Global: Marijuana, Mental Illness & Violence

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Tell Your Children – Marijuana, Mental Illness and Violence

In 1936 a church group produced a melodramatic movie warning parents of teens that marijuana use can be dangerous. They entitled it “Tell Your Children.”  Later it was renamed “Reefer Madness”. The film was “rediscovered” in the early 1970s and gained new life as a propaganda film ridiculing concern for pot use among advocates of  legalization.

The pot of the ‘70s was about 1-3% tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active ingredient that makes you high. Forty years later the pot of today routinely hits 20 to 25 percent THC producing stronger and quicker highs. Edibles and hash oil products commonly reach THC levels from 50-99%. The difference between yesterday’s marijuana and today’s is like the difference between near beer and a martini.

Now a new speaker, Alex Berenson, stands up to ask us to reconsider the concept of reefer madness and pot use normalization. He has ironically entitled his book “Tell Your Children.” Berenson is a graduate of Yale University, with degrees in history and economics. His wife, Dr. Jacqueline Berenson, is a forensic psychiatrist. Until recently she worked at Mid-Hudson Forensic Psychiatric Institute where most of the 300 patients have been diagnosed with psychotic disorders like schizophrenia that provoked them to violence against family members or strangers.

A few years ago, in passing, she mentioned that “all of them are [pot] smokers.” Alex realized what his wife knew from her work with the criminally insane and study of the research on pot use was completely contrary to what he and nearly all society think they know about the drug and its impacts. After much research Berenson tells audiences, “Almost everything that you think you know about the health effects of cannabis, almost everything that advocates and the media have told you for a generation, is wrong.”

Marijuana is commonly recommended for “pain”, but a recent four-year study of Australian patients with chronic pain showed that cannabis use was associated with greater pain over time. When legitimate pain is present pot users actually need more pain medicines than non-users. Berenson says, “Even cannabis advocates, like Rob Kampia, who co-founded the Marijuana Policy Project … acknowledge that they have always viewed medical marijuana laws mostly as a way to protect recreational users.”

Marijuana legalization advocates sometimes argue that its use reduces opiate use. That is untrue. Berenson indicates, “The United States and Canada, which are the countries that have the most opioid use, also have by far the worst problem with … cannabis.” A paper in the American Journal of Psychiatry last year showed that people who used cannabis in 2001 were almost three times as likely to use opiates three years later, even after adjusting for other potential risks.

Many recommend marijuana for anxiety but research in top medical journals shows that marijuana can cause anxiety disorder or worsen severe mental illness, especially psychosis, the medical term for a break from reality. A 2017 National Academy of Medicine study found that “cannabis use is likely to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia and other psychoses; the higher the use, the greater the risk. …Teenagers who smoke marijuana regularly are about three times as likely to develop schizophrenia, the most devastating psychotic disorder.

Psychosis is a shockingly high risk factor for violence. The best analysis came in a 2009 paper in PLOS Medicine by Dr. Seena Fazel, an Oxford University psychiatrist and epidemiologist. Drawing on earlier studies, the paper found that people with schizophrenia are five times as likely to commit violent crimes as healthy people, and almost 20 times as likely to commit homicide.

Berenson cites several studies and findings showing a relationship between marijuana use and violence and crime. According to a 2007 paper in The Medical Journal of Australia on 88 felons who had committed homicide during psychotic episodes, almost two-thirds reported misusing pot. A 2012 paper in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence examined a federal survey of more than 9,000 adolescents and found that marijuana use was associated with a doubling of domestic violence.

The first four states to legalize marijuana for recreational use were Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon. In 2013, those states combined had about 450 murders and 30,300 aggravated assaults. In 2017, they had almost 620 murders and 38,000 aggravated assaults – an increase of 37 percent for murders and 25 percent for aggravated assaults, far greater than the national increase.

The largest problem with legalization is that it gives social sanction to its use. The current messages about pot are: it’s not harmful, it is a medicine, no one ever died from using it, and we can get tax revenue from it.  All these messages are wrong and because they are wrong they are dangerous.

Not every 2 year old that strays into the street gets hit by a car, but we stop them — every time. Not every young person or young adult who uses pot will acquire a disorder or become psychotic. Today’s teens and young adults know no more about pot than 2 year olds know about the street. No one is encouraging 2 year olds to walk out into the street. Right now, as a society, we are encouraging teens and young adults to use pot. The results can be just as serious as a 2 year old in the street. TELL YOUR CHILDREN.


Scott Chipman

Vice President – Americans Against Legalizing Marijuana



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