Pubdate: Fri, 30 Oct 2015
Source: Chronicle Herald (CN NS)
Copyright: 2015 The Halifax Herald Limited
Author: Paul Brian
Note: Paul Brian is a freelance journalist who lives on Vancouver Island


Pot is potentially psychologically dangerous in the short and 
long-term in unpredictable and extreme ways.

Hopefully, Justin Trudeau will take the scientific evidence into 
account about the potential dangers of marijuana, including its 
ability to trigger panic attack disorders, anxiety, depression, 
paranoid psychosis and schizophrenia, before moving ahead with full 

These risks are amplified if there's a family history of mental 
illness. While the majority of adverse affects for users may range 
from minor memory loss or paranoia to lethargy, the more serious 
impacts of "bad trips" and negative reactions can be truly devastating.

Imagine feeling physically and mentally like you are dying after 
smoking pot and then waking up for the next five years feeling full 
of paranoia, disorientation and dissociation because it has triggered 
a psychosis and panic attack disorder.

Much material has been published about the health and potential 
mental benefits of medical marijuana. There's also been muted 
criticism of legalization because of the danger that minors will get 
more access to the drug or that it will lead to overall social 
deterioration. It stands to reason, however, that the aspect of 
psychological dangers be fully investigated before the Liberal 
majority government moves ahead with its promise.

An Australian study last year found that daily pot users are up to 
seven times more likely to commit suicide, 60 per cent less likely to 
finish high school or to get a college degree and are eight times 
more likely to use illegal drugs later in life.

A 2015 British study cited in the Lancet medical journal found that 
daily pot users are five times more likely to develop psychosis. It 
further found that exposure to high-potency "skunk" marijuana was the 
largest single factor in the development of psychosis in the 461 
mentally ill patients they assessed.

Nor has Colorado, which would serve as Canada's model for 
legalization, enjoyed a smooth journey, with at least two deaths 
attributable to pot use, according to the New York Times, including a 
man who murdered his family after ingesting edible pot candies and 
another who became panicked and jumped off a balcony to his death.

Crime in Colorado has dropped, and obviously masses of people are not 
smoking pot and dying, but the state does have a full-fledged mental 
health crisis on its hands and its suicide rate has risen to the 
sixth-highest in the United States. Attributing that alarming 
statistic to pot use would be speculation at best, particularly as 
long-term data about rising ER visits and mental illness is not yet 
available, but it is worth noting a possible correlation in rising 
suicide rates and the more widespread use of pot in the state.

Colorado's legalization has been a revenue windfall, as it would be 
for Canada, but at what psychological cost? One in three Canadians 
polled support legalization of pot, but what is concerning is the 
assumption, especially among many who have never really looked into 
pot or used it, that increased pot use is inherently benign. This 
broader attitude is what should really cause parents concern.

As for the false parallel pot advocates draw with alcohol, that's 
another matter. Alcohol is more physically dangerous and certainly 
can contribute to a host of psychological difficulties, although it 
doesn't tend to produce psychosis when a young adult first has two 
beers. Another problem is that the blood-alcohol levels can be easily 
measured in roadside tests, while the THC blood content from pot 
cannot be easily assessed.

Trudeau hasn't elaborated on specifics of the legalization process 
and the timeline is unclear, although he has said it is one of his priorities.

The fact is that treating pot as just another regulated substance 
like alcohol or tobacco or a medicine like Tylenol is, simply put, 
absurd. Presumably, advocates of weed legalization are aware that the 
mental illnesses it can trigger last years and be very serious. That 
said, perhaps legalization will result in weed with lower THC content 
and stronger regulation, as well as public education, which would be 
a big plus. But if the media and government keep advancing the idea 
that it is basically harmless, we will all be poorly informed and 
youth will be in danger.

Assuming legalization for recreational purposes does go ahead, all 
products should carry a warning that marijuana is a powerful 
psychoactive substance causing unpredictable and sometimes alarming reactions.

Trudeau has said his research led him to the conclusion that pot is 
no more harmful than cigarettes or alcohol. This is a deceptive 
statement, perhaps unintentionally so. Physically, it's true, but 
psychologically, pot is far more unpredictable. The next time someone 
smokes a cigar and begins to feel that they're about to die, do let 
us know, Justin.

A surprising amount of people either don't know about the psychiatric 
dangers of pot or believe it can only happen to people who are 
already mentally unstable. That is not the case. Let's see the coming 
debate as an opportunity for greater education.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom