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May-16-2008 08:00printcomments

This Is Your Brain on Propaganda

Information tailored to fit the needs of a political agenda against marijuana
Drug Czar John Walters and the ONDCP have delivered a steady stream of information about cannabis that is questionable when looked at objectively. image by Austin King

(SALEM, Ore.) - Originally the term propaganda referred simply to the dissemination of information intended to further any agenda; however during WWII, as it became associated with Soviet and German campaigns of misinformation, it took on a very negative connotation in American society. According to Wikipedia, “Propaganda often presents facts selectively (thus lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or gives loaded messages in order to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented.”

As a weapon in psychological warfare, propaganda has long been employed by governments eager to exploit the fears, beliefs and even superstitions of their target populace. My introduction to the subject of American drug war propaganda came at an early age, when I overheard my parents laughing about a government report claiming LSD killed brain cells. The report apparently referenced a study, in which living human brain cells were dropped into a vat of LSD, where they promptly shriveled up and died. This was absolutely true; however, what the report failed to point out is that placing those same cells in tap water would’ve produced the same result.

Another glaring example of 20th Century drug war propaganda can be found in the legendary film, “Reefer Madness.” In this 1936 cult classic, parents were warned that marijuana was evil, and use of it would likely result in the complete insanity of their children, as well as rape and murder and suicide and other terrible things. Although the spurious claims made in the movie were long ago debunked, a recently released report from the ONDCP (Office of National Drug Control Policy) attempts to put a new spin on our grandfathers’ reefer madness.

In the report titled, “Teen Marijuana Use Worsens Depression,” the authors repeatedly confuse correlation with causation. A correlation only shows that two variables are related. It does not, in itself, address whether one variable causes another. The studies referenced in the report only show that teens who are depressed are more likely to use cannabis than happier teens.

We all make mistakes, and as Stephen J. Gould noted, “The invalid assumption that correlation implies cause is probably among the two or three most serious and common errors of human reasoning.” For you or me to make this error around the water cooler would be completely forgivable. However, in this case our tax dollars were used to craft this report, and I would argue that the American public deserves better.

For nearly 100 years, the United States government has misled its citizens about cannabis, literally at our expense. Contrary to claims made by the ONDCP, an examination of the references at the end of this article shows that it is far from having been proven that marijuana causes or worsens depression in anyone. In fact, many people, young and old, have found relief from depression by using therapeutic cannabis. Former Drug Enforcement Administration Administrative Law Judge Francis Young, after reviewing all of the available science on the subject, called marijuana “one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man,” and “safer than many foods we commonly consume.” One study even shows that teens who experiment with cannabis may be healthier in general, than both those who abuse substances and those who abstain from all use.

Instead of educating our citizens about the real dangers we and our children face, our money is being spent prioritizing and propagandizing a lucrative political agenda, whose profits depend upon maintaining cannabis prohibition. In order for our government to justify continuing prohibition, voters must be convinced that it’s in our best interest to do so. Exploiting the fears of parents by painting anything as a threat to our children’s health and safety, even in the absence of any realistic risk, has usually been a successful way to accomplish that goal.

Although the ONDCP report claims to be, “released to coincide with May's Mental Health Awareness Month,”, it also happens to come out in time to be considered during the U.S. Congressional debates this summer, which will determine the appropriations of funding for the ONDCP for fiscal year 2009. Citizens who object to paying for the privilege of being indoctrinated with drug war propaganda have the means to change American “business as usual” at their fingertips.

Contact your Congressional representative and ask him or her to demand honesty, integrity, and accountability within the ONDCP when they decide how to fund the office for the coming year. Tell our members of Congress that “We the People” deserve and demand better than drug war propaganda from the people we pay to represent our interests and serve us.

When our government does anything in our name, we all bear responsibility for the outcome. Therefore we must accept the responsibility of demanding the very best for ourselves, our children, and our children’s children. And keep in mind the timeless words of Eric Hoffer, “Propaganda does not deceive people; it merely helps them to deceive themselves.”


