July 30, 2007

Maia Szalavitz: Reefer Madness 2007

Filed under: Opinion — Volt @ 12:03 pm

Maia Szalavitz, The Huffington Post, July 30, 2007

Watching the media cover marijuana is fascinating, offering deep insight into conventional wisdom, bias and failure to properly place science in context. The coverage of a new study claiming that marijuana increases the risk of later psychotic illnesses like schizophrenia by 40% displays many of these flaws.

What are the key questions reporters writing about such a study needs to ask? First, can the research prove causality? Most of the reporting here, to its credit, establishes at some point that it cannot, though you have to read pretty far down in some of it to understand this.

Second — and this is where virtually all of the coverage falls flat — if marijuana produces what seems like such a large jump in risk for schizophrenia, have schizophrenia rates increased in line with marijuana use rates? A quick search of Medline shows that this is not the case — in fact, as I noted here earlier, some experts think they may actually have fallen. Around the world, roughly 1% of the population has schizophrenia (and another 2% or so have other psychotic disorders), and this proportion doesn’t seem to change much. It is not correlated with population use rates of marijuana.

Since marijuana use rates have skyrocketed since the 1940′s and 50′s, going from single digit percentages of the population trying it to a peak of some 60% of high school seniors trying it in 1979 (stabilizing thereafter at roughly 50% of each high school class), we would expect to see this trend have some visible effect on the prevalence of schizophrenia and other psychoses.

When cigarette smoking barreled through the population, lung cancer rose in parallel; when smoking rates fell, lung cancer rates fell. This is not the case with marijuana and psychotic disorders; if it were, we’d be seeing an epidemic of psychosis.

But readers of the AP, Bloomberg, The Washington Post, and Reuters were not presented with this information. While CBS/WebMD mentioned the absence of a surge in schizophrenia, it did so by quoting an advocate of marijuana policy reform, rather than citing a study or quoting a doctor. This slants the story by pitting an advocate with an agenda against a presumably neutral medical authority.

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1 Comment

  1. In the back woods town, Skunktruck, Ky, little Luke was caught smoking dope. The whole family immediately picked up and moved to San Francisco. This is why pot smokers are impossible to track. They all re-locate to liberal meccas where they will fit in when they become psychotic. Yaaaahhhhhhhh! Jihad! Graaaaaaa!

    Comment by grimgold — July 30, 2007 @ 11:24 pm

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