Consumer Health Digest #19-30
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
August 4, 2019
Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H., with help from Stephen Barrett, M.D. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making. Its primary focus is on health, but occasionally it includes non-health scams and practical tips.
Cannabidiol marketer warned. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning letter to Curaleaf Inc., of Wakefield, Massachusetts, for illegally selling more than a dozen unapproved products containing the cannabis-derived compound cannabidiol (CBD) online with unsubstantiated claims such as:
- "CBD has been demonstrated to have properties that counteract the growth of [and/or] spread of cancer."
- "CBD was effective in killing human breast cancer cells."
- "CBD has also been shown to be effective in treating Parkinson's disease."
- "CBD has been linked to the effective treatment of Alzheimer's disease."
- "CBD is being adopted more and more as a natural alternative to pharmaceutical-grade treatments for depression and anxiety."
- "CBD can also be used in conjunction with opioid medications, and a number of studies have demonstrated that CBD can in fact reduce the severity of opioid-related withdrawal and lessen the buildup of tolerance."
- "CBD oil is becoming a popular, all-natural source of relief used to address the symptoms of many common conditions, such as chronic pain, anxiety … ADHD."
- "What are the benefits of CBD oil? . . . . Some of the most researched and well-supported hemp oil uses include …. Anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorders, and even schizophrenia . . . . Chronic pain from fibromyalgia, slipped spinal discs . . . Eating disorders and addiction."
- "[V]ets will prescribe puppy Xanax to pet owners which can help in certain instances but is not necessarily a desirable medication to give your dog continually. Whereas CBD oil is natural and offers similar results without the use of chemicals."
- "For dogs experiencing pain, spasms, anxiety, nausea or inflammation often associated with cancer treatments, CBD (aka cannabidiol) may be a source of much-needed relief."
The FDA previously sent warning letters to other companies that claimed their unapproved CBD products can prevent, diagnose, treat, or cure serious diseases, such as cancer. Some of those products were improperly claimed to be dietary supplements. [FDA warns company marketing unapproved cannabidiol products with unsubstantiated claims to treat cancer, Alzheimer's disease, opioid withdrawal, pain and pet anxiety. FDA news release, July 23, 2019]
False news about cannabis for cancer has grown rapidly. Four radiation oncologists have analyzed data on: (a) online search activity about cannabis and cancer, (b) news stories on this topic shared on social media from July 2017 to July 2018, and (c) tweets and Facebook posts of leading cancer organizations regarding top false news stories about the topic during that time period. [Shi S. and others. False news of a cannabis cancer cure. Cureus 11(1):e3918, 2019] They found:
- Online search volume for cannabis and cancer increased at 10 times the rate for standard cancer therapies from January 2011 to July 2018.
- Online search volume for cannabis and cancer increased significantly more in states that legalized medical cannabis compared to those that didn't.
- 51 (37.5%) of 136 high-impact news stories on social media referencing "cancer cure/therapy/treatment" claimed "alternative" treatments cure cancer. Of those, 12 (23.5%) proposed cannabis as a cancer cure, which made cannabis the most common type of "alternative" cancer treatment represented.
- On social media, 32 of 40 high-impact news stories that referenced "cannabis cancer" falsely proposed cannabis as a cancer cure. Of those, 14 used anecdotes of cancer patients supposedly cured by cannabis and 18 used invalid scientific reasoning.
- The top false news story proposing cannabis as a cancer cure generated 4.26 million engagements, while the most popular accurate news story debunking the false news generated only 36,000 total engagements.
- Leading cancer organizations had little to no engagement on social media regarding cannabis. Many more retweets and Facebook posts promoted false news about cannabis and cancer.
The researchers concluded:
The false news of a cannabis cancer cure is spreading quickly online, and interest in such news stories is rapidly rising. In the face of this concerning increase, there has been a minimal online presence by major cancer hospitals and organizations, representing a crucial opportunity for the oncology community to correct this misinformation and communicate accurate information to patient and caregiver communities.
Family physician journal blasted for acupuncture endorsement. Harriet Hall, M.D., a retired family physician, has harshly criticized American Family Physician, the flagship journal for her medical specialty, for publishing: (a) an article "Acupuncture for pain" which she described as "biased, incomplete, gives false information, and is unethical" in concluding that acupuncture can be a reasonable treatment option and (b) an editorial in the same issue on "Integrating medical acupuncture into family medicine practice," which recommends using what she called "language of many a quack and charlatan" for convincing doctors and patients that acupuncture is effective. [Hall H. American Family Physician endorses acupuncture. Science-Based Medicine, July 30, 2019] The language she criticized included:
- "I think acupuncture may help you. I've noticed in my own patients that it seems pretty beneficial. Eighty percent of my patients get better with acupuncture or have a positive response."
- These are strong [acu-]points. These are more powerful points."
- "The acupuncture treatment is going to help settle your body and your mind."
- "If you get any response, that's good. Eventually, I want to get you spaced out to three to four months, so you're coming in for a maintenance treatment."
- "You've been out of balance for awhile [sic], and it feels uncomfortable to try and push you back into that equilibrium. That's okay if you feel bad for the first couple of days. It will get better. Any kind of a change is a good sign, because it means that we did something to activate that and to improve that."
The "acupuncture for pain" article was written by two doctors at the Cleveland Clinic, which was similarly criticized in 2014 when it began operating a Chinese herbal-therapy clinic run by a "certified herbalist" who is licensed to practice "Oriental medicine." [Novella S. Herbal center at Cleveland Clinic. Science-Based Medicine Blog, April 23, 2014] Quackwatch has added American Family Physician to its "nonrecommended list" of journals that are "excellent except for too many poorly reasoned articles on "complementary" and/or "alternative" medicine.
Criticism of proposed Medicare acupuncture coverage needed. The Trump Administration has proposed that Medicare cover the cost for Medicare patients who participate in studies of acupuncture for back pain. Jann Bellamy explains why the proposal would be a waste of tax dollars and would give "acupuncturists the opportunity to sell patients on the vast array of pseudoscience covered by the acupuncturist's scope of practice." [Bellamy J. Medicare proposal covers acupuncture pain study participants: A prelude to full coverage? Science-Based Medicine, July 18, 2019] She encourages people with research and medical expertise to submit public comments about the proposal to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services by the deadline of August 15th.
This page was posted on August 4, 2019.