In the world of pseudoscience, I have run across the merging of my favorite topics – marijuana treats vaccine adverse effects. Yes, you read that right, quacks are claiming that marijuana can be used to treat those extremely rare vaccine adverse effects.
We all know about the pseudoscience surrounding the vaccine adverse effects myth – it’s almost always based on a misreading of the vaccine package inserts, anecdotes, false claims, and assuming correlation implies causation. Rarely, vaccines can cause a serious adverse effect, because no medical procedure is perfectly safe – however, the potential benefits far outweigh the risks of the vaccination.
So let’s take a look at this new nonsensical claim that marijuana can treat vaccine adverse effects. Grab a bag of Doritos Cool Ranch (you know, for the munchies) and enjoy.
Marijuana and medicine
Even though I write about vaccines mainly, I do wander off in other fields that interest me like cancer, GMOs, and the myths of marijuana. We know that there is no robust evidence that marijuana can cure or prevent cancer. High-quality research does indicate that second-hand marijuana smoke may actually increase the risk of cancer. At best, we can only find three conditions where the clinical evidence strongly supports the use of cannabis:
- For the treatment of chronic pain in adults (using all forms of cannabis)
- As antiemetics (anti-nausea) in the treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (in the form of oral cannabinoids)
- For improving patient-reported multiple sclerosis spasticity symptoms (oral cannabinoids)
Outside of those three highly specific conditions, there is unconvincing or nonexistent evidence that marijuana has anything more than a placebo effect on other medical conditions.
Yet, the myth of cannabis’s effects on medical conditions endures. Part of it is a result of attempting to get new “pro-marijuana” laws approved in states and countries. Part of it is an attempt to justify marijuana use. Most of it arises from a complete misunderstanding of how evidence-based medicine works – they draw conclusions from the weakest of scientific studies that look at marijuana effects.
Future research may uncover definitive medical benefits of marijuana – but it’s going to take real basic scientific and clinical research to define those benefits in a clinically useful manner. Smoking a joint is not going to do it.
For example, if we do find that some component of cannabis has an effect on one of the 200 or more types of cancer, Big Pharma is going to be your friend. They will do the real research necessary to put that component into a form that actually reaches the cancer cells without harming the body (see Note 1).
But this is not the point of this story. It’s vaccine adverse effects – I just wanted to clarify what marijuana can and cannot do.
You’re probably wondering why I read these kinds of things because it will certainly shorten my lifespan. I do this for you, the good readers of this blog. Because I’d much rather be reading about how Fear the Walking Dead is much better than the original than pseudoscientific woo. But here we go.
The article in Cannabis, a website that focuses on selling weed and promoting the rubbish about medical effects of consuming it, hits all of the tropes of the anti-vaccine and pro-marijuana crowd. The article’s title says it all: “How Cannabis Helps With Vaccine Side Effects – Ax The Vaxx? Cannabis Is A Treatment For Vaccine Effects.”
Right from the start, you see that it’s an anti-vaccine article, you don’t have to read much else. They go right for the anti-vaccine trope about autism:
In fact, some cases are so extreme that vaccinations are now a suspected cause for autism in children. The vaccine-autism debate has been a burning issue for many years now, although the CDC denies these links.
Let’s review a couple of points. The only debate is a public one where one side, without a femtogram of scientific or clinical evidence, claims that vaccines cause autism, while the overwhelming majority of scientists disagree. So, the scientific consensus agrees that vaccines are not linked to autism. If it really were a debate, the anti-vaccine side would have been crushed by the evidence and walked home crying about the silliness of their arguments.
Next up, we have this wonderful statement:
…cannabis is good for you, while vaccines can have some pretty serious side effects even though they are both meant and able to protect you from diseases.
Is cannabis good for you? Unless you have one of the three conditions mentioned above, there is no demonstrable evidence that it’s “good for you.” Unless, of course, you like getting high. And on the other hand, there is good evidence that it may not be all that good for you, especially when smoked.
And in some classic passive-aggressive writing, the author moves from semi-praising vaccines to writing about some of the enduring myths about vaccines:
But still – there have been at least thousands of cases, which prove that vaccines may have side effects that are harmful for your health. The measles vaccine alone has been reported to cause brain inflammation, seizures, pancreatitis, anaphylaxis, and arthritis. It doesn’t stop there: there are even cases of children who have died after receiving vaccinations.
She links to the National Vaccine
Misinformation Information Center (NVIC), which is probably one of the most disgusting and misinformed anti-vaccine groups around (thanks to the intimidating Orac). In other words, the author chooses their evidence from a notorious anti-vaccine website rather than actual scientific websites. Furthermore, there is no medical evidence that any child has died after receiving vaccines going back 30 years (see Note 2).
Marijuana does not treat vaccine adverse effects
I think we have clearly established that the author of this article is an adherent to the anti-vaccine side of the discussion. But let’s talk about the author’s claims on how to treat these nonexistent vaccine adverse effects.
