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13/08/2007 00:00:00

Smoking Pot Won't Make You Crazy, But Dealing with the Lies about

A new attempt to scare pot smokers in Britain alleges that smoking pot
can increase the risk of becoming "psychotic." A quick glance at the
data cited reveals no such correlation.

Smoking pot won't make you crazy, but trying to find the truth behind
the recent rash of headlines regarding a supposed link between cannabis
and mental illness might.

According to the Associated Press and other news sources, a new study in
the British medical journal The Lancet reports that smoking cannabis --
even occasionally -- can increase one's risk of becoming psychotic. It
sounds alarming at first, but a closer look at the evidence reveals that
there's less here than the headlines imply.

First, there is no new study. The paper published in The Lancet is a
meta-analysis -- a summary of seven studies that previously appeared in
other journals, including some that were published decades ago. Second,
the touted association between cannabis and mental illness is small --
about the same size as the link between head injury and psychosis.
Finally, despite what some new sources suggest, this association is
hardly proof of a cause-and-effect relationship between cannabis and

So why the sudden fuss?

Part of the answer is political. The recently elected Conservative
British government longs to stiffen penalties against marijuana users.
One way to justify this move involves convincing the public that The
Lancet proved that puffing the weed will make you batty. Of course,
that's not what the article says at all.

In fact, investigators actually reported that cannabis use was
associated with a slight increase in psychotic outcomes. However, the
authors emphasized (even if many in the media did not) that this small
association does not reflect a causal relationship. Folks with psychoses
use all intoxicants more often than other people do, including alcohol
and tobacco.

Cannabis use can correlate with mental illness for many reasons. People
often turn to cannabis to alleviate the symptoms of distress. A recent
study performed in Germany showed that cannabis offsets certain
cognitive declines in schizophrenic patients. Another study shows that
psychotic symptoms predict later use of cannabis, suggesting that people
might turn to the plant for help rather than become ill after use.

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.

Despite this evidence, we'd like to spread the word that cannabis is not
for everybody. Teens should avoid the plant. Folks with a predisposition
for mental illness should stay away, too. This potential for health
risks in a few people, however, does not justify criminal prohibitions
for everyone. (We wouldn't pass blanket prohibitions against alcohol
simply to protect pregnant women, for example.) The underground market
does an extremely poor job of keeping marijuana out of the hands of
teens and others who should stay away from it. A regulated market could
better educate users to potential risks and prohibit sales to young people.

Consequently, the review in The Lancet suggests that if cannabis really
does alter risk for mental illness, we can't leave control of sales to
folks who are willing to break the law. Instead, a taxed, regulated,
age-restricted market is our best chance to keep any negative
consequences of marijuana under control.

Author: Alternet via UKCIA

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