The alleged wackiness of ‘wacky tobaccy’

By Eric Naing

According to the latest anti-marijuana public service announcement, smoking pot not only gives your dog the ability to talk, but also the power to express guilt. This phenomenon may be explained by a recent study that links marijuana use and psychosis. But does marijuana really deserve to be called “wacky tobaccy” or are the study’s claims nothing but hot, smoky air?

The study, funded by the British Health Department, claims that marijuana users are 40 percent more likely to develop a serious mental disorder. Not surprisingly, most major news outlets jumped at the chance to yet again portray marijuana as the harbinger of the apocalypse.

A Reuters article cites Danish researchers who say the study, “marks one of the most comprehensive, thorough and reliable reviews of its kind and should serve as a warning.” Another Associated Press article led off with the sentence, “Using marijuana seems to increase the chance of becoming psychotic.” Best of all is a Fox News article which has a headline that reads, “Study: Even Infrequent Use of Marijuana Increases Risk of Psychosis by 40 Percent.”

But what they seem to hide is that this study does not actually prove anything about the dangers of marijuana and in fact may be heavily biased. First of all, the study did not directly look at marijuana users, but instead reviewed 35 related studies. The researchers themselves admit that they have no direct proof that marijuana leads to psychosis, saying that other factors such as the personality traits of drug users could be influencing the study.

Secondly, as journalist Maia Szalavitz notes, there is no correlation between schizophrenia rates and the number of marijuana users. Unlike how lung cancer rates rise and fall with cigarette use, the number of people using marijuana seems to have nothing to do with the number of people with schizophrenia.

Finally, as the AP reports at the very end of their article, this study may be politically influenced. In 2004, the U.K. downgraded the threat level of marijuana and reduced the penalty for possession. Now, the government there is considering reclassifying marijuana back up to the “class B” category. Furthermore, the AP states that, “several authors reported being paid to attend drug company-sponsored meetings related to marijuana, and one received consulting fees from companies that make antipsychotic medications.”

And if the media are going to publicize random medical studies, then they should take a look at a 1990 study which suggests that alcohol increases the risk of schizophrenia by 800 percent in men and 300 percent in women, which dwarfs marijuana’s supposed 40 percent. And unlike cigarettes, which absolutely do cause cancer, a 2006 National Institute of Health study shows no connection between marijuana and cancer. In fact, aside from providing pain relief and acting as an appetite stimulant for the seriously ill, studies have shown that marijuana may inhibit the development of malignant tumors.

Millions are in jail and billions of dollars are being wasted because of our backward attitude toward marijuana. Marijuana may not be risk-free, but it is far less harmful than legal substances such as alcohol and tobacco. Based on the facts, marijuana should at least be decriminalized if not legalized, but that would be truly wacky.