It can be difficult to distinguish fact from fiction when it comes to cannabis, especially when conflicting information is published almost daily. It’s just one of the reasons a slew of scientists has criticized a new book on the supposed dangers of cannabis released last month called Tell Your Children by Alex Berenson. The book argues the nation should be careful legalizing marijuana because of the risks involved, such as increased violence and even total mental collapse.
However, medical professionals say these claims are “based on a deeply inaccurate misreading of science.”
Earlier last week, 75 doctors and scholars from New York University, Harvard Medical School and Columbia University banded together in an open letter to Berenson over his writings in Tell Your Children. They are concerned the book and others like it might throw a wrench in the marijuana movement currently sweeping the United States —something they argue would do more harm than good.
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“We urge policymakers and the public to rely on scientific evidence,” the letter reads, “not flawed pop science and ideological polemics, in formulating their opinions about marijuana legalization.”
“Weighed against the harms of prohibition, including the criminalization of millions of people, overwhelmingly black and brown, and the devastating collateral consequences of criminal justice system involvement, legalization is the less harmful approach,” the letter concludes.
The problem with Berenson’s book, according to the critics, is that it is mostly based on cherry-picked science. And some of it is old science at that. In reference to the correlation between cannabis use and schizophrenia, the document points to studies that were conducted as far back as 1987.
Although one study from 2017 did conclude that “the higher the use, the greater the risk” when it comes to marijuana and this mental disorder, scientists say the results show only “an association,” not an actual threat.
Nevertheless, Berenson would have readers believe that marijuana definitely causes schizophrenia. In fact, the author wrote last month for the New York Times that the issue was “settled.”
Other research published over the past few years also shows that mental health issues are not a significant risk factor in healthy individuals. “Cannabis does not in itself cause a psychosis disorder,” Dr. Carl Hart, a drug expert at Columbia, told The Guardian. “Rather, the evidence leads us to conclude that both early use and heavy use of cannabis are more likely in individuals with a vulnerability to psychosis.”
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Berenson, who says he just wants cannabis advocates to be truthful in their approach to legalization, has dismissed the letter, arguing that it only “attracted only a handful of signatures from MDs, and almost no psychiatrists, who are on the front lines of treating psychosis and severe mental illness.”
But just because cannabis is not safe across the board doesn’t mean it cannot still be pushed into legal territory, Berenson says. “You can believe that cannabis is a real risk for psychosis and violence and still believe it should be legal. That’s a totally reasonable position to take. Just tell the truth.”
The truth is not enough is known about marijuana for anyone to speak in definitive terms about its pros and cons on human health. Until the federal government loosens its pot policies and allows the herb to be researched extensively, these types of “my science is better than yours” arguments will surely continue. All we know at this point is that marijuana is no more of a health risk than alcohol and other legal substances and that prohibition hasn’t worked. That should be good enough for now.