Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Psychosis and pot can be perilous

Posted By on Wed, Aug 22, 2012 at 3:51 PM

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In a must-read story, the Stranger's Christopher Frazelle looks at the suicide of a woman in his building.

Within it, we find that Washington's got a ballot initiative, 502, that would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana in a manner similar to our own Amendment 64. Almost all of that state's medical-marijuana dispensaries are against the initiative. (Colorado's are split.)

But there's this, a little-known fact about one side-effect of marijuana, delivered by Frazelle with the full acknowledgement that "the rhetoric is polarized in both directions: The government tells you it's an insidious evil, the activists tell you it's merely an herb."

So take note, maybe:

It is an article of faith among marijuana activists (the sort of people Rosado was surrounded by at the Apothecary) that marijuana is harmless, that anyone telling you that smoking marijuana can lead to a psychotic break is spouting some Reefer Madness bullshit. And it's true that for the vast majority of adults, smoking marijuana does not cause problems. Scientists disagree about whether very heavy marijuana use can cause psychosis in people who would not otherwise become psychotic. But even a hardened skeptic like Dr. Mitch Earleywine—a psychologist on the advisory board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the author of Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific Evidence, and the star of at least one YouTube video passionately poking holes in studies that say marijuana can cause psychosis—says, "If you've had one schizophrenic episode or even something more modest, and then start smoking pot heavily afterwards, you're going to be more likely than not to have a second of those psychotic episodes." Moreover, marijuana will make a psychotic episode worse than it would be otherwise. "I think it's fair to say, if you're psychotic-prone, cannabis is not a good idea," Dr. Earleywine said. "Certainly anyone who has a twin with schizophrenia, a sibling with schizophrenia, a parent with schizophrenia would do well to stay away from the plant." People with bipolar disorder are also prone to psychosis and should only use marijuana "with extreme caution."

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