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We know marijuana is linked to mental illness — so what are we doing?

Two years after the state legalized recreational marijuana use, setting foot on a New York City street any time of day or night means being assaulted by the depressingly familiar odor of marijuana smoke — and the same is true in many US cities.

There was a policy debate on marijuana legalization, and the legalization side won.

But caution and reasoned discourse have taken a back seat to a gold rush by big-money backers reminiscent of Big Tobacco, abetted by states looking for new sources of tax revenue.

Marijuana proponents like to remind us: “The science is settled.”

But is it?

A recently released study that links heavy marijuana (or cannabis) use to schizophrenia makes some wonder if we should have second thoughts about what exactly we are doing to ourselves.

The answer is yes, we should — and not based on just one study.

The cannabis and schizophrenia study is based on an analysis of almost 7 million Danish health records from 1972 to 2021.

Researchers found a statistical correlation between those who became heavy/compulsive users of cannabis (developing so-called cannabis-use disorder) and a subsequent schizophrenia diagnosis.

Since legalization in New York and other cities, the smell of marijuana is all over the streets.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

In 30% of all schizophrenia diagnoses of men aged 21 to 30, the individual was a heavy pot user; of the full sample, ages 16 to 49, the correlation was 15% for men and 4% for women.

The researchers infer that the schizophrenia was probably linked to heavy cannabis use when they seek to control for other variables.

The skeptical will note the study establishes no specific cause-and-effect process, which is more of a caution than a flashing red light.

Brain scans
Researchers found a statistical correlation between those who became heavy/compulsive users of cannabis and a subsequent schizophrenia diagnosis.

The study also involves a series of steps.

First, individuals use cannabis.

Some become heavy or compulsive users, and then some fraction of this group is diagnosed with schizophrenia.

We do not know if the marijuana use in these cases causes schizophrenia or if a predisposition is triggered by marijuana use or if some other causal mechanism might be at work.

And remember, it is a percentage of the heavy users that are at issue here.

But clearly some skepticism is warranted when it comes to the ritualized “Marijuana is harmless” claims.

Use your experience.

Almost everyone has family members and friends who have become victims of addiction.

Sometimes it is marijuana, sometimes it is booze, marijuana and other drugs.

Look at the addicted you walk past on downtown streets and the violent mental illness you observe or see reported in the news almost every day.

Yes, some of that mental illness is probably fueled by other addictive drugs such as meth.

But ask yourself how pervasive marijuana use can possibly be harmless to families and communities.

Marijuana’s connection to serious mental-health problems has been reported and studied for more than 100 years.

America’s entire legal domestic market, moreover, rests on suppressing federal criminal law, based on findings of fact, and regular practices for ensuring public safety.

We have a series of established protections — and pro-pot political forces have overridden them.

If the term “Big Tobacco” comes to mind, it is for good reason.

Americans have learned to question “science” that is twisted to support a political agenda that could be summed up as: “Don’t trust, can’t verify.”

This “political science” is not new, but it has gotten much worse since COVID.

Genuine science is skeptical and cautious, and in any case, democracy rests on consent of the governed, not rule in the name of “science” or other authority.

Americans are practical, prudent people who can judge for themselves.

Even if we are properly skeptical, there are no rigorous studies that have found marijuana use is safe, especially at the higher potencies common on our streets.

Actually, the most serious research suggests grave and long-term dangers.

But you can ignore science and look at the human toll around you on your way to work.

Spreading addiction and self-destruction are now visible in New York and across America.

John P. Walters is president and CEO of Hudson Institute. He was director of Drug Control Policy for President George W. Bush (2001-2009).

This story originally appeared on NYPost

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