Studies: smoking dope can lead to schizophrenia

By Torben Hansen, via Flickr

By Torben Hansen, via Flickr

What I had always heard, and even seen in real life, was that teenagers who smoke a lot of dope tend to have trouble maturing, that things that are going on in their undeveloped brains get derailed, with long-term cognitive effects. Hence the phenomenon of the 30-year-old stoner who seems in some ways like a 15-year-old.

But I don’t recall having read this before, even though the research results seem to have been out there for awhile:

There is a significant and consistent relationship between marijuana use and the development of schizophrenia and related disorders….

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.

So I pass it on, for those who still think the stuff’s harmless, and Sheriff Lott was a Blue Meanie for busting the Olympic swimmer.

And yeah, for those who think it’s a terrific argument to say “Alcohol’s worse” — it may be indeed. But we tried outlawing that, and it didn’t work out, because it was too far ingrained in the culture. I’m not ready to give up on this ban. We have enough trouble with alcohol.

18 thoughts on “Studies: smoking dope can lead to schizophrenia

  1. Doug Ross

    Yeah, smoke a lot of dope and you might end up in the White House.

    I don’t think you realize how many adults smoke pot. I don’t and never have but I don’t have any problem with people doing it. Nobody should EVER be arrested solely for ingesting a substance. NEVER.

    The genie is out of the bottle on this topic and, like gay marriage and abortion, it’s heading in a direction you won’t like.

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    Whichever direction we’re headed in, I’m just giving you the facts.

    And yes, you can smoke dope in your youth and become president. As the studies suggest, there is a causal relationship between smoking it in formative years and schizophrenia. But it causes schizophrenia the same way smoking tobacco (and marijuana, I might add) causes cancer. As the article to which I refer notes, more than 80 percent of smokers never get lung cancer.

    That doesn’t prove smoking tobacco is a good idea.

    And allow me to note that on THAT issue, things have been going my way in recent years, with bans on public smoking, etc. So it gives me some cause to hope that reason can prevail with this other substance.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      OK, let me take that parenthetical back a bit…

      It seems that there’s not enough evidence that cannabis smoke is carcinogenic in the way tobacco is. And I saw something about one study that found it not to cause cancer at all. Of course, there have been far fewer studies.

      I think there should be more of them. But then, I’m not thinking like a scientist; I’m using common sense. It seems to me that any sort of smoke — woodsmoke, burning leaves, incense, what have you — deliberately breathed in, would have to have a deleterious effect on one’s health, and cancer seems like a likely outcome.

      In a way, though, I’m employing empirical methods, although a sample of one doesn’t work scientifically. To someone who has had to deal with asthma his whole life, the source of the smoke doesn’t matter a whole lot. It all irritates the bronchi and causes inflammation.

  3. Doug Ross

    And how about providing some better data? A “up to 200% increase in schizophrenia” could be 3 cases out of 100,000 people instead of 1.

    Stop trying to harsh our buzz, Mr. Hand.

  4. Mark Stewart

    I think Doug can agree that what may not hurt a 30 year old in a socially meaningful way still might be a bad thing for a 15 year old to use. Kids should not drink or do drugs. There is no call for libertarianism in that.

    At the same time, I think that college age (over 18-year olds) ought to be able to drink – responsibly. Too much bad stuff happens when this is whitewashed into illicitness. So I can from that standpoint see the possible merit in deregulating pot. But it is nothing, nothing like gay marriage or even abortion. We are talking about recreation here.

  5. Doug Ross

    @Mark – I didn’t say anything about kids smoking pot. I think the same rules should apply as they do to drinking. But I also don’t think a kid smoking pot (or using any drug) should EVER see the inside of a jail.

    Agree on age 18 for drinking. If you can vote and serve in the military, you can drink.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Let’s talk for a moment about 18-year-olds drinking — and voting, for that matter.

      That’s a popular notion — that if you can serve in the military, you should be allowed to vote, and drink.

