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Cannabis and Mental Health - What Do We Really Know?

For a long time in the UK and other parts of the western world, cannabis has been demonised as a powerful drug that can send people literally crazy. It has been reported that users of cannabis have a much higher chance of displaying symptoms of things such as schizophrenia. It tends to be that parents of young men who have committed suicide are paraded on television, saying that it was cannabis that caused their son’s death. It’s a common part of the local news these days, quickly followed up by someone from the local private rehabilitation centre talking about how many young men they see with mental health problems caused by cannabis. 

It’s useful then, that these private rehab centres tend to be the ones that judges send people to in lieu of a custodial or community sentence for things such as possessing cannabis. I’m not going to argue that treatment is not a better option for drug users than imprisonment, however, when the people who profit from owning and running these clinics comment in the newspapers and on television about the harm that cannabis does, one has to recognise they have an inherent bias. 

They make money from people thinking cannabis is harmful to mental health. We should take everything they say with a pinch of salt, as it is rare that you will see a medically qualified psychiatrist as the mouth piece for one of these rehab centres. Indeed, the Royal College of Psychiatry tends to air on the side of caution and states:

’The available research shows that those who have a family history of a psychotic illness, or those who have certain characteristics such as schizotypal personality, or possibly have certain types of genes, may increase the risk of developing a psychotic illness following the regular use of strong cannabis.’

That is, those people who are likely to become mentally ill from using cannabis, were also the most likely to become mentally ill anyway. In these days of new reefer madness, we should be given the truth about cannabis and mental illness. The truth is, yes, it is possible that in some people, cannabis could exacerbate an already underlying mental illness, in the same way that alcohol can.

What we should now be doing is looking at whether it is acceptable for people who profit from demonising cannabis to speak around it with an air of expertise that goes unquestioned, such as those people who own private rehab facilities which are then given public money.

There is a lot of misinformation out there, and people adding to it while having an inherent bias does more harm to those people that cannabis could be harmful to than being honest. 

July 01, 2016 by Gareth Arnold

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