Posted June 3, 2013 by evergreen-culture in Marijuana Myths

Myth: Marijuana Causes Schizophrenia


The myth that the consumption of cannabis impacts the onset of psychotic issues, and specifically schizophrenia, is something that has gained some press in the last decade or so. The UK is especially active when spreading this myth. The story goes like this: enter awkward teenager; he is at risk for schizophrenia (typically sets in around 18-26, mostly in males); he starts smoking marijuana (at this point in the story it usually includes a comment about some super potent strain of cannabis in order to boost the fear factor, more on this down below); by age 26 he displays signs of schizophrenia emerging…thus, his marijuana smoking caused, or at least triggered, the schizophrenia.

The issue is that none of the studies quoted actually satisfy the scientific requirements to establish a link between marijuana and mental illness. It isn’t merely a matter of saying “this follows that and thus we have our cause and effect”. You can make a connection between almost anything with that kind of logic. There is a another factor that is needed to scientifically satisfy the hypothesis that something is the cause of something else, and that is the question, “Are all other potential causes ruled out, leaving only one known common factor that clearly is responsible?” And that has never been proven when dealing with the link between cannabis and schizophrenia. The studies cited had a number of other common factors – such as alcohol or tobacco consumption – and yet no one was ready to establish a link between those substances and schizophrenia. Their answer would have been a very logical, “We have so many people using those substances and no real rise in the rate of schizophrenia, so they could be ruled out.”. Remember that as we continue.

A 2006 study which focused on substance use by people living with schizophrenia published the following statistics:

Approximately 60% of the sample was found to use substances, including 37% with current evidence of substance use disorders.

What the statistics more likely show is that patients who begin to experience the effects of the onset of schizophrenia turn to substances (including illegal substances) in dealing with the discomfort and confusion and feelings of alienation. A likelihood corroborated by experts in the field. In other words, you could say that schizophrenia may actually have caused the cannabis smoking, not the other way around. Essentially the statistic quoted above simply states that people who begin to experience the onset and symptoms of a particular psychosis (especially one as troubling as schizophrenia) are also highly likely to consume substances that help alleviate (even if it is only an illusion of comfort) the issues they are facing inside of their minds. It in no way suggests that due to the high rate of drug use amongst this group these substances were the actual cause of these psychoses being activated or developing. This kind of tenuous link would not fly if not dealing with such a controversial and misrepresented topic as cannabis.

If cannabis actually was the antecedent to schizophrenia, we would expect to see a significant rise in schizophrenia diagnoses as marijuana consumption has drastically increased over the last four decades. Today we have tens of millions of regular marijuana smokers in the United States alone, and yet schizophrenia rates have not shown any sign of increase, remaining steady at around 1% as they have for decades (source). A fact not missed by some experts:

“It is conceivable that excessive use of cannabis sometimes contributes to acute schizophrenic episodes. But it is difficult to believe that cannabis is a strong risk factor for this disorder, because there is no evidence that the incidence of schizophrenia has risen dramatically over the past 50 years, in parallel with the huge increase in cannabis use. Young schizophrenic patients are often heavy cigarette smokers too, but no-one would suggest that tobacco causes schizophrenia.” – Colin Blakemore, Chair of the Department of Physiology at Oxford University, 2002

One UK “study” even suggested that smoking a single joint would increase your risk of mental illness by 40% and your risk of schizophrenia by 4.5 times compared to a non-cannabis smoker. Scary, right? Here is the problem: They didn’t even do a study! They simply went back with a preconceived notion and sifted through data of previous studies and found the connections they needed. Oh, and by all means follow the link and read the horror stories of some pothead killers towards the bottom of the article. This is essentially identical to the prohibition-era propaganda of 1930′s America. Wasn’t true then, isn’t true now. These young people did not commit these horrific murders under the influence of marijuana. Nor did they commit them due to some psychotic break brought on by marijuana. One account talks about how he moved from marijuana to cocaine and was diagnosed as a “paranoid schizophrenic”; one was under the influence of alcohol during the time of the murder – no mention of mental illness is even suggested (though the article is specifically about that topic); and the third one is supposed to have murdered two of his good friends after his mind was “warped by smoking skunk”, with the additional detail that he hadn’t been smoking on the day of the killings. So, essentially, the only thing they had in common was supposedly smoking marijuana….and clearly a litany of other substances, and probably some family history of mental illness, probably a good amount of psychological issues…see what we mean? This is not scientific in any way. It is simply making connections in data that suit your particular desired outcome. All three smoked weed, thus, weed caused their psychotic, murderous rages. All three drank alcohol likely. All three drank roughly the same water likely. Why is marijuana singled out as the commonality that must be the culprit? Because the people performing the “study” wanted it to be.

