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COVID, Cannabis, and Quacks

No, Weed Does Not Cure the Virus


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To a degree perhaps not before seen in modern history, the COVID-19 pandemic is revealing a lot of people and institutions for what they really are, good and bad. Cold, hard reality has a way of doing that. You can't argue with a deadly virus like you might argue with an ideological opponent. So if your wacky, politically driven beliefs about COVID-19 are deficient, the virus — just by existing — will fully expose them as such.

Witness how COVID-19 proved wrong Donald Trump's claim that it would vanish in the warm weather "like magic" before Easter, (or that his administration "inherited" a "broken" test for the new virus from the Obama Administration, or that "anybody that needs a test gets a test.")

Similarly, if you are a mercenary trying to profit from fear, the virus will highlight your real motives. Whether that does any good — whether anyone is convinced to stop believing the nonsense peddled by hucksters and loons after the harsh light of reality has been shined upon it — is unknown.

The cannabis business, while populated largely by serious, well-intentioned people, has more than its share of crazies and mercenaries. And they can be particularly insufferable and toxic. 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. "It will cure cancer!" "It will give you cancer!"

Predictably, given the current state of civilization, some cannabis advocates and peddlers of elixirs are now declaring that their products can alleviate the symptoms of COVID-19, or even cure it.

The problem is so widespread that The Washington Post was moved earlier this month to publish a warning in the form of an op-ed written by David A. Guba Jr., a history teacher in Baltimore who has written about cannabis. The headline: "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 the skeevier precincts of online marketing (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. No one is as critical of the quacks than the marketers of legitimate products sold for legitimate uses.

As with lunatic politics, the charlatanism is possible only because there's a sizable audience for it. Hence the sub-headline on Guba's op-ed: "It didn't cure plague or cholera in the 19th century, either." That cannabis has cured plagues is the kind of claim made by the loudest cannabis advocates on the Internet, but as Guba notes, such people have been around for centuries. The modern version are the kinds of people who say they know for sure that the government is growing superweed on secret farms and selling it to finance CIA black ops, or that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson relaxed with big bowls of pot on the verandas of their plantations after a hard day of forging a new democracy. (While both men farmed hemp, there is no evidence that they ever smoked marijuana).

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. "The same people making sure the disease spreads are the same people pushing big pharma harmful vaccines to fight the coronavirus," Hanna tweeted on March 27. "Follow the money for sure."

That last sentiment is always good advice. 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. Hanna, who indicates in his bio that he believes in far-right the QAnon conspiracy theory, also is a member of the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary, an offshoot of the Unification Church. But Sanctuary is even weirder than the Moonies. The sect once held a mass marriage ceremony where participants were asked to hold AR-15 rifles during the proceedings. The group's leader, Hyung Jin Moon (the son of Sun Myung Moon, who led the Moonies) has referred to guns as representing the "rod of iron" referred to in the bible. Scholars agree with the Bible's obvious context: that the "rod of iron" represents the word of God, and not the favorite weapon of mass shooters in 21st century North America.

On March 13, Hanna tweeted: "My family and I have the coronavirus." When it was new, that tweet appeared just under his pinned tweet about how cannabis "cures all diseases." So, did it cure his and his family's? That's not clear. 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.