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Pot-smoking and the schizophrenia connection

Posted by on Jul. 2, 2013 at 8:43 PM
  • 52 Replies
1 mom liked this

Pot-smoking and the schizophrenia connection

Wall Street Journal

 

Recent legislation has permitted the recreational use of marijuana in Colorado and Washington state. Those who support legalization often tout the lack of serious medical consequences associated with the drug. Most of us know people who used marijuana in high school or college and seem to have suffered no significant medical consequences. As the medical and scientific literature continues to accumulate, however, it is becoming clearer that the claim that marijuana is medically harmless is false.

There is a significant and consistent relationship between marijuana use and the development of schizophrenia and related disorders. Schizophrenia is considered by psychiatrists to be the most devastating of mental illnesses. Patients who suffer from it often experience auditory or visual hallucinations, severe social withdrawal and cognitive impairment. Many require frequent and prolonged hospitalization in psychiatric wards.

Schizophrenia affects almost three million Americans—more than six times the number of people with multiple sclerosis, two and a half times the number of people with Parkinson's disease, and more than twice the number of people with HIV/AIDS. Less than one-third of patients with schizophrenia can hold a steady job or live independently. A large portion (about one-third) of homeless people in the U.S. suffer from the disease.

Though they receive little attention in the legalization debate, the scientific studies showing an association between marijuana use and schizophrenia and other disorders are alarming. A 2004 article in the highly respected British Journal of Psychiatry reviewed four large studies, all of which showed a significant and consistent association between consumption of marijuana (mostly during teenage years or early 20s) and the later development of schizophrenia. The review concluded that marijuana is a "causal component," among others, in the development of schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders.

A 2007 study in the Lancet, a British medical journal, concludes that using marijuana increases the risk of young people developing a psychotic illness, such as schizophrenia. This risk is greatest—up to a 200% increase—among those who use marijuana heavily and who start using at a younger age.

Those not familiar with epidemiological causation may wonder how cannabis could "cause" schizophrenia if so many people who smoke marijuana or hashish don't develop the disease. As an example, medical researchers have known for several decades that smoking causes lung cancer, yet over 80% of smokers do not develop lung cancer. 

As research accumulates, the emerging picture is that marijuana precipitates schizophrenia or related psychotic disorders in people whose brains are inherently vulnerable to psychosis. All of us who do not regularly experience hallucinations or delusions reside on what may be called a "cliff of sanity." Some of us, for reasons still unclear (thought possibly to be genetic), are closer to the edge of the cliff than others.

Marijuana may push everyone a few feet closer to that cliff. For those who were already close to the cliff, the drug pushes them over the edge into the chasm of insanity, hence precipitating the development of schizophrenia.

The association between schizophrenia and marijuana is not the only issue at play in the debate over marijuana legalization. If legalization is certain to decrease the power of drug lords in Mexico and other countries, then this is certainly a favorable outcome. However, if the trade-off is that more people suffer from schizophrenia—and thus more Americans are homeless and debilitated—then this must be recognized and discussed by the general public. This association between marijuana and serious and devastating psychotic disorders has been absent or under-recognized in the public debate.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the unwarranted stigma that surrounds their illness, individuals with schizophrenia are vulnerable and in need of advocacy. We owe it to them, and to society in general, to consider all the facts, risks and potential benefits before we embark on this drastic social experiment. If the end of Prohibition offers any historical precedent, once marijuana is legalized it will be all but impossible to undo.

by on Jul. 2, 2013 at 8:43 PM
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Replies (1-10):
pvtjokerus
by Platinum Member on Jul. 2, 2013 at 8:44 PM

This is an interesting debate.

jllcali
by Jane on Jul. 2, 2013 at 9:44 PM
2 moms liked this
What are the stats on alcohol use and schizophrenic?
romalove
by Roma on Jul. 2, 2013 at 9:47 PM
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I personally know someone who's teenager had a marijuana induced psychotic break, and is now diagnosed with bipolar schizo affective disorder, he is in his early 20's.  It is almost impossible to effectively medicate him because he continues to smoke pot, and it affects the dosages of what they give him.  He recently was hospitalized for 21 days.  The family is still struggling.

