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.”
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.
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.”
Of course, none of this dismisses the possibility that pot use may exacerbate certain mental health problems in a handful of individuals. As NORML notes in a recent white paper, “Cannabis, Mental Health and Context:”
There is limited data suggesting an association, albeit a minor one, between chronic cannabis (primarily among adolescents and/or those predisposed to mental illness) and increased symptoms of depression, psychotic symptoms, and/or schizophrenia. However, interpretation of this data is troublesome and, to date, this observation association is not well understood. Identified as well as unidentified confounding factors (such as poverty, family history, polydrug use, etc.) make it difficult, if not impossible, for researchers to adequately determine whether any cause-and-effect relationship exists between cannabis use and mental illness. Also, many experts point out that this association may be due to patients’ self-medicating with cannabis, as survey data and anecdotal reports of individuals finding therapeutic relief from both clinical depression and schizotypal behavior are common within medical lore, and clinical testing on the use of cannabinoids to treat certain symptoms of mental illness has been recommended.
That said, however, the most practical public policy to address these concerns is not criminal prohibition, but regulation.
If there does exist a minority population of citizens who may be genetically prone to potential harms from cannabis (such as, possibly, those predisposed to schizophrenia), then a regulated system would best identify and educate this sub-population to pot’s potential risks so that they may refrain from its use, if they so choose.
To draw a 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 allegations, even if true, call for the current prohibition of cannabis.
You can read the full report here.
Paul Armentano [send him mail] is the senior policy analyst for NORML and the NORML Foundation in Washington, DC. He is the author of "Emerging Clinical Applications for Cannabis and Cannabinoids: A Review of the Scientific Literature" (2007, NORML Foundation).