Weeding Through The Hype: Interpreting The Latest Warnings About Pot and Schizophrenia
Once again members of the mainstream media are running wild with the notion that marijuana use causes schizophrenia and psychosis. To add insult to injury, this latest dose of reefer rhetoric comes only days after investigators in the United Kingdom reported in the prestigious scientific journal Addiction that the available evidence in support of this theory is "neither very new, nor by normal criteria, particularly compelling." (Predictably, the conclusions of that study went all together unnoticed by the mainstream press.) Yet today's latest alarmist report, like those studies touting similar claims before it, fails to account for the following: If, as the authors of this latest study suggest, cannabis use is a cause of mental illness (and schizophrenia in particular), then why have diagnosed incidences of schizophrenia not paralleled rising trends in cannabis use over time? In fact, it was only in September when investigators at the Keele University Medical School in Britain smashed the pot = schizophrenia theory to smithereens. Writing in the journal Schizophrenia Research, the team compared trends in marijuana use and incidences of schizophrenia in the United Kingdom from 1996 to 2005. Researchers reported that the "incidence and prevalence of schizophrenia and psychoses were either stable or declining" during this period, even the use of cannabis among the general population was rising. That said, none of this is to suggest that there may not be some association between marijuana use and certain psychiatric ailments, if for no other reason than symptoms of mental illness often strike early in life -- at a time, statistically, when the largest percentage of the population is likely to be already experimenting with cannabis. In truth, marijuana use can correlate with mental illness for many reasons. People often turn to cannabis to alleviate the symptoms of distress. One study performed in Germany showed that cannabis offsets certain cognitive declines in a subset of schizophrenic patients. Another study demonstrated that psychotic symptoms predict later use of cannabis, suggesting that people might turn to the plant for help rather than become ill after use. Of course, even if one takes the MSM's latest 'sky is falling' scenario at face value, health risks connected with pot use -- when scientifically documented -- should not be seen as legitimate reasons for criminal prohibition, but instead, as reasons for the plant's legal regulation. For instance, as I told AOL News: "We don't outlaw peanuts because a small percentage of people have allergic reactions. We educate the community, we regulate where and when peanuts can be exchanged. That seems like it ought to apply to marijuana, too." To draw another real world comparison, millions of Americans safely use ibuprofen as an effective pain reliever. However, among a minority of the population who suffer from liver and kidney problems, ibuprofen presents a legitimate and substantial health risk. However, this fact no more calls for the criminalization of ibuprofen among adults than do these latest anti-pot allegations, even if true, call for the current prohibition of cannabis. Placed in this context, today's warnings latest do little to advance the government's position in favor of tightening prohibition, and provide ample ammunition to wage for its repeal.