Skunk Causes Psychosis, Really?
Recently, research was published exploring the link between different varieties of cannabis and psychosis. The media had a field day with it, but are things as bad as they would have you believe?
Of course not. This new research is flawed, and has been largely misconstrued to suit the anti-cannabis fear-mongering that is so popular where the study was conducted (the UK). The research itself compares a group of first-episode psychosis patients with a control group of the general population – all from the same area of London. Participants were asked if they used cannabis, how frequently they used cannabis, and what type of cannabis they used.
Through this, they established that those who used Skunk on a regular basis were much more likely to develop psychosis, whilst those who use hash were at no more risk than non-users. Using these results, the authors of the study estimate that 24% of psychosis cases could be prevented if cannabis was not used. However, at the same time, the authors clearly state that this is not a causal relationship. We don’t know how they can do this, as it is clear contradiction, but none the less the media has had a field-day with this bit of information - running headlines like ‘cannabis triples psychosis risk’ and ‘super strong cannabis responsible for a quarter of new psychosis cases’. Once again, the power of sensationalism takes over rationalism. Even the Home Office, one of the leading governmental authorities in the UK, jumped on the sensationalist bandwagon and stated this as a prime example why cannabis should remain illegal!
WHY THE MEDIA AND HOME OFFICE ARE WRONG: A DEEPLY FLAWED STUDY
First and foremost, correlation doesn’t mean causation, and to the authors’ credit, is something they recognise. It could very well be that those struggling and at risk of psychosis turn to cannabis.
However, this is not all that is wrong with this study. To put it in very basic terms, this was a questionnaire, retrospectively asking people how much cannabis they use. There is very little scientific control here, as answers are subject to each participants personal interpretations. They have not been observed, had samples tested in the lab, or had pretty much anything they said verified.
Then there is the fact that the researchers have controlled for very few variables. They acknowledge that white males, migrants, and heavy smokers are more likely to develop psychosis, and thus control for it in their results. However, they do not control for such things as alcohol use (which has already recently been shown to be the downfall of another similar study), hereditary factors, socio-economic factors, age, other drugs, and stress. These can all have a huge effect on such a broad and uncontrolled research method, and leave a gaping hole in the validity of their results.
WHAT ABOUT HASH?
What we find very interesting about this study is that they found hash has no increased risk on psychosis. Hash, by its nature, is a form of cannabis concentrate. The researchers and media talk about it like it is a separate strain of cannabis, but it can be made from any variety out there. If it was being made from the same Skunk they are saying causes psychosis, then the hash should in theory be stronger, and much more likely to cause it.
Of course, not all hash IS stronger than the marijuana available on the street, it could have been made impure and from extremely low quality stuff, but in theory, gram for gram, hash should be stronger.
THEY DID SOMETHING RIGHT
Although the results of this research may be flawed, they have done something right, if only in principle; and that is assess the difference between two ‘types’ of cannabis. Although they do not appear to have truly understood what hash is, this is the first study we know of that actually tries to assess a difference, instead of lumping all cannabis together. It is certainly something that should be encouraged, as it can give better insights into how different cannabinoid ratios, such as THC/CBD content, interact with the body.
HOW CANNABIS CAN PREVENT PSYCHOSIS
From one extreme to the other, there have also been recent findings showing that cannabis can be used to treat psychosis, once again putting shame on sensationalist media and government agencies. In fact, it is more than simple theory; the UK based GW Pharmaceuticals are currently testing the damping nature of CBD on psychosis - being one of the major cannabinoids found within cannabis. It is hoped that through this testing, they can release a cannabis based prescription medicine to actively combat psychosis.
Either way, it is important to not take everything you read at face value. Look at the research yourself, and construct your own opinion. Even though there is a growing support for legalised cannabis in the UK, the media still seems to be lagging behind with its scaremongering tactics. Don’t believe the hype!