If one thing has become painfully obvious in recent days, it’s that our social media echo chambers are drowning out fact; emotion is trumping reason. In our endless pursuit to confirm our biases, and aided invisibly by hidden algorithms that govern so much of our online selves, we’ve moved beyond fact into a post-truth society. What a time to be alive.
We’ve created a climate of post-truth anti-intellectualism, which values anecdotal evidence over peer-reviewed science. A minor celebrity with a penchant for pizza bases is somehow more qualified to sell you on a diet than actual nutritional scientists, no matter how many malnourished babies might suggest otherwise, and vaccines most definitely cause autism because Big Pharma is run by Reptilians who want to crush humanity under their taloned feet. The people trying to tell you the truth are in on the conspiracy, and your only hope lies in alternatives. It’s never been a better time to be selling snake oil.
You could say then, that I came into the first episode of Krishna Andavolu’s documentary series Weediquette, which investigates marijuana as a treatment for child cancer patients, with a healthy dose of scepticism. When it opened on a family barbeque in Portland, Oregon, with a bunch of stoned parents getting high on their kids’ supply, my eyes rolled so far back into my head they almost fell into my skull.
But what becomes clear very quickly, is that as much as Andavolu loves weed (which, it needs to be pointed out, is a lot), he’s also more than a little sceptical when it comes to its purported miraculous medicinal properties. He’s a journalist chasing a tricky story, hunting for truth amongst desperate parents and a burgeoning industry attempting to prove the effectiveness of treatments that vary wildly from practitioner to practitioner. And if you get to the other side of his first interview with a kid suffering leukaemia and aren’t hoping that by the end of the hour he’s uncovered irrefutable proof of the healing power of weed, then you must be some kind of robot.
It’s an emotional hour, but not by design. Andavolu isn’t trying to manipulate you, to use the stories of these sick children and their desperate parents to bring you over to his side of the argument; he doesn’t have a side he’s arguing from. Yet you can’t help but be emotionally affected when mother Tracy Ryan, angry at the inaction of the US government on medicinal marijuana research, describes her daughter and other sufferers like her as guinea pigs.
This is the reality of the state of marijuana research in the US. While the drug remains illegal on a federal level, there’s no ability to conduct the trials required to prove, or disprove, the anecdotal claims, and limited research findings that support them. So instead, there’s a coordinated, nationwide community of parents, experimenting on their own children because of government inaction, and a belief that weed can not only spare their kids from the ravages of chemotherapy, but cure them of their cancer altogether.
Today, it’s harder than ever to discern truth from what we read, hear, and watch. Supposedly real news sites will try to convince you that earthquakes in New Zealand were the result of offshore seismic blasting and the effects of a super moon, or that medical marijuana can cure cancer. Weediquette doesn’t attempt to draw any definitive conclusions, because the scientific evidence simply isn’t there, and in doing so, makes a case for itself as a must-watch for anyone who values true reporting.
Weediquette airs on Wednesdays at 8:30pm on SBS VICELAND. Stream the first episode on SBS On Demand: