Reefer madness

A recent story about a rise in mental health hospital admissions “due to the use of cannabis” has found me mulling the whole thing over recently.

Naturally, there are myriad questions. Most stories like this with simplistic causal models – people doing X also have Y, therefore X causes Y – leave me wondering about the actual complexities involved. What else was going on in these people’s lives? Was cannabis really a direct cause? Was it more of a catalyst for something simmering away due to other factors? How many people out there would be driven crazy by their jobs if it weren’t for them being able to wind down with a spliff in the evening?

There’s no doubt – and cannabis users know this better than any sober politician – that any psychoactive drug, when misused, can cause mental problems. Just as a builder’s tools can, when misused, cause a house to fall down. But leaping from this to questions of legality is more insane than any drug-induced delusion. As Timothy Leary said of LSD, psychoactive drugs can cause psychosis in people who haven’t taken them.

Let’s be charitable to these mentally unsound politicians, and humour them a little, try to calm them down a bit. Let’s say that in a small minority of people, cannabis can actually cause psychosis (even though there’s no evidence for that at all). Let’s also consider the slightly less deluded (but equally susceptible to gross media spin) idea that people with latent mental problems can have them triggered by – among other things – cannabis use.

Then, I ask: how are these poor people served by being criminalized and locked up? I’ve never seen any evidence that persecution and prison helps out with mental fragility.

And then, just as importantly, what about everyone else smoking cannabis, people who really like it and have no resulting mental problems – possibly even positive benefits. I wonder: how are these people served by being criminalized and locked up?

You see, when we talk these things through, it becomes a little clearer doesn’t it?

Bill Hicks