Cannabis and the Violent Crime Surge

The stigma that once attached to marijuana is gone. Nineteen states have legalized recreational cannabis, and politicians from both parties are increasingly treating it as harmless. When asked about her cannabis use in college during the 2020 presidential campaign, Kamala Harris giggled and said marijuana “brings joy to a lot of people” and “we need more joy in the world.” But the public needs an honest discussion about their social and health risks, which include violence and mental illness.

Alex Berenson, author of Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness and Violence, pointed out that the New York Times had curiously removed a former colleague’s recollection from an article about the Uvalde school shooting, about that he complained grandmother wouldn’t let him smoke weed. The Times did not add a correction to the story, as might be expected when correcting a factual inaccuracy.

Assuming the hidden detail was correct, it would fit into a pattern. Massacres at Rep. Gibby Giffords inaugural assembly in Tucson, Arizona (2011), a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado (2012), Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida (2016), First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas (2017 ) and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida (2018) were reported as marijuana users. It could be a coincidence, but mounting evidence points to a connection.

Shouldn’t grass make you gentle? Maybe if you only smoke a joint occasionally. But the youth today use marijuana more frequently and in higher doses than the elderly did when they were young. This leads to increased addiction and antisocial behavior.

THC, the chemical that causes a euphoric high, interacts with the pleasure neuron receptors in the brain. Marijuana is about four times as potent today, on average, as it was in 1995. But dabs — servings of concentrated cannabis — can contain 20 times as much THC as joints did in the 1960s. It’s much easier for young people to become addicted. One in six people who start using cannabis under the age of 18 will develop an addiction that doctors call “cannabis use disorder.” As they use the drug more frequently to satisfy their cravings, they develop psychological and social problems.

That’s what happened to Colorado teenager Johnny Stack. His mother Laura wrote a harrowing book chronicling his descent into cannabis addiction. He started smoking weed at 14 after Colorado legalized it and has progressed to using stronger products like dabs. He gradually withdrew from social activities and developed psychosis. Substance abuse treatment and a stay in a psychiatric hospital failed to cure him because chronic marijuana use permanently rewired his brain. Insane, he jumped off a six-story building and killed himself. Unfortunately, he is not an anomaly. “People who have taken large doses of the drug may experience acute psychosis that includes hallucinations, delusions, and a loss of sense of personal identity,” states the National Institutes of Health.

Roneet Lev, an addiction specialist who previously ran the emergency department at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego, said in a recent interview with the American Council on Science and Health that visits to California’s cannabis emergency department in the three years after the state switched Legalized recreational marijuana was up 53% in 2016. Daily visits to San Diego’s marijuana emergency room nearly quadrupled between 2014 and 2019.

Cannabis-induced psychosis, she said, is fairly common. Some of the patients she treated have developed cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, which causes “scromiting” — screaming and vomiting — with long-term use. There is no antidote. Some patients spend weeks in the emergency room awaiting placement in a psychiatric hospital.

Countless studies have also linked chronic cannabis use to schizophrenia. A January meta-analysis examining 591 studies concluded that early marijuana use among adolescents was associated with a significant increase in the risk of developing schizophrenia. Researchers have yet to prove a causal link, but the weight of the evidence is hard to dispute.

Some legalization advocates claim that other countries where marijuana is widely available have fewer mental health problems than the US. However, a study out of Denmark last summer found that cases of schizophrenia related to cannabis addiction have increased three to four times over the past 20 years as the potency of marijuana has increased by 200%.

Young people are particularly vulnerable to the effects of cannabis as their brains are still developing. In a recent study, scientists reviewed scans of teenagers’ brains before and after they started using marijuana. They found that parts of the brain involved in decision-making and moral judgments were altered in weed users compared to non-users.

But can pot make people violent? A study last year found that young people with mood disorders such as depression who also smoke weed are 3.2 times more likely to self-harm and die from murder – often after starting violence – than those who didn’t. A meta-analysis found that the risk of engaging in violence was more than twice as high among young adults who used marijuana. It is possible that marijuana can trigger dangerous behaviors in adolescents who are absent for other reasons, such as B. prenatal drug exposure, are predisposed to it.

Also of concern is that legalization is leading to more pregnant women using marijuana. About 20% of pregnant young women in California tested positive for marijuana in 2016. THC crosses the placenta and can affect neurological development. Prenatal exposure to marijuana has been linked to behavior problems, mental illness, and lower academic performance in children and adolescents.

Perhaps it’s time lawmakers and voters reconsider their cannabis legalization experiment before more young lives are harmed.

Ms. Finley is a member of the Journal’s editorial board.

Wonderland: State legalizations of gambling and marijuana prove that the main goal of governments today is to take, rather than help. Images: Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly

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