Weeding Through The Hype: Interpreting The Latest Warnings About Pot and Schizophrenia

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director March 1, 2010

    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. Cannabis 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 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 earlier today: “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.

    77 responses to “Weeding Through The Hype: Interpreting The Latest Warnings About Pot and Schizophrenia”

    1. Adam, WA says:

      When will this go away…?

      I am so tired of this story. MSM just keeps stirring the pot of steaming BS.

      I there no struggling network will to expose the true side of Marijuana and other BS issues.

      The network that jumps on the Marijuana Band Wagon first will make Billions.

    2. Adam, WA says:

      I screwed up that whole sentence.

      Is there no struggling network willing to…

    3. peter says:

      yeah and how about alcohol? That kills people everyday. Ever heard of someone dying from marijuana use? I haven’t.

    4. hockey&Bud says:

      God I feel like we’re all living inside reefer madness. Although that movie is fantastic when blazed, it has painted marijuana with a fucking awful image.

    5. Brandon C says:

      Our upcoming 78 million or so baby boomers should be evidence to debunk these studies. Also, these studies were conducted using correlational data which is just bad science. The article is also misleading, and most people that might glance at it and see, “Long-term pot users have 50/50 chance of psychosis”. That’s just bad media. While I see progression every day, I realize that we still have a far way to go. There is such a stigmatism around pot, and people need to get over it!

    6. malt says:

      I think the only effect of marijuana is being paranoid that the local united states law might find your pot and have to pay fines or jail/prison time, that might cause a person to go crazy? I think the USA people is just confused. I seen/read everyday people killed on alcohol/pills driving and acting up. Alcohol/pills can lead to instant death? so why should Marijuana be illegal, tax it make it legal give it a try to all the states in the USA not just a few…

    7. Johnny D says:

      Thank you Paul for your timely, clear, concise and accurate response to the MSM hype!

    8. somedood says:

      The Reuters Web Site doesn’t check if its a real email for those who want to comment and don’t care to give them a valid email.

    9. I also blogged about these interesting findings (below) back in October, (International Researchers Reveal Medical Cannabis Breakthroughs! http://maryjanecannabian.blogspot.com/2009/10/international-researchers-reveal.html) but I guess that headline just isn’t as interesting to mainstream media as “Evil Pot Will Turn Your Kids Crazy!!!” :~p

      Thank You, Norml, for once again setting the record strait when the MSM gets sucked into the propaganda free-for-all. I really appreciate it.

      Excerpts from:

      International Association for Cannabis as Medicine
      IACM 5th Conference on Cannabinoids in Medicine
      2-3 October 2009, Cologne
      Program and Abstracts
      Copyright by
      International Association for Cannabis as Medicine
      Am Mildenweg 6
      59602 Rüthen


      In recent years much concern has arisen over the possibility that cannabis smoking in
      adolescence may be a risk factor for schizophrenia in adult life, although this remains a
      controversial issue. In contrast, considerable interest in the potential role of the non-psychoactive naturally occurring cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD) as an anti-psychotic medicine has also developed. The anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects of both THC and CBD are well established. A systematic literature review has suggested the intriguing possibility that habitual cannabis use may protect cognitive function in schizophrenia patients, and CBD has been shown to improve a marker of this in healthy subjects.

      There are preliminary data to suggest that cannabinoids may have beneficial effects on abnormal stress reaction, metabolic dysfunction and dyslipidaemia. Since the mechanism of action for the anti-psychotic effects of CBD and other cannabinoids almost certainly differs from all existing agents, synergistic combinations withboth typical and atypical antipsychotics are a possibility. Taken overall, these observations lead to the hypothesis that an appropriately formulated medicine containing a combination of selected cannabinoids may have the potential to target all the major components of the schizophrenia syndrome and thereby significantly reduce the need for polypharmacy.

      In Layman’s terms, Cannabis may help the symptoms of schizophrenia and cut down the number of prescription drugs (polypharmacy) a person has to take.

    10. Mike says:

      who pays for these studies? and we have budget deficits? time to trim the fat!