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Crazy Over Cannabis
The link between marijuana and psychosis
Nicolas van der Leek (Nick)     Print Article 
Published 2007-01-09 00:46 (KST)   
At the end of last year I had a conversation with a woman whose husband had recently been institutionalized. When she began to describe her husband's behavior, I inwardly reacted by thinking: "She's probably just bitter." Except that her children agreed with her assessment of their father's craziness, and it was based on at least a decade of accelerating brokenness and dysfunctional patterns.

The family's assessment of the father was not dark, brooding, or vengeful but a sort of lighthearted we-give-up weariness. Since I had read an article on cannabis and its impact on mental stability, I referred to it, and she immediately affirmed her husband's habit of using cannabis.

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So it came as something of a shock that a friend of mine, so soon after being privy to the above revelation, confided in me that his wife was also inclined to periods of "craziness." I asked him if she'd used cannabis, and he responded that she had and told me that when she was a supermodel (winning the same modeling competitions as South African actress, Charlize Theron).

She had graduated from cannabis to the designer drugs as well. The result, he told me, was that even in the safety of marriage, and the conventional domesticity of being a young mother, his wife would sometimes watch TV (without it being on), or have conversations with invisible people, or burst out laughing for no apparent reason. It reached the point where they agreed that she'd spend some time in hospital to aid a recovery and treatment of the psychosis.

The sister of a close friend of mine also used cannabis while she was a teenager. At the time, cannabis seemed to be harmless. She is now 28 years old, but the concern remains. What are the long term effects of the active ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol? British Psychiatrist Robin Murray (and a leading expert on mental health in Britain) has discovered that cannabis, almost without exception, exacerbates the symptoms of people already suffering from mental health problems. But even worse, Murray warns that using cannabis can actually contribute to the onset of psychosis, implying that someone who would otherwise remain mentally healthy their whole lives, runs the risk of going crazy later in life depending on the level and onset of exposure to the active ingredient. Vitally important is when an individual first encounters the active ingredient.

In the British Medical Journal (2002), Louise Arsenault (a colleague of Murray's) concluded that starting on cannabis by the age of 15 increased the risk of psychosis by 450 percent. That's another way of saying that exposure to cannabis at a very early age will almost certainly cause manifestations of severe mental disturbances in later life. That may sound fairly benign, but when referring to the horror stories of the divorced woman above, the reality of these mental disturbances are nothing less than an awful and unwanted companion. Imagine someone you love becoming more and more involved in increasingly socially upsetting situations. They may appear funny and harmless at first, but eventually when your husband arrives somewhere with no clothes on, is continuously unable to sleep at night and becomes essentially asexual, the constant disconnectedness becomes a burden.

Research indicates that there are cannabinoid receptors in the brain, and it's likely that cannabis (like cocaine) increases dopamine levels. This increased level of dopamine is a well known predictor of increases in psychotic episodes.

The bottom line then is that teenagers should be very careful using cannabis: meaning, if at all possible, rather don't. For adults, the occasional spiff won't be particularly harmful, but daily injections of the active ingredient into the brain over several years will clearly improve your chances of suffering from schizophrenia and other mental diseases. We're not talking about mere depression here; we're talking about a predisposition to mental sickness being enhanced by a drug that many people don't even consider to be a drug.

So there is a sort of chemical balance at work here. If you start your life regularly firing up your dopamine levels and getting high, you may well spend the back end of your life on anti-psychotic drugs, using drugs to stop you from behaving irrationally on a continuous basis. These drugs suppress not only the madness, but also the ability to think fresh thoughts.

I would suggest that young people be exposed to the benefits and the endorphin high associated with cardiovascular exercise, like running, cycling or swimming, from an early age. Training (in terms of regular physical exercise) at an early age is also a habit that isn't easily undone in later years, and there is no reason it shouldn셳 continue throughout the course of a healthy life.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Nicolas van der Leek

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