It’s Easier To Scare Folks About Pot Than Treat Teen’s Mental Illness: A Look At The News

With the Biden administration preparing to recommend a change in classification of marijuana, the fearmongering is coming out of the woodwork.

There’s a new study making the rounds through the news organizations with headlines saying that teens who use THC are more likely to have psychotic episodes (with varying levels of fearmongering and exaggeration). I’ve personally seen a number of news outlets tie this story together with another recent study indicating that daily THC users now outnumber daily drinkers among adults in the US. {1}

Sadly, a lot of them do not actually link to the study (here it is again), and they also bury a couple of really important facts that are right there in the study.

  • The study did find a correlation between cannabis use during adolescence (ages 12-19) and having a psychotic disorder.
  • However, in a gender-specific model, "the effect of cannabis was only statistically significant for males during adolescence."
  • The study "found no evidence of association between cannabis use and risk of psychotic disorder during young adulthood (ages 20–33 years)."
  • The study examined whether or not someone had reported cannabis use with the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) and had sought health services for psychotic disorders{2}.

It’s important to note the limitations of that last point. It is not the fault of the researchers; it is a limitation of doing this kind of research. They did not — and could not — separate those who had an undiagnosed mental health condition who sought THC as a way to self-medicate from those who potentially had a mental health condition brought on by the use of THC.

It is quite plausible (and demonstrated!) that THC — just like alcohol, or ADHD medications, or any number of substances — has an effect on developing brains. We should take that risk seriously. Y’know, by having it be illegal for teens.

So it’s also important to note that having THC legal for adults does not mean that more teens use cannabis. In fact, one researcher found

"that fewer minors reported having used cannabis in the previous month in states where the drug had been legalized. But they also found that in the 18 states that had both legalized cannabis and allowed retail sales of the drug, some adolescents who were users of the drug used it more frequently. The net effect was a flat or slight decline in cannabis use among adolescents." (NY Times link, full text here)

But worse — to me, at least — is that there’s a non-zero, but unknown number of children who are self-medicating because they aren’t getting the mental health support they need. Given the crisis with teen’s mental health and our country’s messed up way of handling mental healthcare, that needs to be the focus, not frantically covering when they’re doing things they aren’t allowed to do as if it has relevance to what adults do.

We’re already finding out that some of our stereotypes about those who use THC are … well, just wrong. We should examine the science carefully and deliberately, while making sure that we avoid our cultural assumptions (that were largely informed by racism).

We would do far more for our children if we took care of their mental health needs, regulated THC appropriately, and avoided using children as a sensationalist anti-marijuana tool.


{1} I continue to maintain that if you had to choose between the two, it would be healthier for people to choose THC than booze.
{2} They explicitly excluded those who had sought treatment in the six years prior to first completing the CCHS.

Featured Image by Nicky ❤️????????????❤️ from Pixabay

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