The mainstream media is in a frenzy over claims that marijuana smoking is causing an epidemic of ‘man boobs’ (a relatively common condition known scientifically as gynecomastia).
The incredulous claim first got legs in late November when Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Melissa Dribben posed the question, “Do doobies make boobies?” Responding to her inquiry, area plastic surgeon Adrian Lo admitted that data on the subject is scarce. But he nonetheless argued, “[I]n my experience, it’s very simple. If you’re a guy and you’re worried about gynecomastia, you shouldn’t smoke pot because there’s a link.” To which Robert X. Murphy Jr., president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, added, “That is the prevailing opinion.”
Their unsubstantiated opinions were enough to get the conventional media in a tizzy. Time.com quickly repeated the claims on their website under the headline ‘Smoking Weed Can Give You Man Boobs.’ The piece largely regurgitated the original philly.com story, closing with the warning, “So if you’re worried about growing man boobs, you might want to put the bong down. You know, for science.” Other markets also picked up the story, which ran the following days under dire headlines such as ‘Male breast growth, marijuana use connection,’ and ‘Evidence mounts for marijuana-man boob connection.’
CNN later upped the ante by posting an op/ed by Detroit plastic surgeon Dr. Anthony Youn on December 5, titled ‘Does smoking pot cause man boobs?‘ Never mind that this was the same Dr. Youn who had previously taken to the airwaves to warn against the make-believe plight of so-called “bitchy resting face” – an altogether nonexistent condition for which he nevertheless recommended people seek surgery (a “grin lift,” he suggested) and botox injections to resolve. And never mind that even Dr. Youn admitted, “[F]ew studies have examined a direct causative effect between marijuana smoking and gynecomastia.” For the mainstream media, it was of to the races.
Of course, debunking claims regarding a supposed link between male cannabis use and gynecomastia would hardly have been difficult. That is, if any media staffers aside from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Jake Ellison had actually taken the time to do so.
A key word search on pubmed, the US government search engine for all peer-reviewed literature published worldwide, using the terms ‘marijuana’ and ‘gynecomastia’ yields 13 total references. To be clear, that is 13 references out of more than 19,000 published papers on marijuana available in the pubmed archive. The most recent citation is from 2010 and comes not from a scientific study but from a Q&A published in the journal Canadian Family Physician, which lists cannabis, along with the use of anabolic steroids, amphetamines, and alcohol as potential gynecomastia risk factors. Notably, however, the citation used by the author to substantiate this claim links back to a 1993 review article which concedes that the data implying a supposed causal link between cannabis smoking and the condition are, at best, “contradictory.”
Other references are more blunt, including a 1977 observation trial that concluded, “Our epidemiologic evidence does not support the previously reported relationship between chronic cannabis use and gynecomastia.” That study appears to have been the final word on the subject, in the scientific literature world at least, as no additional trials of the alleged phenomenon appear to have been conducted since.
But this truth isn’t stopping the mainstream media from providing this myth new life. Like most pot propaganda, the preposterous ‘doobies causes boobies’ lie lives on largely because of the flames stoked by a sensationalist and lapdog media who never met a cannabis scare story they didn’t like – or were willing to fact-check.
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