Marijuana Now Marketed as an Upscale Cure-All.
I think it’s interesting, yet tragic, that history repeats itself. The other day, I came across an article in Bloomberg Businessweek entitled “Peddling Weed Like It’s Coca-Cola.” The gist of the story was that the marketing of weed has gone upscale, touting benefits ranging from reducing stress to putting one in the mood for love. It reminded me about something I recently read in Sam Quiñones’ book, Dreamland, which documents many of the reasons behind America’s opiate addiction crisis. The parallels were startling.
In the late 1990s, Purdue Pharma began marketing Oxycontin, a pain medication that contains large doses of the opiate, oxycodone. They ran a full court press on the medical community, running all-expenses-paid conferences in exotic locations and tag-teaming doctors over fancy lunches, dinners and events, with the same basic message: “Oxycontin is virtually non-addictive because it is a timed-release medication.”
This was news to doctors who had been taught otherwise in medical school, but they were easily caught up in the hype and convinced by the Purdue Pharma subsidized drug safety studies. The company contacted over 70,000 doctors nationwide, using 1,000 sales reps (mostly beautiful, impeccably dressed women), and gave away gifts, golf outings, spa retreats and free travel, while paying excessive consulting and research fees to leading doctors who bought into the Pharma mindset.
This went on unchecked for six years before the US Department of Health and Human Services began reeling them in. By 2003, more than half the prescribers of Oxycontin nationwide were primary care doctors, many with little pain management training. Oxy prescriptions rose from 700,000 in 1997 to over 7.2 million in 2002.
Today, we know Pharma’s claims were far from true. The company’s aggressive tactics combined with doctors’ liberal prescription policies, helped create a generation of addicts. While Purdue Pharma did eventually face civil lawsuits and criminal prosecution due to its sales practices, it left a trail of damage in its wake. Despite the lawsuits, the company
made $3.1 billion in revenue by 2010.
Now we are seeing a host of companies capitalizing on the legalization of marijuana
in 28 states and the District of Columbia with more coming, plus Canada. They tout “enhanced chocolate,” Epsom salt bath soaks, Dulce de leche bonbons, a vaping pen device that “help(s) you feel just the right amount of good,” and something called Lord Jones 5:1 Pain and Wellness Formula Body Lotion, all containing marijuana derivatives. While
many of these products are using lower doses as part of their sales pitch, they’re
doing so in an effort to entice new users, emphasizing mild, mood-enhancing
Seriously? Have we learned nothing?
According to Arcview Market Research, legal marijuana sales are set to increase from $6.7 billion in 2016 (up 34% from 2015) to $18.1 billion over the next few years. Companies are also focusing on brand positioning to target upscale clientele who might be reticent to be associated with the ‘burnt-out stoners’ otherwise driving the legal marijuana market. Time and again, history has proven that a low-dose gateway typically leads to growing tolerance and greater use both in quantity and potency, and so the tragic side of history repeating itself rears its ugly head.
We are now embarking upon a grand national experiment that will have far-reaching consequences. Last year was the worst on record for opioid addiction,
and we are about to start a similar crisis on the cannabis front. I’m most concerned about our kids. Adolescents have easy access to marijuana, and this access is setting them up for a lifetime of problems as they rewire their brains. It could be the worst failed social experiment ever. As someone involved in addiction treatment, I see the results every
day: destroyed families and lost lives. It breaks my heart.
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