      That doesn’t follow logically. The characteristics that make one qualified to be a private in the Army have nothing to do with whether you have the mature judgment to make the decisions that guide our republic, or handle alcohol responsibly. In fact, what we know about the adolescent brain argues that they are NOT ready to handle such things.

      A recruit in the Army has to be able to follow orders, period. Later in his career (when he’s older), if he stays in the military, he will be allowed responsibilities that require judgment — after he’s proven that he can handle it. In the meantime, his physical fitness generally makes him better soldier material than, say, the average 30-year-old.

      (Note that I’m not just using the inclusive “he” here. I’m referring especially to males because their brains are so far from maturing at age 18.)

      An 18-year-old male is subject, in the military, to rigid discipline of the kind that all males of that age could use, and too few get (I sure could have used it at that age, had the military been willing to admit me). But he is not a decision-maker.

      Yes, I know I’m running counter to people’s emotions here. People FEEL like “If he can risk his life in the service of his country, then he should GET TO do what any adult can do.” Note my emphasis.

      I tend not to think in terms of ordering society according to what this person or that person “gets to” do, beyond guaranteeing the fundamental human rights enshrined in our Constitution. (For instance, while I very much would like to have served in the military, I don’t rail against the rule that means I didn’t “get to.” While I don’t like it, I understand why the military would rather not have soldiers with asthma.) I tend to think in terms of what makes sense. And saying that military service automatically makes you qualified to vote or drink does not make sense to me.

      1. Mark Stewart

        Maybe not. But at the same time criminalizing alcohol on college campuses has had the opposite effect. Driving drinking underground removes the socially responsible part of drinking and actually encourages – demands even (from those who would partake) – abusive behaviors such as binge drinking.

        Instead of fostering social interactions with guests, lecturers, alumni, professors, etc. the 21 year drinking age promotes fake ID’s, in-room binge drinking, and all the other forms of bad behavior that now have no counterpoint.

        What we have now are not drinking laws that promote maturity, but instead ones that necessitate both criminal acts and personally dangerous behaviors. That isn’t the way to bring up our youth.

        What we really need to do is return the drinking age to 18 – or 19 – and spend more effort reducing drunk driving (especially) and binge drinking. Maybe it would be appropriate to have even harsher DUI penalties for those under 21; or maybe actually just enforcing .08 standards across the board would be best for all. Certainly anyone over .12 or a repeat offender should have the book thrown at them. You are not drunk behind the wheel at that point, you are attempting murder. We all need to think of it like that.

        But we also need to provide kids avenues to demonstrate maturity other than simply aging.

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          Younger people do seem to have worse health outcomes both from consuming alcohol and from marijuana. All do not, though.

          It’s sort of like how people who do not start smoking at a young age are extremely unlikely to start.

        2. Doug Ross

          Or get elected as an 18 year old to the SC legislature. Then you can drink AND drive all you want to.

  6. Doug Ross

    Activities you can do at age 18 :

    Be tried as an adult
    Buy a shotgun or rifle
    Drive a school bus
    Drive some commercial trucks
    Enter into a contract to purchase a home or car

    Things you can’t do at 18:

    Drink a beer

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          You have to draw the line somewhere. Science suggests 25, but that will never fly politically….as is the case with so many scientific realities.

          1. Kathryn Fenner

            Brain scans and show that the part(s) of the brain that assess consequences are not fully mature until 25.

  7. Kathryn Fenner

    The studies report that they found a causal link, but the language earlier says “associated with”—which may mean that people prone to schizophrenia self-medicate with pot, say.

    I do not wish to use anything that will increase my already healthy appetite. Unlike Brad, I cannot imagine being able to be indifferent to eating a meal, as he earlier reported.

    I do think we waste a lot of scarce resources on pot interdiction, and we encourage a criminal economy. Legalize it and regulate it. Pot smokers are largely benign, so long as they do not operate heavy machinery, live automobiles.


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