Marijuana and Psychosis: Real Data, Real Bad

via Christian Headlines

John Stonestreet, Roberto Rivera

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The pitfalls and perils of marijuana legalization are well-documented. But whenever we discuss that research here on BreakPoint, we’re accused of not having the right research. What that means is that we’ve used studies that contradict the very vocal advocates of weed.

Well, let’s see what happens when we cite The British journal The Lancet, which, along with the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association, is considered the “gold standard” for peer-reviewed medical research. It doesn’t get more “real” than being published in The Lancet.

A just-published study in The Lancet involving, among others, researchers at King’s College London, compared 900 people who had been treated for psychosis with 1,200 people who had not. Sample participants were drawn from across Europe and Brazil.

Both groups were surveyed on a host of factors, including their use of marijuana and other drugs. The study’s authors concluded that “people who smoked marijuana on a daily basis were three times more likely to be diagnosed with psychosis compared with people who never used the drug. For those who used high-potency marijuana daily, the risk jumped to nearly five times.”

By “high-potency” the researchers meant marijuana with a THC content of more than ten percent. To put that figure in context, a study of the weed seized by the DEA between 1995 and 2014 found the THC content went from about 4 percent in 1995 to 12 percent in 2014.

Today, it’s not uncommon to read of marijuana that’s legally-sold in places like Colorado with THC content above 20 percent, occasionally 30 percent! Legalization advocates minimize the exponential growth in potency by saying that twenty or more years ago, Americans didn’t have access to “the good stuff.”

Well, that misses the point by several astronomical units. The point is that those people who daily use “the good stuff” are five times more likely to find themselves in a hospital suffering from delusions and hallucinations, to name only two symptoms of psychosis.

Now, critics will respond, “That’s correlation, not causation.” And that’s the criticism leveled at journalist Alex Berenson, author of “Tell Your Children: The Truth about Marijuana, Mental Illness and Violence,” a book I recommend highly. But as I heard Berenson say just last week in Denver, of course it’s correlation and not causation. The only way to prove causation would be to ask half a sample group to experiment with something that may harm them. That’s not ethically possible. By the way, all the studies that made us believe that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer were correlated studies too, but that was enough to convince us all.

Even so, writer Ron Powers doesn’t need a peer-reviewed study to convince him of the link between marijuana use and psychosis. In his 2017 book, “Nobody Cares About Crazy People,” he tells the moving story of his two sons, Dean and Kevin, who were both diagnosed with schizophrenia in their late teens.

As Powers tells readers, while there is a strong genetic component to schizophrenia, there is no “schizophrenia gene.” Instead, it’s a constellation of genetic and environmental factors that make people susceptible to schizophrenia. One of these, as Powers painfully learned, is heavy marijuana use, especially in the teenage years.

Of course, some people will tell you that they and most people aren’t mentally ill, so there’s little if any risk. But for a host of reasons, no one can know that with certainty. In fact, all pronouncements about how safe marijuana legalization is simply overstates the case.

That’s exactly what happened here in Colorado. The possible pitfalls were denied or downplayed. And so, Colorado now holds the dubious distinction of leading the country in first-time drug use. And the rate of monthly marijuana use among 18-to-25-year-olds in states with legal weed is nearly three times as much as states that haven’t legalized it.  By the way, 18-25 is the age when schizophrenia often begins to manifest.

And since legalization, Colorado has seen a a spike in marijuana-related emergency room visits by people between the ages of 13 and 20.

Given the well-documented mental health risks, especially to not-fully-formed adolescent brains, the rush to legalization is the height of irresponsibility. An irresponsibility that can shatter lives. And don’t just take our word for it.


BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun byChuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us atBreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.

John Stonestreetthe host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

Publication dateMarch 27, 2019

Photo courtesy: Simone Scarano/Unsplash

Are you ready for Big Marijuana?

Photo: Reefer Madness via Wiki Commons

Big Marijuana is ready for you.

The fact is that Big Marijuana has been ready for some time. Now it is on the cusp of near-universal legalization in America. And that spells trouble, especially among the mentally ill, as we shall see.

But not just for the mentally ill. As we shall see.

Here is a quick annotation of what I mean by “trouble”:

To legalize, in our consumer-dominated society, is to legitimize. To legitimize is to strip away any considerations of risk—any considerations whatsoever, except price.

