New Study Highlights Increased Risk of Schizophrenia from Marijuana Use
A new study out of Denmark has revealed that up to 30% of schizophrenia cases in young men may be linked to marijuana use. The findings coincide with the steady increase in cannabis use over the last decade as more and more states legalize recreational use of the drug. Experts say a combination of cultural and legal shifts have prompted people to see marijuana in a more positive light and have led to a sharp increase in addiction and related health problems.
The study, published in this month’s edition of Psychological Medicine, also found that “the proportion of new schizophrenia cases linked to cannabis use disorder has risen consistently since the 1970s, likely due to the increasing potency of the drug that many view as harmless.”
As reported by National Review, Delaware recently became the 22nd state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, with Minnesota on the cusp of doing the same. Ohio and Florida are also moving toward legalization of the drug. With this relaxation of restrictions on cannabis has come a massive spike in usage. The National Institutes of Health reported in 2022 that marijuana use has reached the highest levels ever recorded since the trends were first studied in 1988. “The proportion of young adults who reported past-year marijuana use reached 43% in 2021, a significant increase from 34% five years ago (2016) and 29% 10 years ago (2011).”
Observers are seeing a cultural shift in how marijuana use is viewed among young people. Jaime Zerbe, chief of staff for the advocacy group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, recently joined the Outstanding podcast to discuss this phenomenon and the health effects of cannabis use.
“If you ask [Generation Z] if it’s safe to smoke cigarettes, almost all of them will say no,” she explained. “Everybody knows that because we’ve had decades of public health advertising and public health efforts to educate people on the dangers of smoking cigarettes. But if you ask that same group of 100 young people if marijuana is safe … to consume, we’re looking at like 60-plus percent of them that will say, ‘Yeah, it’s totally fine.’ … I’ve seen statistics that have said that 20% of high school seniors are using marijuana at some point in their high school senior year. So this is really taken over as the new tobacco.”
As Zerbe went on to observe, a popular myth is that marijuana is not addictive in the same way that nicotine is.
“One in three people who are using this meet the criteria for an addiction,” she noted. “Among 12 to 17-year-olds in legal states, they are 25% more likely to develop an addiction to marijuana.” Zerbe further related how an increasing number of people are seeing the effect of cannabis in their family member’s lives. “I had somebody standing waiting for the commuter train … and I started talking to them and they said, ‘Oh, my goodness, my nephew has been using marijuana for, you know, however long, and we had no idea it was an addictive thing.’ … They’re seeing family members impacted by this and they’re realizing it, unfortunately, through their own personal experience.”
With the expanded “legalization, commercialization, and normalization” of the drug that has taken place, as Zerbe described, have come a spike in adverse health effects. “You’ve got an increased risk of heart problems. Marijuana use is [also] linked to cancer. It increases the risk of psychosis five times among daily users, increases the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors, and is associated with dependance on other drugs, alcohol, tobacco, [and] opioids.”
She also pointed out the effect that marijuana use is having on public health. “We’re looking at more drug driving crashes in these legal states. Now, one in four fatal car crashes in Colorado involve THC [the psychoactive substance that produces the high in marijuana].”
As to the argument that states can increase revenue for the public good by legalizing marijuana and taxing its sale, Zerbe underscored that the economics don’t bear this out. “Colorado Christian University did a study where they … examined the costs of legalization,” she explained. “That included things like high school dropout rates, more hospitalizations, and these car crashes. … [F]or every $1 they brought in, it cost them $4.50 to offset some of the costs of legalization.”
Outstanding podcast host Joseph Backholm responded by commenting on how this study illustrates how interconnected society is.
“[T]here’s a … theological and moral reality that you can’t just do harmful things without consequences,” he argued. “[I]t sounds nice to [say], ‘My body, my choice … and just do whatever you want to do and have everybody just be free to be themselves.’ But we know when people are indulging themselves in harmful ways, as we are inclined to do as humans, there are social costs of that. … C.S. Lewis talked about communities and society [as being] essentially a fleet of ships sailing along the ocean together. And every one of those ships has an interest in the steering mechanism in all of the other ships.”
“Morally speaking, that’s how we are as communities,” Backholm, who serves as senior fellow for Biblical Worldview and Strategic Engagement at Family Research Council, asserted. “And if we don’t have that basic function as humans, we end up running into each other and causing all sorts of problems. … [What] we’re seeing here is proof of that reality, that there’s this balance between what we can tell people to do, what we can require, and what we shouldn’t require, right? Because freedom is still a legitimate human interest. But the fact is, nobody just affects themselves.”
Dan Hart is senior editor at The Washington Stand.