Is marijuana as safe as we think?

The New Yorker 14 January 2019
Family First CommentA must-read book…
Berenson used to be an investigative reporter for the New York Times, where he covered, among other things, health care and the pharmaceutical industry. He had the typical layman’s view of cannabis, which is that it is largely benign, but he set out to educate himself. Berenson is constrained by the same problem the National Academy of Medicine faced – that, when it comes to marijuana, we really don’t know very much. But he has a reporter’s tenacity, a novelist’s imagination, and an outsider’s knack for asking intemperate questions. The result is disturbing.

Berenson begins his book with an account of a conversation he had with his wife, a psychiatrist who specializes in treating mentally ill criminals. They were discussing one of the many grim cases that cross her desk – “the usual horror story, somebody who’d cut up his grandmother or set fire to his apartment.” Then his wife said something like “Of course, he was high, been smoking pot his whole life.”

“Of course?” I said.

“Yeah, they all smoke.”

“Well … other things too, right?”

“Sometimes. But they all smoke.”

Berenson used to be an investigative reporter for the New York Times, where he covered, among other things, health care and the pharmaceutical industry. Then he left the paper to write a popular series of thrillers. At the time of his conversation with his wife, he had the typical layman’s view of cannabis, which is that it is largely benign. His wife’s remark alarmed him, and he set out to educate himself. Berenson is constrained by the same problem the National Academy of Medicine faced – that, when it comes to marijuana, we really don’t know very much. But he has a reporter’s tenacity, a novelist’s imagination, and an outsider’s knack for asking intemperate questions. The result is disturbing.

The first of Berenson’s questions concerns what has long been the most worrisome point about cannabis: its association with mental illness….

In one of the most fascinating sections of Tell Your Children, he sits down with Erik Messamore, a psychiatrist who specializes in neuropharmacology and in the treatment of schizophrenia. Messamore reports that, following the recent rise in marijuana use in the U.S. (it has almost doubled in the past two decades, not necessarily as the result of legal reforms), he has begun to see a new kind of patient: older, and not from the marginalized communities that his patients usually come from. These are otherwise stable middle-class professionals. Berenson writes, “A surprising number of them seemed to have used only cannabis and no other drugs before their breaks. The disease they’d developed looked like schizophrenia, but it had developed later – and their prognosis seemed to be worse. Their delusions and paranoia hardly responded to antipsychotics.”
www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/01/14/is-marijuana-as-safe-as-we-think

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