September 8, 2023 10:00 am ETEstimated Read Time: 5 Minutes
“The Marijuana Conspiracy” is a film based on a real 1972 Canadian experiment that recruited a group of young women to spend 98 days in a hospital ward where they would smoke large amounts of increasingly potent cannabis every day under close observation. Directed by Craig Pryce, the feature depicts a fictionalized portrayal of the true story of 20 women who took part in the bizarre scientific experiment and the precedent historical events in Canada that led to the study’s inception. To this day, the results of the experiment have never been released, arousing numerous suspicions about the researchers’ political motives.
The Canadian Cannabis Experiment depicted in the “Marijuana Conspiracy”
The events depicted in “The Marijuana Conspiracy” are adapted from the real-life story of the infamous government-funded “Project E206” cannabis study, which took place in 1972 at the Addiction Research Foundation in Toronto, Canada. As part of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s movement toward the decriminalization of recreational cannabis, the Canadian Federal government established the Le Dain Commission to conduct an extensive investigation into the safety of cannabis use. The aim was to catalog and report on a thorough body of research to inform political decisions regarding cannabis policy. Opposed to the idea of legalizing cannabis, The Addiction Research Foundation undertook projects funded by provincial governments to conduct its own research into the effects of cannabis consumption.
Critical responses from medical and political figures expressed concern that legalization would promote widespread cannabis use and ultimately bring about negative societal outcomes. It was believed that cannabis use would reduce people’s motivation to work, resulting in adverse economic consequences. Determined to investigate these claims, Addiction Research Foundation scientists designed a series of experiments to test the effects of habitual cannabis consumption on individuals’ productivity.
This is how 20 women ended up confined to a hospital building for 98 days. The individuals were offered financial compensation in exchange for participation in the study, during which they were isolated from the outside world, being unpermitted to leave the hospital or call family and friends. Participants were subject to daily comprehensive analyses of brain, heart, kidney, and liver function, along with blood and urine testing. The cohort also experienced around-the-clock observation by a team of nurses who constantly recorded their behaviors.
Half of the participants were assigned to the experimental group and were required to smoke two joints containing increasingly potent doses of cannabis every night, while the other half assigned to the control group did not consume the substance at all. Since the experiment intended to examine the effects of regular cannabis use on motivation and productivity, the women were given the ability to receive payment for weaving colorful belts, and researchers assessed each individual’s material output to evaluate her productivity and willingness to work.
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As the study progressed, the women began to experience adverse effects, both physical and psychological. They began to dread the nightly smoke sessions, with some even claiming illness to obtain a doctor’s note excusing them from the increasingly unpleasant obligatory routine. In the last week of the study, the remaining women in the smoking experimental group refused to continue. After being released, some participants were left unnerved by the ordeal, spending years in therapy. Yet, many others were unperturbed following the experience, reporting that their lives actually benefitted significantly from the money they received for participating. Altogether, there is nevertheless one common concern shared by all of the women involved: Whatever became of the results?
The Mystery of the Missing Data
Numerous accounts have been proposed to explain why the experimental data depicted in the “Marijuana Conspiracy” film were never processed and released. Some believe the researchers were unsatisfied with the results, having anticipated evidence that would support the Addiction Research Foundation’s critical stance on cannabis decriminalization, so they withheld the findings and discontinued further experiments. There have also been indignant claims that the results may contain unique information about the effects of cannabis use that could be useful to modern science.
However, others believe this is unlikely due to the bizarre and radical nature of the experiment. The young women were exposed to excessive quantities of cannabis, more than they could evidently handle, on a continuous and protracted basis. Moreover, the records of the women’s observed behaviors were gathered in a highly unnatural environment of isolation, confinement, and surveillance, which casts doubt on the authenticity or reliability of the psychological behavioral data. The nature of the experimental findings and the reasoning behind their nondisclosure is an ongoing mystery, but it seems likely that questionable political agendas may have been involved in the decision to cover up and abandon the cannabis experiments.
Promoting Ethical Reform in Scientific Research
The troubling practices within the study, from the extreme conditions to the lack of informed consent, were eventually exposed by whistleblowers and Canadian media, which drew attention to the necessity of delineating more robust standards for ethical science. Significant changes in research ethics and regulations in Canada ensued, specifically addressing issues of informed consent and the protection of participants in clinical trials.
Although it is a work of fiction, “The Marijuana Conspiracy” revives interest in a forgotten fragment of the past and encourages audiences to examine real-world controversies in scientific ethics. The film’s portrayal of the actual events that gave rise to the execution of the experiment serves to further promote awareness and thoughtful discussion about the problematic influence of political motivations in scientific research. Experimental findings from Project E206 may never be recovered or released, but perhaps this element of mystery adds to the intrigue and power of the incredible story by stimulating conversations and critical questions that challenge and ultimately reform corrupt practices hidden within institutions of epistemic authority.
Sheldon Sommer is a Southern Californian philosopher with a lifelong interest in the biological world. She is enthusiastic to contribute her fascination with philosophy, natural history, psychology, botany, biochemistry and other related topics to providing cannabis education for the similarly curious. Outside of writing, she enjoys painting, singing opera and Taylor Swift songs, as well as spending quality time with a certain beloved orange kitty cat.
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