My Turn: Link between marijuana use, mental illness is clear

For the Monitor
Published: 2/18/2019 12:15:14 AM

David Musto could have been speaking of New Hampshire when he asserted decades ago in The American Disease that as prior drug lessons fade, societies need to relearn them. New Hampshire legislators are now about to put their citizenry at significant risk to the well understood injurious impact of readily available marijuana.

Even Rob Kampia, the co-founder of the Marijuana Policy Project, who has acknowledged the medical usage fiction was always a vehicle for legalization for recreational use, must understand marijuana’s nexus to opioid usage, mental illness, especially schizophrenia, and violent crime.

While being heavily marketed as medicinal, marijuana’s 2 percent THC content of the 1970s has increased to 20 to 25 percent today. Usage escalated alongside potency. The 10 percent of Americans who used cannabis at least once in 2006 rose to 15 percent by 2017, while heavy usage increased from 3 million to 8 million. Mental health issues doubled simultaneously among marijuana’s heaviest users, young adults ages 18 to 25. Increases in opioid usage, contributing to our current epidemic, also escalated simultaneously. People who used cannabis in 2001 were almost three times as likely to use opiates three years later.

The replicated nexus between marijuana, mental illness and violence documented in both psychiatric and epidemiological studies is also revealing.

According to the U.S. National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, marijuana’s nexus with mental illness is “well established.” Likewise, the National Academy of Medicine found in 2017 that “cannabis use is likely to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia and other psychoses; the higher the use, the greater the risk.”

The U.S. National Institute of Health asserts “robust evidence has accumulated showing that individuals who develop schizophrenia are at an elevated risk when compared to the general population to engage in violence towards others. This violence impacts negatively on victims as well as perpetrators and poses a significant financial burden to society.”

Studies from Finland and Denmark have also shown increases in psychosis since 2000 following their country’s increase in cannabis usage. A 2010 Schizophrenia Bulletin found that 27 percent of people with schizophrenia had been diagnosed with cannabis use disorder in their lives. The 2009 paper in PLOS Medicine by Oxford University psychiatrist and epidemiologist Dr. Seena Fazel asserts that “schizophrenics are five times as likely to commit violent crimes as healthy people, and almost 20 times as likely to commit homicide.”

Likewise, marijuana use was associated with a doubling of domestic violence according to a 2012 paper in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence among their 9,000 research subjects. A 2017 paper in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology found that drug use, almost always cannabis, resulted in a fivefold increase in violence among their 6,000 research subjects.

A finding of a 2007 paper in the Medical Journal of Australia should not surprise the marijuana industry, which markets its recreational drug according to its potential to cause paranoia. In this study, the 88 research subjects who had committed homicide during psychotic episodes found that most believed they were in danger from the victim, and almost two-thirds reported misusing cannabis. This result was confirmed in a Swiss study of 265 psychotic patients published in Frontiers of Forensic Psychiatry last June. This study found that over a three-year period, young men with psychosis who used cannabis had a 50 percent chance of becoming violent. Likewise, a 2013 paper in an Italian psychiatric journal found that among almost 1,600 psychiatric patients, cannabis use was associated with a tenfold increase in violence.

Schizophrenics are only moderately more likely to become violent than healthy people when they are taking anti psychotic medicine and avoiding recreational drugs; otherwise “their risk of violence skyrockets,” according to Alex Berenson’s survey of relevant studies in the January 2019 Imprimis publication.

Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana in 2014, and Alaska and Oregon in 2015. It is no surprise that the combined data from these states reveal a drastic increase in crime, an increase consistent with the prior research cited. Starting with a baseline of about 450 murders and 30,300 aggravated assaults in 2013, by 2018, they had almost 620 murders (37 percent increase) and 38,000 aggravated assaults (25 percent increase). These are both far greater than the national average. Cannabis is also associated with a disturbing number of child deaths from abuse and neglect, many more than from alcohol, and more than cocaine, methamphetamine and opioids combined, according to research in Texas. This science, consistent with everyday observations of police officers, social workers and drug rehabilitation experts should not be ignored in decisions relative to marijuana’s proliferation.

Especially now, while struggling with the current opioid epidemic, let’s please disregard false profit-incentive marketing assertions and follow the science to avoid marijuana’s continued predictable negative impact on our communities.

(Michael Breen is a retired police lieutenant from Connecticut and has worked on public policy design, implementation and evaluation on state, national and international levels. He lives in Moultonborough.)


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