Marijuana and Madness

A recent British study reveals that all users of cannabis (marijuana and hashish) are genetically at risk of developing schizophrenia or a related psychotic disorder.

What is psychosis?

According American Heritage Dictionary, psychosis is a severe mental disorder, with or without organic damage, characterized by derangement of personality and loss of contact with reality and causing deterioration of normal social functioning.

What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is any of a group of psychotic disorders usually characterized by withdrawal from reality, illogical patterns of thinking, delusions and hallucinations and accompanied in varying degrees by other emotional, behavioral or intellectual disturbances. Schizophrenia is associated with dopamine imbalances in the brain and may have an underlying genetic cause.

How bad is the problem?

Canada is the industrial world’s leading consumer of cannabis. In 2004, the Canadian Addiction Survey found that 22 per cent of all male and 10 per cent of all female respondents aged 15–24 use cannabis on a weekly or daily basis. In Alberta, the most popular illicit drug is cannabis.

Those who use illicit drugs are usually chronic tobacco and alcohol abusers as well.

Tobacco use continues to be the leading lifestyle-related cause of death in Canada – 45,000 each year. About 30 percent of adult Canadians over 15 smoke regularly. Teenage girls are more likely to smoke (39 percent) than teenage boys (22 percent).

Everybody knows smoking is harmful. But not many people know that smoking may cause infertility in both men and women. In experimental animals, nicotine has been shown to block the production of sperm and decrease the size of a man’s testicles. In women, tobacco changes the cervical mucus, thus affecting the way sperm reach the egg.

Alcohol use takes its toll as well. About 10 percent of adult Canadians have a drinking problem. Impaired driving is a major cause of death. About 45 percent of the dead drivers have some alcohol in their blood and 38 percent are over the legal limit of blood alcohol concentration. In 2005, French researchers found people who drive after using marijuana are nearly twice as likely to be involved in a fatal car crash. Quite often there is a combination of marijuana and alcohol.

Marijuana has been found to cause other problems as well. In 2006, a report in Neurology found smoking marijuana may gradually fade verbal memory and other mental skills. Marijuana has been found to disrupt a woman’s ovulation cycle (release of the egg). Marijuana use affects men by decreasing the sperm count and the quality of the sperm.

The most important message for the youth is smoking cannabis, or marijuana, as a youth significantly increases the risk of developing a psychotic illness later in life by about 40 per cent. Those who use illicit drugs, tobacco and alcohol are danger to themselves, to their families and to society at large. I hope we can all pass this message to our children and grandchildren.

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