Food for the Soul
A bi-weekly blog on the virtuous life. Written not by a master, but by a student, but one at least who knows whence sound teaching is found.
I just finished Alex Berenson's new book Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence. I haven't been able to get it out of my mind since I picked it up a week or so ago. I heard about the book while watching the Tucker Carlson show. The argument that Berenson made on Tucker got me interested: There is a significant amount of data, claimed Berenson, that shows a connection, even a causation, between marijuana use, mental illness (in particular psychosis), and violence. If that is true, I thought to myself, we need to be seriously worried because marijuana use is becoming increasingly prevalent and will probably legal for recreational use within a few election cycles.
I'm obviously not a doctor; in particular, I'm not a psychiatrist. Nor am I a bona fide statistician. But I'm also well enough acquainted with the rules and nature of statistical research, correlation and causation, p-factors and such to be able to wade through some numbers and understand when a solid case is being made. Alex Berenson has made a very convincing case in his book. It is a case that is well researched; strung together with an compelling narrative about the history of marijuana use globally and in the United States. It comes with anecdotes, not to prove his point, but rather to demonstrate what we the numbers actually look like in real life. I even skipped the chapters describing what marijuana induced psychosis murders look like. A few examples were enough. He has cited pertinent research from around the globe and interviewed people who deal with the effects of marijuana use in their professions: ER doctors, psych ward doctors, and researchers. The author recognizes that the claims in his book will draw the mockery and dismissal of many who think that pot is a harmless recreational drug that leads only to dangerously high sodium intake or laziness. If you fall into that category, read the book. You won't make it forty-five pages before you begin to rethink your ideas about pot.
I am not really willing to summarize the contents of the 225 page book in detail, but there are a few things that I think are worth mentioning:
1.) Those who dealt with marijuana users in India and Mexico before it came to the U.S. in significant quantities recognized that marijuana made people lose their minds and do crazy/violent things. They used colloquial phrases like "madman and marijuano" in the same sentence. British doctors at the end of the 19th century took for granted the fact that many (around 20 - 30 %) of the "criminal lunatics" in their institutions were ganja users, who when not under the influence of the drug were reasonably well disposed.
2.) The weed being smoked today is not the weed that was popularized in the "age of Aquarius". Woodstock weed was the equivalent to near-bear compared to the THC content in today's pot. The average joint in the 70s contained between 5 to 10 mg of THC, about half of that was burnt of in the smoking process. So on average a person who smoke a joint was getting about 2.5 to 5 mg of THC. Today joints often contain more than 100 mg of THC; heavy users will dip their joints in near-pure THC oil extracts. For those of you who may not know - THC is the psychoactive drug in marijuana.
3.) There are now many studies that demonstrate that cannabis use is linked to psychosis. They are too many to name in this short blog post, but they include a twin-study, longitudinal studies of the same individuals, and studies that were able to control for the appearance of psychotic symptoms prior to smoking. One of the studies, known as the Dunedin study, was based off of information from Dunedin, New Zealand in which a database was set up of all the babies born in the city in order track the relationship between prenatal problems and later health complications. The nice part of this study is that it allows the researchers to control for psychotic symptoms that emerge prior to marijuana use. Here is one of the things the researchers found: "People who had used cannabis at age 15 were more than 4 times as likely to develop schizophrenia or schizophreniform syndrome as those who never used. Even after accounting for those kids who had shown psychotic symptoms at age 11, the risk remained threefold higher" (Berenson, 93).
4.) There is good data to show that people who are paranoid and psychotic are way more violent than the general population while they are psychotic or paranoid. Recently, the Office of National Drug Control Policy ran a multi-year study which asked thousands of arrestees to provide urine samples and answer questions about their drug use. "They found that roughly half of arrestees in five big cities screened positive for marjiuana - far higher than rates for other drugs" (Berenson, 179).
There is much more to the Berenos book worth mentioning, but after reading it I am more convinced than ever that we need to be vocal in our homes, school, and community that recreational marijuana is a really, really bad idea. We also need to be aware that the prevalence of marijuana in our community is increasing. The legalization push that is getting so much positive PR is affecting the way our students, your children, are thinking about marijuana. A lot of students today basically believe that marijuana is a safer way to have fun than alcohol. A lot of kids today would argue that it is better for you than tobacco. It goes without saying that the pro-pot lobby has been very successful in selling itself as a safer alternative to opiates, alcohol, and even tobacco. What they don't mention is that it may not just give you a calming buzz and make you hungry. They also fail to mention that there is a connection between marijuana and opioid and cocaine use. But they definitely don't mention that a significant amount of users end up with temporary or permanent psychosis and paranoia that makes them very dangerous and unhappy people.
It was also interesting to me that based upon the differences in the media markets and the actual research that is being done and discussed in Great Britain concerning the connection between marijuana and psychosis, but that is not being done or discussed in the U.S., Great Britain is becoming more restrictive of marijuana in its laws, while the U.S. is liberalizing. Time will tell who is right, but I suspect that we will be paying a huge economic, moral, and health penalty for our embrace of recreational marijuana as a nation.
What I'm currently reading...
The Discernment of Spirits by Fr. Timothy Gallagher, OMV