To legitimize, in short, is to commodify.

Consumers are paying for this particular commodity—this exciting new product being rolled out, or rolled up—in various ways. Some pay with their credit cards. Some pay with cash. Some pay with their sanity. Some pay with their lives.

As of September, twenty-nine states—three-fifths the total—and the District of Columbia have moved to legalize cannabis1 “Cannabis” is essentially the same as “marijuana,” a Latino variation. use under varying conditions. With a few exceptions on either side, only the Great Plains states, parts of the Midwest, and the Deep South have resisted legalization. The rules are complex in those states where it is approved. Many states, for instance, restrict it to medical use, as a relief for chronic pain.

Yet few players in what is now being called, without irony, “the industry” doubt that most if not all of these holdouts will eventually fall into line. And that the rules will relax. Some already are being flouted with impunity.

This is what happens when a “substance” becomes a commodity. Money begins to talk; and money, big money, is drowning out the rest of the conversation surrounding Big Marijuana.

The volume went all the way up to eleven when hip and youthful Colorado (2014) and then massive California (2016) became the fifth and sixth states to legalize pot for recreational use. California is expected to be issuing licenses for pot shops by January 1, 2018. Canada—Canada!—is working on legislation. The money people are lining up, clutching their open checkbooks.

They will be writing checks in the aggregate billions.

The “commodity” cachet of cannabis is being reinforced by such impeccably establishment periodicals as Forbes, which in May was pleased to advise its elite readers concerning “The Top 5 Financial Leaders in the Cannabis Industry.”

As the reporter Tristan Green wrote last July in the online magazine Finance: “It’s difficult to determine exactly how much money there is in the cannabis industry. A report from Forbes states that North American sales totaled $6.7 billion in 2016. Investors looking for an emerging industry that’s worth billions, doesn’t have stiff competition from major international companies, and is as close to a ‘sure thing’ as possible need look no further than cannabis. The Motley Fool expects a 300 percent increase in cannabis revenues, in the US alone, over the next five years. That figure could increase exponentially if more US States legalize cannabis for adult recreational use.”

 

I suppose I should say here that I don’t oppose marijuana use because I think it’s immoral. As a young Chicago journalist in the 1970s, I found it commonplace among the people I knew and liked. In my beloved adopted state, Vermont, I sometimes wonder whether the blue haze over the Green Mountains is mist or smoke. Yet I have never judged anyone on the basis of race, color, or tokes. Hell, I toked up myself. Once. It made me hungry for a pizza. I lost interest after that. In grass, not in pizza. Yet I was never “against” it. It was none of my business.

I’ve lately changed my mind. I have come to believe that marijuana poses a critical societal threat. Not to our morals, but to our public health—particularly the health of the mentally ill among us.

And the bedrock reason that it poses a critical threat? Commodification.

By this, I don’t mean to say simply that legalizing pot makes it easier to obtain. While that is certainly true, the deeper threat is more insidious, and more troubling. The deeper threat is increased potency. The cannabis on the market today is mind-altering on a scale far higher than the weed puffed by the counter-culture in the 1960s and 70s.

Cannabis’s main psychoactive component is tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly known as THC. You will find a variation of “cannabis” inside that name. Cannabinol is a chemical that interacts with receptors in the brain that are associated with pleasure. It is an adversary of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that controls (among other things) reward-motivated behavior. An overflow of dopamine, triggered by stress, trauma, or—oh—too much THC in the system—can produce psychosis.

(Because no two highly complex neurological systems are identical, some people—me, for example—are not as affected by THC as others.)

Over the long history of pot consumption, the THC level in cannabis plants averaged out to something under ten percent. This relatively benign percentage held through the years of love-beads and “Power to the People.”

That was then. In recent years, researchers have found that the THC in legalized-sale states is three times that percentage. This means that today’s puff produces a higher high—but also a threefold increase in the likelihood of psychosis due to interference with dopamine.

Photo: Marijuana via Wiki Commons

And this is not the only change in the plant. Another component of cannabis is cannabidiol, or CBD. This secretion, traditionally only 0.28 of each plant’s makeup, is responsible for marijuana’s cachet as a benefit to patients who suffer extreme pain. Legalization for medical purposes would be meaningless without it. CBD’s presence in the blood system reduces pain and anxiety. It also is found to block the psychotic potential of THC.

Guess what: lately, those same research projects have found that CBD’s average level has fallen from .028 to 0.15 percent.

What has happened to jack up the potency and lower the medical benefits of cannabis? Is it some abrupt shift in the evolution in the plant?

No. As I have heard public-relations people smirk after their company’s product gets a favorable story in a newspaper: “These things don’t happen by accident.”

The changes have happened because of selective breeding. Another name for this is “eugenics.” Marijuana growers are finding that more potent plants fetch more money from wholesalers. Among the leading wholesalers is Tardiv, Inc., of Boulder, Colorado, a startup in 2015 that now calls itself “the cannabis industry’s largest online wholesale marketplace.” (The acceleration of commodified weed can be grasped from the report of one market research firm Arcview that the cannabis “industry” generated $2.4 billion in sales in 2014, up 74% from 2013.) Tardiv, which keeps its profits a secret, advertises its mission as “To Make Wholesale Cannabis Trade Efficient, Easy & Secure.”

Secure from what?

Secure from being evaluated on its own demerits, for one thing. Big Marijuana is in its infancy compared to, say, Big Tobacco, Big Pharma, and Big Guns. Yet it is learning quickly from its elders.

Learning to turn liabilities into assets, for example: higher wholesale prices mean more cost to the consumer. But with this commodity, that’s not a problem. Higher bucks connote a higher high, not to mention the fantasy of elite consumption. And anyway, many smokers develop a tolerance for THC over time, and actually require ever-larger jolts. In this sense, marijuana is its own gateway drug.

Here some other adaptive skills that Big Marijuana has absorbed.

Its business structures serve to further camouflage the irreducible gaminess of its product. These ape the sleek structures of the Corporation Eternal: advertising, marketing, and research divisions; sophisticated advertising accounts; acquisitions (“Aurora Cannabis Acquires Larssen to Offer Turnkey Cannabis Cultivation Services Worldwide”); flow charts; conferences (the “Aspen High”); burnished websites; speakers bureaus.

All of these strategies are important. None, perhaps, is as important as the manipulation of language to (further) neutralize activist opposition on public-health grounds. Big Marijuana has scrubbed its jargon clean of any usage that might summon thoughts of the product’s potential menace to human well-being and sanity, and replaced that usage with the antiseptic jargon of Corpspeak: “We connect investors and entrepreneurs to the deals and information they need to make the most of this emerging market.” “Cannabis, meet capital.” “Quality Products that Pave the Way for Mainstream Acceptance.”

And get this, for appropriation of the gilt-edged idiom of politesse:

“Snoop Dogg is one of the most revered figures in music, entertainment and more recently, a business pioneer in the cannabis sector. Over a respected career that stretches 25 years, his repertoire has turned him into a cultural icon across mediums. Snoop and business partner Ted Chung recently launched online media platform MERRY JANE, the definitive cultural destination for news and original content.” https://www.canopygrowth.com/

 

A capitalist juggernaut has formed and is rolling. Armed with its vast arsenal of persuasion; outfitted in the fine-woven haberdashery of Success; anointed with further legitimacy-by-association bequeathed by “progressive” billionaires such as George Soros and former Facebook chairman Steve Parker; dripping second-hand stardust from celebrity investors such as Roseanne Barr, Whoopi Goldberg, Melissa Etheridge, the inevitable Willie Nelson, and others, Big Pharma seems poised to overrun the rusting Maginot Line of social checks and balances: federal and state governments, regulators, educators, medical doctors and psychiatrists. It seems guaranteed to take its place among the rest of the ethically impervious Bigs: a massive Goliath striding forward, its path clear of natural enemies.

And yet a resistance remains in place. Across the country, determined local activists have dug in against the onslaught. They are armed with the flimsy-seeming small-bore weapons of medical research, demographic statistics, personal testimonies, and legal savvy. Their most valuable weapon, in the end, may prove to be what William Faulkner called “man’s puny, inexhaustible voice.” They are determined to prevail.

In some ensuing blogs, we will meet some of these Davids, and we will see what they have in their slingshots.