Every few months, you can count on it: Another “scientific” study that attempts to draw some connection, however tenuous, between getting high and going crazy. But those outlandish claims amount to just putting a white lab coat on the “Reefer Madness” warnings of the 1930s, and it’s easy to see why.
I mean, get real: Considering modern rates of usage, if cannabis really produced psychosis, the streets would be choked with a gibbering throng of burned-out potheads. It doesn’t. They aren’t.
Thus, the findings of a study published earlier this week in the Archives of General Psychiatry alleging that smoking marijuana can “double” the risk of psychosis or schizophrenia are in conflict with previous reviews and ought to be interpreted with caution, according to Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
“Despite claims that marijuana use may play a causal role in diagnosed incidences of schizophrenia, there exists no empirical evidence anywhere on Earth indicating that populations which have experienced rising rates of cannabis use have also experienced a parallel increase in rates of mental illness,” Armentano said.
Most recently, the 2009 systematic review published in Schizophrenia Research
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 as the use of cannabis among the general population was rising.
The authors concluded that an expected rise in diagnoses of schizophrenia and psychoses did not occur over the decade under study. “This study does not therefore support the … link between cannabis use and incidence of psychotic disorders,” the study concludes, adding “This concurs with other reports indicating that increases in population cannabis use have not been followed by increases in psychotic incidence.”
The results of another clinical trial
published last year indicate that the recreational use of marijuana does not affect brain chemistry in a way that is consistent with the development of schizophrenia.
|Paul Armentano, NORML: “We don’t outlaw peanbuts 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.”
Armentano said that a non-causal association likely exists between marijuana use and psychosis because the symptoms of mental illness often strike early in life — at a time when young people are likely to be experimenting with cannabis.
He also speculated that some people diagnosed with psychiatric disorders might be turning to marijuana after the onset of symptoms as a form of self-medication. Studies
have shown many schizophrenics report that cannabis relieves their symptoms.
Ultimately, however, Armentano said that even if the latest concerns about the potential adverse effect of marijuana use are to be taken at face value, then such findings support a policy of cannabis legalization and regulation — not criminal prohibition.
“Health risks connected with pot use — when scientifically documented — should not be seen as legitimate reasons for prohibition, but instead, as reasons for the plant’s legal regulation
,” Armentano said.
“For example, we as a society don’t regulate the production, use and sale of alcohol because it is innocuous, but rather because we acknowledge that its consumption, in some situations, may pose a risk of harm,” Armentano said.
”Placed in this context, today’s latest warnings do little to advance the government’s position in favor of tightening prohibition, and provide ample ammunition to wage for its repeal,” Armentano said.
Which makes all the more tragic the real-world consequences of tabloid-style Reefer Madness hysteria. Amidst a spate of breathless tabloid froth hyping the supposed dire threat from “Skunk,” a potent pot strain, British lawmakers in 2008 stiffened cannabis laws in the U.K.
A team of researchers had fanned the flames in the July 28, 2007 issue of prestigious scientific journal The Lancet, proclaiming that smoking marijuana could boost one’s risk of a “psychotic episode” by 40 percent or more.
In one fell swoop marijuana possession was reclassified from a verbal warning to a criminal offense punishable by up to five years in prison. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, ex-Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, and others cited the supposed ‘pot-schizophrenia link’ as a major reason for the giant step backward.