Thursday, May 22, 2008

Psychiatrist : "Australians Excel In Smoking Cannabis"

300,000 Consume Pot Daily

If you smoke dope, apparently you have a "40 per cent increased risk of developing schizophrenia", which would seem to confirm the old adage that, as Kurt Cobain put it, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not after you. Or perhaps it means that if a lot of people were asked to describe what being stoned is like, many psychiatrists would define their
wasted state of mind as being like that of a schizophrenic.

If some dope smokers weren't paranoid enough already, now they're being told that if they consume cannabis regularly, they double the risk of becoming schizophrenic :

A new study by psychiatrists has reviewed the latest evidence of links between cannabis use and mental illness, concluding the association is "stronger and clearer than ever".

A pot smoker is 40 per cent more likely to suffer a psychotic episode than a non-smoker, according to the review of major published international research.

And for people who smoke daily over long periods their risk is 200 per cent higher.

"On the world stage, Australians excel in smoking cannabis, so there are very many people who fit into this category," said lead researcher Dr Martin Cohen, a psychiatrist at the Hunter New England Mental Health Service.

"In fact we're number one in the world. We know now more than ever that this bodes badly for our mental health."

But presumably bodes lots of new business for the psychiatric health industry. Will we be getting a new and official branch of mental illness specifically defined as cannabis-induced schizophrenia?

A third of all Australians have smoked at least once in their life, with about 300,000 using daily.

And while all had increased their risk to some degree, there was growing evidence that genetics predisposed some people even more.

Scientists have found a gene called COMT that, when faulty, is unable to break down the brain chemical dopamine.

An overload of dopamine triggers psychosis and, as cannabis produces an excess of the chemical, people with this "fault" are vulnerable.

Between 10 and 25 per cent of the population are believed to have the faulty gene, but as yet there is no way to test for it.

Not yet. But soon. When you're entire genetic ID is databased, you'll be tagged as a potential mental health casualty if you have a faulty COMT gene, and if drug tests show you use cannabis then you'll be marked up as a more likely candidate for schizophrenia. When insurance companies are allowed to demand regular drug testing of clients, through mandatory, say, twice yearly health checks, cannabis users will be seen as far more risky to insure. If, that is, the claims made by the psychiatrists are correct.

A 2007 national drug survey of 14 to 19 year olds showed 20 per cent had ever smoked marijuana and 13.1 per cent had smoked in the last 12 months.

Professor Jan Copeland, director of the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre, said the levels of cannabis use had declined significantly since 1998, especially among school-aged Australians.

The good news about cannabis-using youth is buried in the last paragraphs. Cannabis use in general is down by a significant margin, with the highest drop in usage amongst school students.

That's great news. School students are far less interested in smoking cannabis than they were in 1998. Better video games?

It'd be interesting to see how those statistics of schizophrenic pot users break down. How many smoke joints, how many are punching breakfast cones? How many are diffusing it into cookies or cakes? How many are consuming hydroponic super-strong gear, and how many are imbibing the far more mild strains usually grown in backyards, or an isolated patch of bushland?

While the figures of schizophrenia as a result of dope abuse are frightening, the statistics overall, including the claimed 300,000 daily users, are vague and many questions remain unanswered.

Is the faulty gene more likely to be affected by hydroponic skunk, or a less brain-fuzzing 1970s-strength strain?

Do those who smoke dope regularly suffer more or less general health problems than, say, heavy drinkers?

Do heavy dope smokers drink as much alcohol, or abuse as many pharmaceuticals, as non-cannabis users?

How many consume cannabis because they believe it relieves their arthritis, their glaucoma, their AIDS symptoms, their Parkinson's tremblings, their cancer pain and lack of appetite?

Of course, one of the biggest questions that has never been answered about Australians and their mega-consumption of pot is simply : Why do so many people take it?

Do they smoke a few joints a day because it makes their lives, and minds, more stimulating, or because they're addicted to the tobacco they mix it with?

Do 300,000 Australians smoke pot every day because they are trying to block out reality, or enhance it?

Perhaps most importantly of all, how many of these 300,000 daily smokers experience side effects that make them less satisfied with their existence, reduce their ability to work, to function normally in society, to maintain close relationships with friends and family?