First up, they tell a story about a child that contracted epilepsy after routine vaccination. Now, I can’t find a link to the story, so I am unable to actually determine if the story is true. But let’s just assume the author is being honest in reporting the case, though we can doubt the veracity of the claims.
Vaccines might cause a temporary condition called “febrile seizures” which sounds scary, but it really isn’t. It’s caused by fevers that result from any infection or, sometimes, vaccines. Children susceptible to this may experience it from any fever, not necessarily just vaccines. And it does not lead to epilepsy.
Of course, the author then claims that some strain of marijuana treats epilepsy. No, it doesn’t. In a review of over 10,000 scientific research articles, Committee on the Health Effects of Marijuana: An Evidence Review and Research Agenda, published by the influential and prestigious National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, the researchers found that there is no evidence that marijuana can treat epilepsy. Cannabis can claim this based on anecdotes and other pseudoscience, but real scientists found that it cannot.
Then there’s this crackpot claim:
…vaccines can trigger a reaction in the brain, causing the immune system to attack tissue thus leading to encephalitis.
Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain caused by viral or bacterial infections. The immune system doesn’t cause encephalitis except for a special form, called autoimmune encephalitis that is not related to vaccines.
The only relationship between vaccines and encephalitis is that there are vaccines that can reduce the risk of encephalitis:
- The measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine, MMR prevents measles infections. Measles can lead to subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), a progressive, disabling, and deadly brain disorder. Mumps and rubella infections also are related to a higher risk of other types of encephalitis.
- The Japanese encephalitis vaccine, which prevents infection from a mosquito-borne disease common in some parts of Asia. The disease can lead to encephalitis.
- A tick-borne encephalitis vaccine – recommended for travelers to certain parts of Europe (but not the UK) and Asia.
Of course, the most common of these vaccines, MMR, is not related to any cases of encephalitis. So, the Cannabis author just invented this, or, more likely, they found this claim in some anti-vaccine website backed by 0 evidence.
Nevertheless, can marijuana treat encephalitis? Well, the marijuana research review I mentioned above does not even discuss it. There is some mouse research (and you know what I think of mouse research) that shows a reduction in brain swelling.
But like I mentioned above about cancer and marijuana, the one ingredient that may have an effect, cannabidiol, requires a concentration that is far above what one could safely consume. You simply could not smoke enough weed to have an effect on brain swelling. If it does work, let me remind you, Big Pharma will isolate the compound and put it in a form that will help treat it.
The author of this travesty also made a claim that cannabis can treat the mythical HPV vaccine adverse effects based on a tiny unpublished study, without any controls or any scientific credibility, presented at a conference. Remember, conference abstracts are just barely above the Natural News in the hierarchy of scientific research. I’m not sure we should listen to anything they write.
I knew that if I waited enough time that the anti-vaccine myths would intersect with the marijuana fables in the Venn diagram of pseudoscientific nonsense. This author vastly overstated and misstated the nonsense about vaccine adverse effects. Then they vastly overstated and misstated the nonsense about marijuana’s medical benefits in treating this imaginary or real vaccine adverse effects.
And I am completely overlooking the author wanting to use marijuana (or related products like cannabis oil) to treat children! If my child had encephalitis or epilepsy, I’d be at their pediatrician and a neurologist to get the best science-based medical treatment in the world. Not relying on myths or bad science.
Vaccines are extremely safe, but they do occasionally have minor and sometimes serious adverse effects. But giving your child cannabis to treat these minor and serious adverse effects? That just does not make sense.
- One of the amusing misconceptions of people who push the trope that marijuana can “cure” cancer is that they don’t understand that the level of the compound necessary to kill that cancer is also the level that will kill the patient. It would take smoking over 1000 joints a day to get the blood level of this unknown marijuana compound to actually kill cancer. I don’t make any guarantees on these pages, but I guarantee anyone would die after smoking 1000 joints a day. Big Pharma will isolate (or synthesize) that one molecule that has an effect on one cancer – they will put it into a form that will get it to the cancer site, they will do large, expensive (100s of millions of dollars) clinical trials, they will submit an application to the FDA (and agencies across the world), and they will probably charge a ton of cash for it. But that’s how it works – if, and I’m not agreeing with it, a chemical in marijuana can kill a cancer cell, smoking weed will not do anything.
- I have spent an incredible amount of time, hundreds of hours, looking through published case reports and CDC mortality and morbidity reports looking for any cases of definitive links between vaccination and mortality that fits within some time period that makes sense. I have found none. Sure, some package inserts mention death after vaccination, but if you read carefully, those deaths are attributed to things that aren’t vaccines – automobiles, falls, and other relatively common causes. And the claim that SIDS is linked to vaccines is ridiculous.
- Mori MA, Meyer E, Soares LM, Milani H, Guimarães FS, de Oliveira RMW. Cannabidiol reduces neuroinflammation and promotes neuroplasticity and functional recovery after brain ischemia. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2017 Apr 3;75:94-105. doi: 10.1016/j.pnpbp.2016.11.005. Epub 2016 Nov 23. PubMed PMID: 27889412.