NBC News Misses the Mark with Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome Coverage

NBC News runs a fearmongering story about C.H.S., triggering an even more outrageous click-bait headline from The Independent.

Full story after the jump.

In this edition of Canna-Bias, we examine how NBC’s hyperbolic coverage of C.H.S., or Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome, spawned a wave of similar news stories from other mainstream and local publications.

In July, NBC News published a report on C.H.S., which led to a cascade of similar reports from the mainstream media including an Independent article (a day later, with the word “scromiting” in the headline), and at local news organizations throughout the U.S.

Presence of bias:

In 2017, Ganjapreneur interviewed several individuals who suffered from C.H.S. and two physicians who have worked directly with patients who suffered from it. The issue with the NBC News and Independent articles is not that they chose to cover this condition, but how they went about doing so.

In particular, NBC News plants several tidbits in their article that are designed to make people afraid for the safety of their children in a post-legalization world.

To start with, the NBC News piece states, “Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012. Several years later, doctors in Colorado and other states are expressing alarm over the increasing potency of cannabis and the health risks it may pose for young users – from psychiatric issues, including violent psychotic episodes, to the mysterious condition that plagued Gribbon.”

NBC News does, in fact, interview four Colorado physicians; however, that’s it. There are no physicians from other states interviewed for the story. Bias occurs when news deviates from the ideal, and, ideally, NBC News should have found experts from other states if they were going to make the claim that the alarm about these specific issues is widespread (and omitting them amounts to quality bias).

Another major element of bias within the piece stems from the fact that the two primary sources are an 18-year-old and a 17-year-old, for whom it is not legal to purchase, possess, or consume cannabis under Colorado’s state law. Additionally, C.H.S. does not only affect young people, although they are the focus of the article. Running with these interviews as the focus results in context bias and misleads the reader into thinking this condition is a threat to young people in particular.

The Independent story and its “scromiting” headline contains various bias types, including adjective bias. In Ganjapreneur‘s interviews with C.H.S. patients – both on and off the record – the word “scromiting” never came up. Maybe it’s a UK thing.

There is no denying that C.H.S. is a real condition and that it may be linked to high-potency cannabis–this was a common thread in Ganjapreneur‘s interviews from 2017–but the NBC News article doesn’t include voices of anyone who overcame the condition and is quite one-sided in its presentation (which amounts to gatekeeping, quality and tone bias).

How to remedy:

The Independent doesn’t seem to be interested in covering any facts beyond NBC News’ report, and it seems like they really just wanted to run a headline with the word “scromiting” in it.

To avoid bias in their coverage, both news organizations (and those that followed suit) should include relevant context and multiple perspectives instead of building a narrative around fear.

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