No, Cannabis Does Not Cause Psychosis, Says Substance Abuse Expert

'Reefer Madness' is alive and well in 21st century America thanks to journalist Alex Berenson’s new book 'Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence.' The book's main argument, as German Lopez of Vox noted, can be distilled into three sentences that appear in the 270 page alarm call: “Marijuana causes psychosis. Psychosis causes violence. The obvious implication is that marijuana causes violence.”

But that's quite a stretch, according to Rielle Capler - a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the BC Centre for Substance Abuse. Dr. Capler says that the stats and current research simply do not support Berenson's alarming conclusion.

As usage of cannabis has increased in the population over the past decades, we haven’t seen parallel increased rates of psychosis cases, Dr. Capler told Civilized. And while associations have been found between cannabis use and psychosis, researchers haven't identified any causal links.

“In considering legalization, I think efforts need to be made around consumer education related to strains of cannabis, dosage and methods of use,” she explained. “People considering using cannabis should be aware of their family history of schizophrenia or psychosis. If there is a family history of these types of medical issues, consumers should be aware that using cannabis could trigger the onset of these conditions.”

She also pointed out that temporary psychosis, such as paranoia and hallucinations, can happen when someone consumes too much cannabis.

“This is temporary, but it is certainly not a positive experience,” she said. “If someone takes too much, or uses too strong of a strain, it can create an uncomfortable psychological experience. This unpleasant experience is avoidable if consumers understand how different dosages; strengths of various strains of the product and how cannabis is being used can impact them.”

While cannabis can have a negative impact on people with a history of schizophrenia and psychosis, research and anecdotal reports suggest that it can also alleviate some of the symptoms of schizophrenia as well as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and other mental-health conditions. While it's too soon to conclude that cannabis can definitively improve these conditions, Capler says that legalization offers researchers the opportunities to pursue additional studies that could lead to that sort of breakthrough. 

Dr. Capler also stressed that legalization needs to be implemented in conjunction with education campaigns to address some of the health risks associated with cannabis use. As well, those who are new to the product need to understand their own situation and be mindful of the fact that different strains and methods of use can have different impacts.

“Due to Canada only recently legalizing cannabis, with many other jurisdictions still prohibiting it, there have been so many missed opportunities for research, as well as so much misinformation on this substance,” she shared. “There are no drawbacks to legalizing cannabis and in fact there are many benefits in legalizing it depending on how it’s regulated and implemented, and there many opportunities for research, education and honest discussion.”

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Would you smoke cannabis if it were still illegal? Do you think dispensaries make high-quality cannabis more or less affordable? And what are the roots of legalization, altogether?

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