Gwyneth Paltrow and Dr. Oz recently declared their support for medicinal cannabis. But these two celebrities aren’t known for their scientific rigor — what does this mean for marijuana’s image?
Somewhere in between the master cleanses and seeing if electrical currents surging through a bucket of water in which she’d immersed her feet would “pull” toxins from her flawless body (they did not), Gwyneth Paltrow also tried some cannabis.
Hollywood royalty all her life and an A-plus-lister for more than 20 years, Paltrow has served as the founder and high priestess behind Goop, a carefully manufactured and aggressively marketed “wellness lifestyle brand,” for the past nine years.
Earlier this summer, Goop hosted a “wellness summit.” This is a nice and “conscious-consumer”-friendly way to say “carefully assembled brand showcase.” Among the brands promoted at the sold-out, $1,500-per-head affair were the single-use cannabis vaporizer pens made by hmbldt.
Cannabis is unlike most everything else in Goop’s portfolio, in that it works. There’s enormous potential in marketing marijuana to health-conscious, upwardly mobile women and it’s hard to imagine a more influential celebrity endorser than Paltrow, who gave the brand a mention in Goop Magazine’s inaugural cover story.
Apparently, hmbldt barely missed an unbelievable brand coup: A photo of Paltrow puffing on a hmbldt pen was considered for the magazine’s cover art. Instead, they went with a shot of a near-nude Paltrow, covered in mud.
In the magazine, Paltrow cops using cannabis — “Oh, I’ve tried it, and yes, I inhaled!” — but doesn’t share any insight into its value for her family. That’s surprising, as alternative cures for her father’s cancer is what kicked off Paltrow’s interest in new-age healing in the first place (or so Goop’s narrative goes).
“What’s really interesting to see, with all the legalization of marijuana happening, is how there’s evidence that it can be helpful in a medicinal sense for people,” she says. “That it can really be an alternative pain management system, and, in some cases, helpful for depression.”
“I think there is a lot of pushback against [medical marijuana], because I don’t think we can monetize it with the same kind of margin you can with an anti-anxiety pill that you get from behind the counter. But it’s incredible to see people who can’t sleep, or people who have chronic pain, report really positive results, and it’s a natural substance.”
“So, we’re just at this very interesting, I think, paradigm shift, because, we can tell that culturally people are so fascinated, and they want to try ways to take control over their health and well-being. They want to be the steward of their own ship. There’s just a ton of really interesting back and forth, and it’s interesting to be at the crux of it.”
“I think there’s a general reticence to this idea that we can be autonomous over our own health, that there are other options. So, that if you have arthritis or IBS, you can maybe, possibly, make a diet change that’s really impactful. There might not be board-certified physicians doing double-blind studies that can lay out the results in the same way; the empirical evidence is anecdotal. But, you’ll have people really resistant to the idea, like it’s better to be on five prescription drugs than to maybe cut gluten out of your diet.”
Part of the problem with Paltrow’s take is that cannabis isn’t “incredible” at all. It works because we know how it works. We know cannabis’s compounds activate receptors in the human brain and body that regulate core functions like sleep, appetite and mood. Evidence for this was gleaned through rational inquiry — that is, science.
Still, there is an unfortunate dearth of science on cannabis. This is because the U.S. government still outlaws the drug. That’s something that needs remedying. It would be significant for someone with Paltrow’s influence to lobby for rescheduling, or to advocate for parents who risk having their children snatched away from them and jail time to acquire cannabis oil.
The potential is stunning. Imagine, instead of lining up to buy a signed cookbook women with wealth and time-to-spare pressured their members of Congress! Imagine if Paltrow lent her star power to Moms for Marijuana!
Marijuana’s other recent celebrity mention came from another earnest promoter of questionable cures. Heart surgeon Mehmet Oz is a professor at Columbia University’s medical school, but you know him from TV, where he promotes pseudoscience while wearing surgical scrubs. A review in the British Medical Journal once found that nearly half of the remedies promoted on Oz’s show were either proven frauds or unsubstantiated. But Oz is good on TV, and so he is, as the New Yorker observed, possibly the most influential physician in the United States.
Oz recently appeared on “Fox and Friends” to ostensibly discuss matters of great national importance. On his own initiative, Oz steered the discussion towards the country’s great “hypocrisy” on cannabis.
“People think it’s a gateway drug to narcotics. It may be the exit drug to get us out of the narcotic epidemic,” Oz said. “But we’re not allowed to study it, because it’s a Schedule I drug, and, personally, I believe it could help.”
This isn’t a fresh turn. Oz promoted cannabis as a solution to opiate addiction in 2016, featuring Krishna Andavolu, host of VICE’s “Weediquette” on an episode of his show. And in this at least, Oz has research to stand on. Cannabis absolutely has proven value in treating chronic pain, the chief malady for which opiates are prescribed, and where marijuana is available, opiate-related prescriptions and attendant overdoses are vastly reduced.
Anyone with an internet connection can discover those vital and very relevant facts. But in our celebrity-obsessed, fact-challenged culture, there’s no substitute for a recommendation from a tastemaker or an influencer.
Look no further than the spike in credibility cannabis received after CNN’s celebrity TV doctor, Sanjay Gupta, aired his special on cannabis. Gupta broke no new ground — he merely repeated what was already known to a rapt audience.
Oz could do that. Paltrow could do that, too! But mentioning marijuana without citing the proven science is worse than peddling inoffensive nothings to people with disposable income. Cannabis deserves celebrities that step forward with the real data.
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