-profit.
While health portal and non-profit websites generally provide higher-quality information, commercial, professional, and cannabis-focused news websites tended to only present the positive aspects of cannabis while downplaying the potential risks of use.”
These findings underline the need for critical thinking when consuming information online, especially on issues as complex as health and medicine. More specifically, a source’s motives and interests should always be taken into careful consideration, as they will likely shape the narrative at least partially and cause the authors to cherry-pick the information they present. And importantly, any website presenting scientific and medical information about cannabis should heavily cite their sources!
Reference Ng JY, Dzisiak DA, Saini JB. Cannabis for pain: a cross-sectional survey of the patient information quality on the Internet. J Cannabis Res. 2021;3(1):36. [journal impact factor = N/A; times cited = 1]
Image Credits: Max Pixel