Thursday, 29 October 2009

Belittling the link between cannabis and schizophrenia should come second to ensuring education at point of sale.

I was disappointed to read the following in Mark Easton's blog today, especially having witnessed at first hand what schizophrenia can do to a family.

"Professor Nutt accepts there is a link between cannabis and mental ill-health. He cites research suggesting that "smokers of cannabis are about 2.6 times more likely to have a psychotic-like experience than non-smokers".
But he points out that "you are 20 times more likely to get lung cancer if you smoke tobacco than if you don't." In other words, he says, "(T)here is a relatively small risk for smoking cannabis and psychotic illness compared with quite a substantial risk for smoking tobacco and lung cancer". "

Given that risk of schizophrenia for a sibling of a schizophrenic is around 10%, I would have been very grateful for the information that joining my friends in smoking cannabis as a teenager might have increased my risk of psychosis to around 1 in 4. Very grateful indeed. Schizophrenia isn't comparable with lung cancer. Lung cancer generally affects people in old age (though of course you can get it younger if you smoke), schizophrenia generally strikes in your late teens or your early twenties and is very capable of radically altering your personality to one that your friends and family find bewildering and frightening. It can lead to a lifetime of exclusion, torn between the drugs that numb your emotions and the exciting delusions that keep your mind busy, but that can severely impair your social functioning.

I wrote the above earlier, and now that I've just finished watching question time, I'm dismayed by the pride in stupidity that Jacqui Smith, the tory, the Plaid guy and John Sergeant displayed. If cannabis is so very dangerous then you need to educate people about the dangers and be in a position to help them if they get into trouble. Making it more illegal doesn't have any effect on levels of use and will only make them less likely to seek help if they get into difficulty. What is perhaps more important, is that their friends, who are probably in the best position to guage their changes in personality, are going to be less likely to seek help on their behalf if they witness problems emerging. The best way to keep our young people safe is to ensure that education on risks is provided every time a purchase is made (as is the case currently with tobacco, a more addictive drug, so presumably a less effective deterrent than would be the case with cannabis. The cannabis education should be more extensive than "You'll Go Mad" on the side of the packet though). The pharmacist, the doctor, the police and the family need to be seen as friends and allies in this, not the enemy to be avoided and deceived.

I have seen what happens when schizophrenia is not caught early, and I would not wish it on my worst enemy, not even Jacqui Smith. The enemy in all this is ignorance, and the best way to combat it is to seize the market from organised crime, and ensure the strictly regulated trade in cannabis has education at point of sale at its core.


BoB said...

I strongly agree with you on this too! Personally I find cannabis extremely helpful for my particular disability, but I have a schizophrenic friend who absolutely can't have even a puff or he'll end up back in hospital a few weeks later.

Real, honest education is the way to go, not more prohibition and propaganda (propaganda anyone who smokes pot is likely to ignore because so much of it is so inaccurate!).

Anonymous said...

(Hello -it's me, Anonymous who posted on your post about incapacity benefits, again!)
I agree that there is not enough awareness of the effects smoking cannabis can have. Of course tobacco and alcohol can have appalling consequences (I spent four years watching my wonderful, alcoholic ex father-in-law die, so I know first/secondhand), but so can cannabis. My brother killed himself after depression sinking towards psychosis at the age of 21, after years of heavy cannabis smoking. Incidentally, he never smoked skunk as he sourced his weed very carefully because he cared about the ethics of its production as well as believing skunk to be "unnatural." He took no other drugs as he thought only cannabis was safe and "natural."

My lovely boyfriend suffers from paranoid schizophrenia so severely that he is in and out of hospital, mentally incapacitated for life (he is naturally intelligent, but unable to concentrate to read or undertake many tasks, and finds it hard to follow people's conversations), estranged from his family, and unable to smoke half a joint without ending up in the mental hospital (where, incidentally, cannabis is readily available, so many of the patients are hooked certainly psychologically even if there is no such thing as physical cannabis addiction!). My boyfriend smoked cannabis heavily as a teenager, so it is possible though unprovable that it triggered his schizophrenia.
I smoked cannabis as a teenager, though not very frequently, then smoked more heavily between the ages of 19 and 23 when I was a student. I ended up having depressive breakdowns where I would suddenly feel terrified and paranoid and end up screaming in the middle of the street, trying to cut myself in the hope of accessing a sense of reality, and feeling there were two personas inside me each struggling to overcome the other. These episodes always reccurred after a cannabis smoking session. I have met people with similar experiences and two friends have attempted suicide after heavy cannabis sessions.

So it is certainly not harmless. I do , however, (having related all these tales of distress and tragedy!) dare hope that its legislation would help as it might be better regulated, and prevent its use by dealers to fund crime and harder drug use. People suffering drug-induced psychosis might be less wary of seeking help were it not illegal, and information about its effects could be better publicised.