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August 16, 2007

Deja Vu all over again...

One could be tempted to ask "what were they smoking?' but in this case it wouldn't have been appropriate because "they" were psychiatrists once again raising concerns that schizophrenia, a much feared mental illness, might be caused by smoking too much pot-  or even just a little pot.

In late July, the respected British Medical publication Lancet published a meta-analysis purporting to show that those who'd, smoked, or were smoking, marijuana were "40% more likely" than those who hadn't to eventually be diagnosed with schizophrenia and, predictably, the world press promptly went bananas. That was upsetting to me because I've been working hard to restore a semblance of objectivity to the subject of cannabis policy and Lancet certainly wasn't cooperating.

In fact, their article and the response of the English-speaking world does not auger well for our future; if our best and brightest can be so gullible, what hope is there for ordinary people?  To begin with, the fears raised were not at all new; the pot-schizophrenia bogey man has been around the block a few times. In fact a "meta-analysis" is really a collective review which aggregates several old studies, a form of advanced medical library research. There's no new data here; only new spin.

Schizophrenia is also a disease of youth, and the most commonly diagnosed psychosis. Except that in the DSM era, we refer to it as "schizo-affective disorder." It's only when we're trying to scare the wits out of anxious parents that we revert to "schizophrenia." In any event, although it's a condition for which there's no pathognomonic (absolutely diagnostic) blood test, x-ray, or microscopic finding, it's still a diagnosis in which most experts can agree, at least more often than is the case with Bipolar Disorder or ADHD, for example.

Pot, as we all know, is commonly smoked by young people, especally over the past 40 years. Before that, it was hardly used at all; either in Britain of in North America. Thus, if there were any truth to the assertion that pot causes schizophrenia, one would expect a comparison of the incidence of new cases of schizophrenia during the pot-free Thirties, Forties or Fifties with its incidence during any of the past four toking decades to show a big recent increase.

But don't look for such a study. For one thing, it would have to call unwelcome attention to the failure of a policy that spends billions each year to keep kids from smoking pot. For another, it would almost certainly  fail to show a dramatic rise in the incidence of schizophrenia since the kids went to pot.

Another reason I think such a study would fail to show much change is that I'n now reasonably sure most repetitive pot use by young people isn't just for kicks; it's prompted by symptoms of anxiety; therefore it makes perfect sense that a population of young heads would include a few more future schizophrenics than one of young straights.

In fact, I think that's probably the phenomenon those earlier studies were looking at...

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at August 16, 2007 05:18 AM