January 6, 2019


This Reporter Took a Deep Look Into the Science of Smoking Pot. What He Found Is Scary.: Alex Berenson's new book delves into research linking heavy use with violent crime and mental illness. (STEPHANIE MENCIMERJANUARY 5, 2019, mOTHER jONES)

The book was seeded one night a few years ago when Berenson's wife, a psychologist who evaluates mentally ill criminal defendants in New York, started talking about a horrific case she was handling. It was "the usual horror story, somebody who'd cut up his grandmother or set fire to his apartment--typical bedtime chat in the Berenson house," he writes. But then, his wife added, "Of course he was high, been smoking pot his whole life."

Berenson, who smoked a bit in college, didn't have strong feelings about marijuana one way or another, but he was skeptical that it could bring about violent crime. Like most Americans, he thought stoners ate pizza and played video games--they didn't hack up family members. Yet his Harvard-trained wife insisted that all the horrible cases she was seeing involved people who were heavy into weed. She directed him to the science on the subject.

We look back and laugh at Reefer Madness, which was pretty over-the-top, after all, but Berenson found himself immersed in some pretty sobering evidence: Cannabis has been associated with legitimate reports of psychotic behavior and violence dating at least to the 19th century, when British colonial officials in India noted that 20 to 30 percent of patients in mental hospitals were committed for cannabis-related insanity. The British reports, like Berenson's wife, described horrific crimes--at least one beheading. The Brits attributed far more cases of mental illness to cannabis than to alcohol or opium. The Mexican government reached similar conclusions, banning cannabis sales in 1920--nearly 20 years before the United States did--after years of credible reports of cannabis-induced madness and violent crime.

Over the past couple of decades, studies around the globe have found that THC--the active compound in cannabis--is strongly linked to psychosis, schizophrenia, and violence. Berenson interviewed far-flung researchers who've quietly but methodically documented the effects of THC on serious mental illness and he makes a convincing case that a recreational drug marketed as an all-around health product may, in fact, be really dangerous--especially for people with a family history of mental illness, and for adolescents with developing brains.

Now that drugs are finally legal they're facing the same public policy onslaught as alcohol and cigarettes as health concerns converge with moral qualms. 

Posted by at January 6, 2019 1:08 PM