PSA Warning Issued in 2005 was Ignored
Eleven years ago the ONDCP and SAMHSA held a press conference to inform of research that confirms what many families already knew–that marijuana use was a trigger for psychosis and mental illness.
The ONDCP is the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy; SAMHSA is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Each agency has a crucial role in trying to ascertain usage and reduce demand for drugs.
Specifically, Dr. Neil McKehaney from the University of Glasgow came to the US and spoke at the national Press Club on May 5, 2005. The agencies went to great effort to share important information. A video was recently found online.
Coverup of the Marijuana – Mental Illness Risk
At this same Press Conference, a couple who had lost their 15-year-old son to suicide due to the mental health problems arising from marijuana use, spoke. The Press covered the story, but did not use their considerable investigative skills to probe into what those parents and Dr. McKenagey were describing. It is true that about one quarter of American high school students are depressed, which points to multiple problems of American culture, not just drugs. However, knowing how vulnerable teens are, and then not exposing the factors that could make their outcomes worse, is lamentable.
In addition to depression, anxiety and suicide, there are the risks of psychosis, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia that arise from marijuana use. Pot proponents love to state that anyone who has a psychotic reaction to pot already had the problem before they used it. They tend to blame family members for not wanting to admit mental health problems, and argue that pot is used as a scapegoat.
Several studies have shown a link between marijuana and schizophrenia. Explains pharmacologist Christine Miller, Ph.D: “No one is destined to develop schizophrenia. With identical twins, one can develop the disease and the other one will do so only 50% of the time, illustrating the importance of environmental factors in the expression of the disease. Marijuana is one of those environmental factors and it is one we can do something about.”
A Missed Opportunity
One person who worked in the office of ONDCP Director John Walters told Parents Opposed to Pot, “They accused us of being pot-crazy during a time when there was a methamphetamine crisis going on. Marijuana is almost always the first drug introduced to young people and the evidence for the mental health risks were very strong by 2005. Although pot was getting stronger as it is today, the warning was falling on deaf ears. Members of Congress wanted us to focus on the meth crisis, but marijuana was a growing issue and we had a myriad of issues.”
This Public Service Announcement reached audiences in the Press, and some newspapers and magazines reported about it. Since the Internet and search engines were not as they are today, few parents, children, schools and mental health professionals took notice. (Did the marijuana lobbying groups bully and try squelch the information?)
Lori Robinson, whose son suffered the mental health consequences of marijuana said: “I will always deeply regret Shane not hearing this PSA . Shane was a smart, gregarious and fun-loving young man who naively began using pot never knowing he was playing Russian roulette with his brain in ’05-’06 at the age of 19. Dr McKeganey so clearly stated that the public views marijuana as harmless, not realizing the potency of THC was rising while the “antipsychotic” property of CBD was being bred out. Sadly, despite both parents never used an illegal drug in our lives, our son assumed that since a few of his friend had smoked in high school, it was just a “harmless herb.” Shane’s story is on the Moms Strong website.
The research has expanded since that time and scientific evidence on each of the following outcomes from marijuana use is voluminous: marijuana & psychosis, marijuana & violence and marijuana & psychiatric disorders.
Lessons to be Learned
Lives could have been saved, and so many cases of depression, psychotic breakdowns and crimes could have been prevented – if the public had become more aware back in 2005. Congress, the Press and most of all, the American psychiatric community was wrong to ignore the warnings that were issued with this PSA.
Let’s not continue to ignore the evidence. Today in the US, mental health is worse than it’s ever been, and the promotion of drug usage may be a huge factor in this problem. Harm reduction in preference to primary prevention strategies is practiced in many jurisdictions. Drug overdose deaths have overtaken gun violence deaths and traffic fatalities in the USA — by far — under this strategy.
Today Dr. McKeganey is the Director of the Center for Substance Use Research in Glasgow.