A false link between marijuana and mental illness

February 09, 2011

The article published today in "Health News" makes the claim that smoking marijuana is "linked" to early onset of mental illness.

However, although the article implies some sort of cause and effect, that conclusion has no scientific basis. In fact, the authors of the study don't even bother investigating whether marijuana use causes mental illness or if people with mental illness have a higher rate of smoking marijuana than the general public.

If marijuana caused mental illness, then cultures that have a higher rate of marijuana smoking than the U.S. should have a higher rate of mental illness. But in fact, the opposite is true. Cultures with higher rates of marijuana consumption have lower rates of mental illness than the United States. This would indicate that rather than marijuana causing mental illness, as your article implies, it is people with mental illness who are self medicating with marijuana in order to alleviate their symptoms.

This (more correct) reading of the data, however, does not fit the narrative being presented by the politicians who are making their careers by "getting tough" on marijuana smokers, nor does it fit the narrative of the manufacturers of the currently legal psychotropic drugs, like Prozac and Zoloft, who stand to lose billions of dollars if medical marijuana is legalized, and who funnel millions of dollars to those politicians who present their dubious science as fact.

Had your newspaper even taken the time to Google the Archive of General Psychiatry, you would have found that the "study" you cited was conducted by the "Genetic Risk and Outcome in Psychosis (GROUP) Investigators," who publish only articles against medical marijuana. That alone should raise a red flag to anyone with a basic understanding of scientific research. When someone conducts numerous studies and publishes many articles that all draw the same conclusion, whether the evidence leads to that conclusion or not, the critical eye should suspect some ulterior motive at work. It's not possible to keep an open mind when you have an axe to grind.

William Smith, Baltimore

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