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Friday, July 27, 2007

Re: Reefer Madness

posted by on July 27 at 14:02 PM

Check out the headlines for the story about a British report linking pot smoking and psychosis, which the AP blasted around the globe and Jonah derided this morning.

From the Seattle PI: “Marijuana may increase risk of becoming psychotic, study finds”

From the Washington Post: “Pot Ups Risk for Mental Illness”

From Fox News: “Study: Even Infrequent Use of Marijuana Increases Risk of Psychosis by 40 Percent”

By reading these headlines, you would believe recent findings show conclusive evidence that marijuana use leads to increased risk of psychoses. You would be wrong. The report is actually based on a meta-analysis of previously debunked studies, and the findings, as the article’s text immediately volunteers, are completely ambiguous:

The researchers said they couldn’t prove that marijuana use itself increases the risk of psychosis, a category of several disorders with schizophrenia being the most commonly known.

There could be something else about marijuana users, “like their tendency to use other drugs or certain personality traits, that could be causing the psychoses,” Zammit said.

Enter an American scientist from the federal government’s don’t-do-drugs-or-we’ll-send-you-to-the-slammer campaign:

Dr. Wilson Compton, a senior scientist at the National Institute on Drug Abuse in Washington, called the study persuasive.

“The strongest case is that there are consistencies across all of the studies,” and that the link was seen only with psychoses — not anxiety, depression or other mental health problems, he said.

That’s a tepid warning from a man paid to scream about the dangers of drugs. He’s willing to admit that previous studies have only one thing in common—that more hardcore stoners are psychotic than non-stoners—but they don’t know why they share that commonality.

Is this not obvious? If this study shows anything, it’s that psychotics are smoking pot to chill the fuck out. They’re self medicating. But now the study is being trotted out to convince parents their children will go nutso if they fire up a spliff… Why?

In the U.K., the government will soon reconsider how marijuana should be classified in its hierarchy of drugs. In 2004, it was downgraded and penalties for possession were reduced. Many expect marijuana will be bumped up to a class “B” category, with offenses likely to lead to arrests or longer jail sentences.

Two of the authors of the study were invited experts on the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs Cannabis Review in 2005. Several authors reported being paid to attend drug company-sponsored meetings related to marijuana, and one received consulting fees from companies that make antipsychotic medications.

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The most blatantly obvious rebuttal to this silliness is to simply point out that the incidence of psychoses overall in society hasn't changed much since the time when hardly anyone in the country was using marijuana until now. It's also valuable to point out that a country like Japan, which has a very low rate of marijuana use, has a very high rate of psychosis. Of course, I forgot both of these points when I posted a short angry rant about this last night...

Posted by thehim | July 27, 2007 2:29 PM

The him, can you give a source for Japan having high prevalence of psychosis? According to a WHO study from 2004 the US had more mental illness, and more severe mental illness than any of the European countries, Japan, China, and Nigeria and Lebanon. This looked at anxiety disorders, mood disorders, Impulse-control and substance abuse.

This study didn't look at schizophrenia, though, so I'd be curious about data showing Japan has more psychosis.

Posted by Jude Fawley | July 27, 2007 2:43 PM

Do the math people, that 40% increase means that instead of a .5% chance of developing psychoses you will now have a .7% chance.

Someone pass the freakin bong.

Posted by bryan | July 27, 2007 2:51 PM

Actually, as our populations age (Japan US etc) we will all have a higher level of both psychosis (including hallucinations et al) due to increased dementia and Alzheimer's disease associated with aging.

Plus, the increased cancer prevalence and general pain levels will cause more and more people to use treatments such as ... oh, i don't know .. MJ ... to alleviate their pain.

But you say it like it's a bad thing.

Posted by Will in Seattle | July 27, 2007 4:06 PM

Correlation != causation.

Posted by e | July 27, 2007 4:21 PM

we should look at the percentage of DEA agents and other drug warriors who display psychotic or antisocial behavior (e.g. budthirsty WA State Patrol) and draw conclusions from that.

Posted by ghghgh | July 27, 2007 10:38 PM

It isn't exactly news that people who have a mental illness tend to self-medicate, is it? Depressed people drink heavily. Maybe incipient schitzophrenics are drawn to pot.

Posted by Orv | July 30, 2007 10:05 AM

I think you're right on that. I had read a serious of articles discussing the mental health problems in Japanese society, claiming that they had much higher incidences of suicide and other mental health problems than neighboring countries, but I can't find any raw numbers on that.

Posted by thehim | July 30, 2007 11:12 AM

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