The sad tradition of inaccurate, sensationalistic cannabis reporting continues in the United Kingdom's tabloid press. Deeply clueless reporter Tamara Cohen at the Daily Mail plumbed new depths of silliness on Tuesday with the breathless headline:<
Never mind that, even as cannabis usage rates have skyrocketed, the ratio of schizophrenics in the population has remained constant at one or two percent for the past 60 years. Never mind that no human beings were involved in the tests, and never mind that no marijuana was used, either.
Researchers from Eli Lilly and the University of Bristol in the U.K. gave rats “a drug that mimics THC” (a synthetic analogue, in other words, not THC itself), then forced the stoned rodents to find their way through maze, reports Kristen Philipkoski at Gizmodo (who, incidentally, did a much better job of reporting on the study than did witless Tamara at the Daily Mail).
The scientists seem to make a lot of the fact that cannabis “disrupts the same parts of the brain as the psychotic illness, those associated with memory and decision-making,” because it seemed to disrupt brain waves that typically coordinate across the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex.
But as dire as that sounds, so does caffeine, yet we don't see scare headlines about coffee, and we don't see a War On Coffee putting people in cages for drinking it, either.
All that didn't stop Dr. Matt Jones, the lead author of the study, from chewing up the scenery and offering all sorts of dramatic, red-meat quotables to the British tabloid press.
“Cannabis is making normal people behave more like schizophrenia patients when they take it and that's something they should bear in mind,” Dr. Jones claimed. “Previous studies have shown a link but we didn't have this level of detail.”
“What we have shown is that the brain waves which process information and share it with other regions of the rain become desynchronized like parts of an orchestra playing out of synch,” Dr. Jones claimed.
“Cannabis has a docile reputation in the drug world,” Dr. Jones said. “Most people would accept that cannabis users are not at their sharpest and might have subtle impairments in memory or decision making but sometimes small doses of the ingredient can cause psychiatric episodes similar to schizophrenia.”
That is, of course, if you're a rat, and you're being injected with a synthetic THC analogue, and it doesn't contain any of the other natural phytocannabinoids found in cannabis, which have a quite different effect when taken in combination — that is to say in natural plant form — rather than singly and in synthetic form.
What both Dr. Jones and the Daily Mail have done here is to make an enormous leap. On the one hand, comparing synthetic THC impairment in rats to the impairment of schizophrenia isn't that wild a connection — but to make the leap from there to “one joint can cause schizophrenia” is where we a storming the gates of La-La Land.
(Dude may know a lot about rats and their brains, but he apparently knows fuck-all about cannabis.)
In any event, the researchers' study was published Tuesday in the Journal of Neuroscience, and they say they hope more research can help them develop treatments which could help people with mental illnesses.
That's all well and good — we always need more effective treatment for mental illness, including cannabis-based drugs.
But just think about it: If pot caused schizophrenia, with today's usage rates we'd have an epidemic of schizophrenia the likes of which the world has never seen. Mental health facilities would be overwhelmed with vast hordes of drooling, gibbering potheads.
Empirical data do not support the investigators' hypothesis that smoking marijuana is associated either with increased rates of schizophrenia or other illnesses among the general public.
“Projected trends for schizophrenia incidence have not paralleled trends in cannabis use over time,” admitted scientists who did another marijuana/schizophrenia study back in 2007.
Two years after that study, a team of researchers at the Keele University Medical School once and for all put the “pot and mental illness link” to the test. Writing in the scientific journal Schizophrenia Research, they compared long-term trends in marijuana use and incidences of schizophrenia and/opr psychoses in the U.K.
What did they find?
“[T]he expected rise in diagnoses of schizophrenia and psychoses did not occur over a 10 year period,” the researchers concluded. “This study does not therefore support the specific causal link between cannabis use and incidence of psychotic disorders. … This concurs with other reports indicating that increases in population cannabis use have not been followed by increases in psychotic incidence.”
Any existing correlation between marijuana use and schizophrenia is likely due to the fact that schizophrenics tend to self-medicate with cannabis to mitigate their already-present symptoms.
Bottom line, unless you're a lab rat shooting up synthetic THC, you can go back to what you were doing and ignore this latest dose of idiotic Reefer Madness.
If you'd like to encourage Dr. Matt Jones to be a little more circumspect about dramatizing and misrepresenting his research next time, his email is Matt.Jones@bristol.ac.uk.