Scientists warned that young people who use cannabis could be putting themselves at risk of psychotic disorders. People with schizophrenia appear to have a higher chance of experiencing psychosis if they use cannabis.
It’s election season in Canada! What will the esteemed leaders bribe us, I mean offer us, this time around?
Our revered PM, Justin Trudeau, pandered to the young vote in the last election. Legalizing pot! How could they say no to that promise? Seems they didn’t. Why would they? Sadly, too many leaders look for short term gain and lose sight of the long term pain.
Did Trudeau know anything at all about pot? Oh dear. Perhaps that was a silly question.
Was he aware of the studies that indicate a connection between schizophrenia and pot? Did anyone advise him about the dangers of pot to the developing pre-frontal cortex that is still under construction until the mid-twenties, and that is home to our moral compass? Our ability to make decisions?
Rolling Stone, oh the irony, came out with an article attacking a new book by Alex Berenson, Tell Your Children, about the link between marijuana and mental health amongst the youth. The authors of the article decided that “it’s weed’s illegality, especially the illegality of the supply chain, that poses a far greater public safety threat.” And went on to attack Berenson’s thesis. I happen to agree with Rolling Stone. Smoking marijuana should be decriminalized. Decriminalization is not the same as legalization. That debate should not take us away from an examination of marijuana and mental illness.
The conversation is on-going. But our PM jumped the gun. Anything for a vote. Sad that this is the evolution of democracy.
So let’s take a look at the science of pot.
One analysis of several studies found that marijuana is one of the most commonly abused substances among people with schizophrenia. Young people with the condition, in particular, may abuse it more often than alcohol. Scientists think the main ingredient in marijuana that causes psychotic symptoms is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol).
In the US, cannabis is becoming stronger and more popular. Over the past 20 years, the strength of cannabis seized by the Drug Enforcement Administration has increased from 4%-12% THC. It is not the cannabis of your fathers and mothers. Meanwhile, the number of users rose from 14.5 million to 22.2 million in the seven years to 2014.
According to the Monitoring the Future Study of 2016, almost half of 12th graders have tried marijuana at least once in their life (seventeen year olds!). If there is a relationship, it is a complex one. A range of factors appears to play a part, such as the age at which marijuana is first used, how much and how often it is consumed, and genetic vulnerabilities.
Psychotic disorders tend to emerge in late adolescence or early adulthood, during or after a period of rapid brain development. In the teenage years, the brain strips away unneeded or redundant connections between brain cells, in a process called synaptic pruning. This editing is concentrated in the prefrontal cortex, the region behind the forehead where thinking and planning occur — and the region that is perturbed in psychotic conditions.
Psychotic conditions tend to run in families, which suggest there is an inherited genetic vulnerability. Indeed, according to some studies, people prone to or at heightened risk of psychosis seem to experience the effects of cannabis differently than peers without such a history. The users experience a more vivid high, but they also are more likely to experience psychosis-like effects such as paranoia.
Dr. Lynn E. DeLisi of Harvard Medical School reported:
“My study clearly shows that cannabis does not cause schizophrenia by itself. Rather, a genetic predisposition is necessary. It is highly likely, based on the results of this study and others, that cannabis use during adolescence through to age 25, when the brain is maturing and at its peak of growth in a genetically vulnerable individual, can initiate the onset of schizophrenia.”
Keep in mind that once that break takes place, there is no fixing it. No band aid. Nothing.
Dr. Ran Barzilay, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler School of Medicine, wrote:
Our research demonstrates that cannabis has a differential risk on susceptible versus non-susceptible individuals. In other words, young people with a genetic susceptibility to schizophrenia – those who have psychiatric disorders in their families – should bear in mind that they’re playing with fire if they smoke pot during adolescence.
Is any mental illness in the family a warning not to smoke pot? Or just serious psychiatric disorders? And how many generations back? Do you want to take a chance with your child? Gamble on her sanity?
Our Prime Minister, amongst others, appears to have no qualms about it.
“It’s not sensible to wait for absolute proof that cannabis is a component cause of psychosis. There’s already ample evidence to warrant public education around the risks of heavy use of cannabis, particularly the high-potency varieties. For many reasons, we should have public warnings.”
Coinciding with the upwards trend, young people’s perceptions of the risks of cannabis have fallen, a consequence perhaps of the public discussion over legalisation and fewer restrictions for medicinal uses, according to the US government’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (Nida).
And that is the crux of the matter. There is a perception amongst the most vulnerable that pot is harmless. A government legalizing pot provides an imprimatur of safety when there is no guarantee that it is safe, today.
We are playing Russian roulette with our future.
Time to repeal and replace Justin Trudeau before he does more damage.
From the Ethics of the Fathers: “Rabbi Tarfon used to say, it is not incumbent upon you to complete the task, but you are not exempt from undertaking it.”