Anything that you ingest can be harmful. Too much water can kill. Oxygen catalyses the aging process. The only meaningful answer to this question is a comparison of harms. How harmful is cannabis compared to other substances?
Alcohol is probably the most important comparison because most people use cannabis and alcohol in similar ways – to relax and enhance enjoyment. Of course cannabis also offers enormous therapeutic value which can’t be said of alcohol. Alcohol is a poison, while cannabis is one of the least toxic psychoactive substances known to man.
Since the “Reefer Madness” scare of the 1930s, scientists have been researching links between cannabis use and mental health problems. The issue was raised again following the original reclassification of cannabis to class C and has been used by the prohibition lobby as an argument against cannabis law reform; “cannabis”, they told us “makes you mad”.
Despite the massive increase in cannabis use we’ve seen however, large studies – one actually paid for by the UK government – have shown the incidence of psychosis is either stable or may even be declining. If cannabis did cause mental illness we would have seen a very clear increase in the rates of the illness over recent decades and we have not.
But there is a correlation between cannabis use and mental illness: Ill people have sometimes been heavy cannabis users before they became ill and if they they continue to be heavy users after their illness has developed cannabis frequently makes things worse.
Thing is, if there were any truth in the claims that cannabis can cause mental illness, prohibition is totally the wrong policy to be following. If there are a minority of people at risk from cannabis use, the law should work in such a way as to protect them, instead prohibition puts the most vulnerable in the greatest danger. Treating those you claim to want to protect as criminals is just downright stupid.
If you read some of the newspaper reporting and see some of the alarmist reports on TV you could be forgiven for thinking that psychosis was something created by so-called “skunk”. In fact it isn’t a new illness at all and it has always affected the same group of people – mostly males in their late teens to early 20’s.
The issue of cannabis and mental health is very complex, but is worth understanding. It is, in fact, perhaps the strongest argument against prohibition and in favour of proper regulation of the commercial trade.
See “Does cannabis make you mad?” for more information – click here