Shedler J. and Block J., "Adolescent Drug Use and Psychological Health," American Psychologist, May 1990, 612 - 630.

Denson T.F. and Earlywine M., “Decreased depression in marijuana users,” Addictive Behaviors, 2006;31(738 – 742).

Fergusson DM, Lynskey MT, Horwood LJ, "The short-term consequences of early onset cannabis use," Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 1996 Aug;24(4):499-512.

Fergusson DM, Horwood LJ, "Early onset cannabis use and psychosocial adjustment in young adults," Addiction, 1997 Mar;92(3):279-96.

Green BE, Ritter C, "Marijuana use and depression," Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 2000 Mar;41(1):40-9.

Kouri E, Pope HG Jr, Yurgelun-Todd D, Gruber S, "Attributes of heavy vs. occasional marijuana smokers in a college population," Biological Psychiatry, 1995 Oct 1;38(7):475-81.

McGee R, Williams S, Poulton R, Moffitt T, "A longitudinal study of cannabis use and mental health from adolescence to early adulthood," Addiction, 2000 Apr;95(4):491-503.

Musty RE, Kaback L, "Relationships between motivation and depression in chronic marijuana users," Life Science, 1995;56(23-24):2151-8.

Rowe MG, Fleming MF, Barry KL, Manwell LB, Kropp S, "Correlates of depression in primary care," Journal of Family Practice, 1995 Dec;41(6):551-8.

Endocannabinoids: The Brain and Body's Marijuana and Beyond, Editors: Onaivi, Sugiura, and DiMarzo; Chapter 15: Neuropsychiatry: "Schizophrenia, Depression, and Anxiety," by Fride and Russo, 2006(371-379).

Substance Abuse: A Comprehensive Textbook, Editors: Lowinson, Ruiz, Millman, and Langrod; CHAPTER 15: "Marihuana: Clinical Aspects," by Grinspoon, Bakalar, and Russo, 2004(263-276).

For more information about drug war propaganda or cannabis, please visit: (currently undergoing revision)

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Sunil May 17, 2008 10:48 am (Pacific time)

Great article, Ms. Hildebrandt. Here is the tagline from the newstory about another article that supports your arguments that was published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. We have to hammer home these propaganda spins and perversions of the facts. Only then will "the scales fall from our eyes". There's a cool website you can find if you google "drug war propaganda bot" which helps. Swiss Study Finds Marijuana Use Alone May Benefit Some Teens — Teens that use cannabis may function better than teen tobacco-users, and appear to be more socially driven and have fewer psychosocial problems than those who do not use either substance, according to a Swiss survey.

farmerbob May 17, 2008 9:43 am (Pacific time)

Exceptionally well written article. I hope we'll be hearing more from Erin.

Fed Up May 16, 2008 11:44 am (Pacific time)

More proof that the government is broken. Everyone knows it. Obama is a serious candidate for president. He’s promising change. People are so sick of our incompetent leadership.

Marco May 16, 2008 11:09 am (Pacific time)

Thanks for a very informative article and for correcting these false perceptions, when does it end?

Heartened May 16, 2008 9:10 am (Pacific time)

Nothing beats a clear objective like a slice of truth, how refreshing!

Henry Ruark May 16, 2008 8:31 am (Pacific time)

To all: Key-phrse here is:"...the timeless words of Eric Hoffer, “Propaganda does not deceive people; it merely helps them to deceive themselves.” Facts herein re propaganda, and its use by OUR government to deceive US for poliical and economic purposes, is "right on the money" -- and that's no pun ! It is rather the driving force protecting and profiling the realities involved in the situation. Truth-here applies also to such other social/cultural anomalies as continuance of racism in face of all rational and reasonable factual proof of the long-standing myth manufactured for economic reasons initially.

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