mental illness

  • 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.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director February 16, 2010

    [Editor’s note: This post is excerpted from this week’s forthcoming NORML weekly media advisory. To have NORML’s media advisories delivered straight to your in-box, sign up for NORML’s free e-zine here.]

    Clinical evidence indicating that marijuana use may be casually linked to incidences of schizophrenia or other psychological harms is not compelling, according to a scientific review published online by the journal Addiction.

    Investigators at the University of Bristol, Department of Social Medicine assessed the potential health risks of cannabis, particularly whether use of the drug may be causally linked with mental illness.

    Authors wrote: “We continue to take the view that the evidence that cannabis use causes schizophrenia is neither very new, nor by normal criteria, particularly compelling. … For example, our recent modeling suggests that we would need to prevent between 3000 and 5000 cases of heavy cannabis use among young men and women to prevent one case of schizophrenia, and that four or five times more young people would need to avoid light cannabis use to prevent a single schizophrenia case. … We conclude that the strongest evidence of a possible causal relation between cannabis use and schizophrenia emerged more than 20 years ago and that the strength of more recent evidence may have been overstated.

    In 2007, an analysis in the British medical journal The Lancet estimated that experimenting with marijuana could increase one’s risk of developing a psychotic illness later in life by some 40 percent. Following this report, Parliament in 2008 voted to reclassify marijuana as a Class B substance, making its possession punishable by up to five years in prison.

    University of Bristol researchers also criticized Parliament’s reclassification of the drug, which took effect earlier this year. They concluded: “The only important possible benefit of prohibition is prevention of cannabis use. There is little or no evidence that it effectively achieves this benefit. Patterns of cannabis use in the population appear to be independent of the policy surrounding use, and criminalizing individual cannabis users does not appear to modify their use in a healthy way.

    Overall, investigators determined that marijuana’s most significant health risk was its association and reinforcement with tobacco smoking.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director September 2, 2009

    Well, better late than never.

    Doubt cast on cannabis, schizophrenia link
    via CBC

    A British study has cast doubt on the supposed link between cannabis use and schizophrenia.

    … This latest study, led by Dr. Martin Frisher of Keele University, examined the records of 600,000 patients aged between 16 and 44.

    … Frisher and colleagues compared the trends of cannabis use with general practitioner records of schizophrenia and psychosis.

    They argue that if cannabis use does cause schizophrenia, an increase in cannabis use should be followed by an increase in the incidence of schizophrenia.

    According to the study, cannabis use in the United Kingdom between 1972 and 2002 has increased four-fold in the general population, and 18-fold among under-18s.

    Based on the literature supporting the link, the authors argue that this should be followed by an increase in schizophrenia incidence of 29 per cent between 1990 and 2010.

    But the researchers found no increase in the rates of schizophrenia and psychosis diagnosis during that period. In fact, some of the data suggested the incidence of these conditions had decreased.

    Over the past few years the mainstream media, as well as federal politicians, have enjoyed promoting the notion that smoking pot induces mental illness. Perhaps most notably, in 2007 the MSM touted that cannabis “could boost the risk of developing a psychotic illness later in life by about 40 percent” — a talking point that was also publicly promoted US anti-drug officials. Similarly, Canadian bureaucrats alleged — just two weeks ago — that marijuana users have a “seven-fold increase” in risk of developing schizophrenia.

    Given this environment, I held little hope that anyone in the MSM would bother to report on the Keele University study — which initially appeared online on the website of the journal Schizophrenia Research in late June and was reported on by NORML on July 2 — despite its obvious newsworthiness.

    And for nearly two months no one did. But kudos to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and a handful of British tabloids for just now bringing these findings to light (and even acknowledging that the MSM would have arguably provided far more prominence to this story had the findings demonstrated the opposite result.)

    For now, let’s score one for the good guys, and cross your fingers that the American press will also eventually take notice.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 12, 2008

    Feds: Teen use of pot can lead to mental illness
    via The Associated Press

    WASHINGTON (AP) —Depression, teens and marijuana are a dangerous mix that can lead to dependency, mental illness or suicidal thoughts, according to a White House report released Friday.A teen who has been depressed at some point in the past year is more than twice as likely to have used marijuana as teens who have not reported being depressed — 25 percent compared with 12 percent, said the report by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

    “Marijuana is a more consequential substance of abuse than our culture has treated it in the last 20 years,” said John Walters, director of the office. “This is not just youthful experimentation that they’ll get over as we used to think in the past.”

    “It’s not something you look the other way about when your teen starts appearing careless about their grooming, withdrawing from the family, losing interest in daily activities,” Walters said. “Find out what’s wrong.”

    Gotta love Walters’ remark about hygiene — which he appears to have taken almost verbatim from Above The Influence’s hateful propaganda film, Stoners In The Mist.

    Seriously though, it goes without saying that this so-called White House ‘report‘ (I use the term euphemistically here, given that said ‘report’ is under five pages and consists mostly of bar charts rather than text) is much ado about nothing. In fact, the only newsworthy aspect of this supposed ‘study’ is that the lapdog mainstream media gave it any coverage at all.

    In short, there’s nothing to the Drug Czar’s marijuana and mental health claims that NORML Advisory Board member Dr. Mitch Earleywine and I haven’t previously addressed in our essay here:

    Pot Smoking Won’t Make You Crazy, But Dealing With The Lies About It Will
    via Alternet

    Perhaps the most impressive evidence against the cause-and-effect relationship concerns the unvarying rate of psychoses across different eras and different countries. People are no more likely to be psychotic in Canada or the United States (two nations where large percentages of citizens use cannabis) than they are in Sweden or Japan (where self-reported marijuana use is extremely low). Even after the enormous popularity of cannabis in the 1960s and 1970s, rates of psychotic disorders haven’t increased.

    Ironically, just two days prior to the Drug Czar’s much ballyhooed press conference, Britain’s Advisory Panel on the Misuse of Drugs refuted the notion that pot use causes mental illness, stating, “The evidence for the existence of an association between frequency of cannabis use and the development of psychosis is, on the available evidence, weak.”

    A 2006 review by the same commission previously concluded, “The current evidence suggests, at worst, that using cannabis increases lifetime risk of developing schizophrenia by one percent.” And more recently, a highly touted meta-analysis in the British medical journal, The Lancet, reported that there is a dearth of scientific evidence indicating that cannabis use causes psychotic behavior, noting, “Projected trends for schizophrenia incidence have not paralleled trends in cannabis use over time.”