‘Word Salad’: Andrew Huberman’s Cannabis Misinformation Slammed by Experts

Andrew Huberman is such a successful podcaster and wellness guru that his most devoted male followers are known by a teasing nickname: “Huberman Husbands.” But when recording his show Huberman Lab, Huberman has plenty that an influential podcasting superstar like, say, Joe Rogan, doesn’t: a PhD in neuroscience and a position at Stanford University School of Medicine as an associate professor of neurobiology.

It is these credentials that lend Huberman a voice of authority, even as he has strayed far from his fields of specialty (ophthalmology and visual systems) to become a generalist for his millions of listeners. Covering topics that range from dreams and dopamine to meditation and nutrition, he is positioned as an all-around expert who can distill some of the most complex questions in science into accessible explainers for the curious. But the result can be oversimplification or outright miscommunication that leads to charges of pseudoscience — as when he recently shared a video about the effects of cannabis on X (formerly Twitter).

The 20-minute clip comes from a nearly three-hour episode of Huberman Lab originally released in 2022. Outside that context, and free-floating on social media, this content attracted the ire of those who specifically study cannabis and its effects on the brain and body. The video includes claims about the supposed differences between sativa and indica variants of cannabis, the mechanisms by which cannabinoid compounds interact with the nervous system, and how the drug alters memory and appetite that experts tell Rolling Stone are either misleading or inaccurate. On X, Huberman appeared to stand by these assertions but encouraged critics to submit feedback via a portal on his show’s website; a representative also replied to a request for comment with sources Huberman had used in preparing the episode.

“Does anyone know what drug he’s talking about?” tweeted Peter Grinspoon, a physician, medical cannabis specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital, instructor at Harvard Medical School, and author of Seeing Through the Smoke: A Cannabis Expert Untangles the Truth About Marijuana, in quote-tweeting the video. “It can’t possibly be #marijuana/#cannabis; little of this is true.” Grinspoon concluded that Huberman “needs to find better ‘experts’ to advise him on topic!”

The entire show, Grinspoon tells Rolling Stone, was not only full of “outdated anti-cannabis stereotypes” about users watching cartoons and gorging on pizza, but contained errors of fact. He takes issue, for example, with Huberman’s claim that cannabis will “almost always” cause memory deficits, including long-term memory problems. “It can sometimes transiently affect some types of short-term memory at high doses for some people,” Grinspoon says. “It doesn’t cause any long-term deficits.” He also adds that contrary to Huberman’s description, it “doesn’t ‘shut down the hippocampus,’” a component of the brain important for memory functions.

Matthew Hill, a PhD in behavioral neuroscience and professor at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine who has studied the endocannabinoid system (a transmitter network in humans that is directly affected by cannabis) for more than two decades, had strong words for Huberman when he saw the video segment making the rounds on X. “Holy fucking shit, it is actually disturbing how inaccurate the overwhelming majority of what is said here is,” he tweeted.

Speaking to Rolling Stone, Hill says that he listened to the original Huberman Lab episode when it came out and had forgotten how “egregious” some of it was. “It’s not even that it’s misrepresenting” the facts, he says. “He was just kind of saying stuff that — there isn’t research on this.” Hill is dismayed that Huberman is now the celebrity face of neuroscience despite others in the discipline being fed up with how he oversteps available data to weave a compelling story. “It drives the majority of us insane. I mean, you go to any neuroscience conference, when someone mentions Huberman’s name, everyone sighs and rolls their eyes.” Hall says that when he gives talks to the general public on neuroscience, he frequently has to disabuse audience members of falsehoods they got from Huberman’s podcast.

One problem with Huberman’s style, Hill says, is that he uses unscientific language to advance unsupported ideas — which makes it more difficult to debunk. When explaining how cannabis stimulates appetite (causing the infamous “munchies”), Huberman refers to how the brain experiences an “anticipation of taste.” It so happens that Hill is currently researching what cannabis does to appetite in the lab with rats and a vapor model chamber system he likens to a “Cheech and Chong hot box.” He says that while even rats that have just eaten become ravenous again when intoxicated, we can’t yet say “anything definitive” about the mechanism responsible. “I’ve never heard a scientist talk like this,” Hill says of Huberman’s “anticipation” explanation. “If you peel it back, how would you test that question?” Besides, he says, “there’s virtually no [existing research] on the munchies in humans.”

Hall describes such Huberman-isms as “word salad.” So does Grinspoon, who adds, “I don’t know what it means,” and it “doesn’t make any sense.” Also critical of Huberman’s terminology is Linda Klumpers, a University of Vermont clinical pharmacologist, partner with consulting firm Verdient Science, and founder and director of the cannabis research and education organization Cannify.