I'm not against legalizing pot, in large part because I don't believe that prohibition works, and we should be able to take the criminal element out of it, tax it, and standardize it.

But I also think we have to be realistic, it is not without drawbacks.

muslimahpj
by Ruby Member on Jul. 2, 2013 at 10:12 PM

Working on a step down unit for mental illness, I can say that a majority of the clients who came through had a marijuana dependency. 

JMmama
by Bronze Member on Jul. 2, 2013 at 10:21 PM
2 moms liked this
I absolutely agree with this. I am pro legalization/decriminalization but I think it is silly to pretend that marijuana has no potential for bad side effects.

Quoting romalove:

I personally know someone who's teenager had a marijuana induced psychotic break, and is now diagnosed with bipolar schizo affective disorder, he is in his early 20's.  It is almost impossible to effectively medicate him because he continues to smoke pot, and it affects the dosages of what they give him.  He recently was hospitalized for 21 days.  The family is still struggling.

I'm not against legalizing pot, in large part because I don't believe that prohibition works, and we should be able to take the criminal element out of it, tax it, and standardize it.

But I also think we have to be realistic, it is not without drawbacks.

muslimahpj
by Ruby Member on Jul. 2, 2013 at 11:08 PM
1 mom liked this

I dont know the stats, but, many of the mentally ill self medicate with drugs and alcohol for years before they ever have a diagnosis of mental illness and many continue self medicating after getting a diagnosis.  It's a cycle, they get on meds, do better for a while, stop taking meds and get sick again. Many have dual diagnosis with mental illnes and substance abuse. The age old question, which came first, the illness or the substance abuse?

Many have drug/alcohol induced psychotic breaks.

Quoting jllcali:

What are the stats on alcohol use and schizophrenic?


futureshock
by Ruby Member on Jul. 3, 2013 at 12:26 AM
3 moms liked this

I'm sure alcohol precipitates even more illnesses than marijuana.  As long as people can make informed choices, i.e. understanding the risks inherent in smoking marijuana, I am all for legalization.

futureshock
by Ruby Member on Jul. 3, 2013 at 12:27 AM
1 mom liked this


Quoting romalove:

I personally know someone who's teenager had a marijuana induced psychotic break, and is now diagnosed with bipolar schizo affective disorder, he is in his early 20's.  It is almost impossible to effectively medicate him because he continues to smoke pot, and it affects the dosages of what they give him.  He recently was hospitalized for 21 days.  The family is still struggling.

I'm not against legalizing pot, in large part because I don't believe that prohibition works, and we should be able to take the criminal element out of it, tax it, and standardize it.

But I also think we have to be realistic, it is not without drawbacks.

Agreed. :)

futureshock
by Ruby Member on Jul. 3, 2013 at 12:30 AM


Quoting muslimahpj:

Working on a step down unit for mental illness, I can say that a majority of the clients who came through had a marijuana dependency. 

Wow.  That is interesting and scary.

jllcali
by Jane on Jul. 3, 2013 at 6:47 AM
1 mom liked this
I'm aware of that. I think trying to single out any one thing as a cause or precipitator does nothing to help those with mental illness. Helping those afflicted with mental illness should be the focus.


Quoting muslimahpj:

I dont know the stats, but, many of the mentally ill self medicate with drugs and alcohol for years before they ever have a diagnosis of mental illness and many continue self medicating after getting a diagnosis.  It's a cycle, they get on meds, do better for a while, stop taking meds and get sick again. Many have dual diagnosis with mental illnes and substance abuse. The age old question, which came first, the illness or the substance abuse?

Many have drug/alcohol induced psychotic breaks.

Quoting jllcali:

What are the stats on alcohol use and schizophrenic?


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