By Laura Stack
Despite evidence to the contrary, many marijuana users choose to believe their favorite drug works as a viable medicine for all kinds of ailments, physical and mental. Pro-marijuana web sites love to promote marijuana as an “alternative medicine,” good for whatever ails you, just as their Big Tobacco and snake oil predecessors did with their products. In many states, it’s easy to get marijuana legally. Even in states that only allow medical marijuana, all an 18-year-old young person needs to do is go to one of many “pot shops” or “weed clinics” run by pill-mill doctors, feign an illness or migraine, and get a pot prescription. The “medical” marijuana then filters down from young adults to adolescents. I know because my 14-year-old son started using marijuana obtained from his friend’s older brother who was a senior in high school and had a med card. And then my own son became the high school dealer at 18 when he got his med card and sold it to children.
Proponents often hype stress, insomnia, sadness, and mood disorders like anxiety and depression as conditions that respond well to marijuana. But the scientific consensus is that marijauna either doesn’t help most mood disorders or makes them worse. One simple example: studies show that anxiety increases between episodes of marijuana use, rather than decreasing as it would if marijuana was an effective treatment. Some users even have panic attacks while using.
A new study published January 21, 2021 in JAMA Pediatrics, “Association of Cannabis Use With Self-harm and Mortality Risk Among Youths With Mood Disorders,” makes it very clear Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD) is a high risk factor for self-harm and death among youths 10-24. As the authors conclude, “Cannabis use disorder is a common comorbidity and risk marker for self-harm, all-cause mortality, and death by unintentional overdose and homicide among youths with mood disorders. These findings should be considered as states contemplate legalizing medical and recreational marijuana, both of which are associated with increased CUD.”
This was no small study. It included 204,780 youths with CUD from the state of Ohio, USA, during the period from July 1, 2010 to December 31, 2017. Their average age at the diagnosis of a mood disorder was 17.2. Medicare claims (for self-harm) and death certificates for this group were analyzed and cross-referenced. The stats associated with CUD were significantly increased frequencies of “nonfatal self-harm, all-cause mortality, and deaths by suicide, unintentional overdose, motor vehicle crashes, and homicide.”
Some of these causes of death, especially homicide, may have sociological elements, associated with the culture of marijuana. Most have mental/psychological components. Now, some observers might point out that this study applies only to Ohio and does not represent the entire United States as a whole. But it does represent what most would consider a relatively tame portion of Middle America, roughly the norm that most Americans follow after more than a century of “Melting Pot” media.
A Quick Aside About Comorbidity
Comorbidity means a patient has two or more illnesses or ailments at once: a simple statement of fact, rather than a judgment about causality. In the JAMA pediatrics article, the authors made no attempt to determine whether the mood disorders that were comorbid with CUD in their cohort were caused by CUD, caused the CUD, or resulted from a feedback interaction between the two.
Their conclusion was simply that CUD, caused by heavy marijuana use, is associated with an increased incidence for all these factors in later life. This confirms a great deal of previous research, indicating a report that self-harm is associated with cannabis use in some countries or regions (in this case, in Norway but not England). Though a genetic component may control the association between cannabis use vs. self-harm and depression, exactly how any such associations may work is still uncertain. Either way, it’s harmful.
Speaking of Fodder…
So, cannabis is NOT a good medicine for treating mood disorders. Marijuana abuse may actually make them worse (a likelihood covered here in detail). However, the problem here—and it’s a big one—is how we can get the message from the choir (us) to the general public, including our misinformed children and adolescents. Frankly, young users, who often seeking the thrill of the illicit even as they medicate themselves, don’t consult the medical literature. They’d rather buy what pro-pot web sites are peddling. Marijuana sites of course avoid reality altogether, preferring feel-good philosophy and profit to accuracy—or human health, for that matter. Ultimately, the youths in question might not understand that in trying to help themselves, they’re hurting themselves even more.
Most of what young people will find and read on the Internet and social media (their go-to sources for everything) about the potential dangers of marijuana is wrong, whether through ignorance, deliberately, or because the authors reject anything they don’t care to believe. In my faith, Satan is known as The Father of Lies. This campaign of misinformation about marijuana’s harmlessness makes marijuana the Fodder of Lies. So many myths, misperceptions, outdated information, and outright lies about marijuana’s safety appear online that it can be near-impossible for a young person to learn the truth—particularly if they want to believe marijuana is beneficial.
And note that I use the term “fodder” very deliberately here, in its proper sense: as dried vegetation fed to cattle, as in this week’s illustration. Unfortunately, many teen users seem willing to be led around by the nose by the addiction-for-profit industry, who makes attractive promises using marijuana as their fodder.
As with tobacco and booze, even pro-marijuana advocates who accept the scientific evidence seem to take a laissez-faire, caveat emptor attitude to pot use for children: “Proceed at your own risk. You know the dangers. You’re an adult, and it’s your decision.” But many users aren’t adults and don’t know all the dangers. Even scientists don’t know all the dangers yet; more seem to appear every week.
The JAMA Pediatrics study, with its huge sample size, is the latest word on the association between cannabis use and mood disorders—but it certainly won’t be the last. It may be a century before we know all the health repercussions of cannabis use, especially in this age of increasing pot potency. Meanwhile, revelations like these will, for those of us in the frontlines, continue to be eye-opening—but no longer surprising.