There is also this kind of side-myth associated with this myth. And that is the idea that the UK has gotten in its head that this strain of marijuana called “skunk” is some super-strain with 10 times the amount of THC as other marijuana. Here is the deal. There are two things that contribute to the overall potency of cannabis: genetics (the primary factor) and environment. Grow a plant in a good environment using best practices and you may reach the genetic potential of the plant – however the genetic potential is the ceiling. You can’t push the plant beyond what it is genetically capable of being. Was marijuana back in the 1960s and 1970s weaker than today? Sure. It was almost all shitty weed imported from horrible grow operations in Mexico for the most part. However, it was not uncommon for someone to get their hands on some Columbian, or even Thai grown marijuana that was far more potent. These were different genetics grown in different environments that produced better results. When much of the growing started to be right here on American soil (thanks to the US governments work to eradicate Mexican marijuana fields), people began to develop much better methods as well as establish breeding programs where different types of plants were crossed with each other in an attempt to bring out the best qualities in the resulting offspring. As a result, overall quality skyrocketed – the gene pool became much more complex. That isn’t mythical, it is true – marijuana is far better today than it was 30-40 years ago. However, the uneducated and ill-informed then move on to the assumption that if it is more potent, it must be dangerous, killing brain cells and causing psychosis. After much study – both on the plant itself and on society to determine its impacts – no link between high-THC marijuana and mental illness has ever been established. It is pure anecdotal accounts and propagandized fear mongering. Saying that something called “skunk” is some super-weed that is killing our teenagers is hilarious when you actually look at the facts. First of all, the way marijuana interacts with human physiology does not cause brain damage or the loss of cells, in fact it is through a highly evolved system that is actually built to take advantage of the cannabinoids in the plant for the purpose of regulating systems within our bodies – positively impacting issues such as pain, stress, depression, appetite, nausea, seizures, glaucoma, cancer and a host of others. Are there strains called “skunk”? Yes. Is it more powerful than other strains. Depends on what you are comparing it to – just like all other cannabis strains, there are all kinds of variety in potency. Within the strain that people have labeled “skunk”, you can get high quality marijuana and you can get low quality marijuana. There are plenty of strains out there with higher THC levels than the “skunk” that the UK feels is some robo-marijuana out to destroy British teens, turning them into raving, homicidal psychos. And here is something to think about: if this were actually a reality, if there was any shred of scientifically-determined evidence to point to this, don’t you think that the American government would be all over it? If you do find an American source, it typically is simply quoting the UK “studies” or parroting their propaganda. And yet, what we have seen in the US is more research putting out more facts that are causing the public to shift their opinions away from the lies and misinformation that has given cannabis this horrible name for so long, and instead embrace the reality that alcohol and tobacco pose far greater health and social risks.

The idea of a young person experiencing the early signs of a psychosis (such as schizophrenia) trying marijuana in an attempt to alleviate stress, suffering and confusion, and to maybe even feel good for a change, makes perfect sense. No study has ever produced an actual link between marijuana and this horrible affliction. The rates of its occurrence haven’t risen, even though marijuana consumption has risen by a tremendous amount. The supposed factors that are contributing to this – such as the myth of “super weed” – are nothing more than alarming propaganda that has no basis in scientific fact or social inquiry.

Follow us on Twitter @EvrGreenCulture and like us on Facebook. Join the revolution!