“[Huberman] uses jargon and phrases that are related to how cannabis compounds work, so it might sound impressive and legitimate, but what he actually has to say with these words is false,” Klumpers says. She also criticizes his use of the “antiquated” word “marijuana” as opposed to “cannabis,” noting that it is “associated with stigma” and “not scientific.” Nor is his reference to different “strains” of cannabis rather than “varieties” of the plant scientifically accurate. On other specific claims, Klumpers says that Huberman doesn’t distinguish between methods of consumption, which “play a big role in how fast cannabinoids enter the blood and the brain.” And contrary to Huberman’s comments about cannabis potentially increasing focus, Klumpers says that clinical studies have shown that “focus is decreased or does not change across a range of THC doses.”

Klumpers, Grinspoon, and Hall each remark that Huberman frequently conflates THC (the psychoactive cannabinoid that makes users feel “high”) and CBD (a non-psychoactive compound). “They bind to different places on the CB1 receptor and as opposed to THC, CBD does not activate the CB1 receptor at all,” Klumpers says, with Hall echoing that CBD is not intoxicating and that the two cannabinoids have “fundamentally different mechanisms of action.” All three academics explicitly reject the broadest takeaway from the Huberman video, which is that sativa and indica varieties of cannabis have markedly different effects — elevated and energetic vs. calm and sedated — because there is no longer much of a meaningful difference between these categories as they’re marketed today.

“There used to be pure sativas and pure indicas, but they were bred together,” Grinspoon explains. “No researchers think in terms of ‘indica’ or ‘sativa’ anymore.” Klumpers explains that “there has never been a controlled clinical trial to understand the differences between indica and sativa, let alone a study replicating those findings.” Hall says it’s not even a “fundable” research question, because “why on Earth would the U.S. government, or any government, give a shit if indica does one thing and a sativa does another?” Klumpers offers an amusing example cited in a study by fellow University of Vermont researcher John McPartland: “AK-47,” a hybrid cannabis that won “Best Sativa” in the 1999 Cannabis Cup but went on to win “Best Indica” four years later. Such is the “arbitrariness of these designations,” McPartland wrote.

In a statement to Rolling Stone, a representative for Huberman says that “Huberman Lab episodes are thoroughly researched from primary articles (basic and clinical), scholarly reviews, and meta-analyses — and subject-matter experts are consulted throughout the research process to best ensure accuracy.” Clearly, then, the experts quoted here were not among those consulted on the cannabis episode. (Hall further contends that Huberman is “vague” whenever he cites his sources or which researchers he goes to for corroboration, while Klumpers says he should be more proactive, not selective, in his citations, and use “standard reference styles.”) The landing page for the episode on the Huberman Lab website initially linked to just five papers as sources for the lengthy podcast, though after many criticized the video excerpt shared again this month, another five links appeared.

“Dr. Huberman’s statement on differences between indica and sativa strains is based in part on the following PubMed referenced sources which include subjective experiences of users,” reads the statement from Huberman’s rep, with links to two research articles. But the first notes an overall lack of data in this area: “Placebo-controlled, blinded studies are needed to characterize the pharmacodynamics and chemical composition of indica and sativa cannabis and to determine whether user expectancies contribute to differences in perceived indica/sativa effects,” it reads. The second study used machine learning — AI, that is — to compare self-reports of experiences of different varieties on the cannabis website Leafly to “the chemical composition of a subset of the cultivars.”

Huberman’s rep offered a link to a “portal for constructive critique that allows for anyone to weigh in on previous content, offering their credentials and citing relevant research.” He further emphasized that Huberman “always strives to include differing findings to give the audience the best understanding possible,” including by bringing on guests and consultants with specialized knowledge. To that end, he said, Huberman has invited Hill onto the podcast “to allow Dr. Hill the opportunity to provide any information that Dr. Hill felt was important for our audience to better understand the topic.” Hill separately confirms that he is in talks to appear on the show and challenge some of Huberman’s claims about cannabis.

It may be difficult to get a countervailing narrative across on Huberman’s home turf, as Hall himself acknowledges, but he thinks it’s crucial to try. “You now have someone who can just make up their own stories that are loosely rooted in data and then just present this without being fact-checked and having zero accountability, and people are gonna believe it,” he says.

Klumpers, too, believes Huberman has a responsibility to live up to his stature and convey that it’s impossible for him to be definitive or all-knowing about everything he wants to cover on his show. “As a steward of science and an academic, it is imperative that the statements one makes are factual, based on evidence, and put into the appropriate context,” she says. “When something is uncertain or nuanced, you must disclose opposing opinions and provide support for those arguments with data or clarify that you don’t know about a certain topic.”