Channeling Anslinger: Cracks in a Crackpot Book About Pot


Alex Berenson, a science fiction author and former New York Occasions reporter, has written a book that would make Harry Anslinger blush. Anslinger, of course, was the longtime Federal Bureau of Narcotics director who waged a salacious, racially-charged sleaze campaign against marijuana, “the devil’s weed” that turned individuals into psychotic killers.

Entitled Inform Your Kids: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness and Violence (No cost Press, 2019), Berenson’s screed resurrects numerous of the reality-cost-free memes relentless promoted by Anslinger. It is telling, if you will pardon the pun, that Inform Your Kids was the original title of the notorious anti-marijuana propaganda film, Reefer Madness, released in 1936, which has given that grow to be a cult humor classic amongst cannabis consumers.

Apparently, Berenson didn’t get the joke. Nor did pop sociologist Malcolm Gladwell, who wrote a laudatory synopsis of Berenson’s book in The New Yorker.

Berenson and Gladwell query the scientific consensus that cannabis is 1 of the safest drugs obtainable more than or below the counter. As with any substance that may perhaps impact our wellness, cannabis can have each good and unfavorable effects, which ought to be completely researched and monitored. But Berenson and Gladwell, who are not scientists and who show a glaring lack scientific and statistical literacy, are not interested in weighing the pros and cons of cannabis and assessing the evidence.

Rather, Berenson cherry-picks a worst-case, nightmare situation, a theorized confabulation of inappropriately extrapolated science, exactly where cannabis and its elements bring about mental illness and violence. The outcome is a crackpot argument that no scientist accepts, at least no scientists who have been involved with the actual study getting thrown about.

If you suspend disbelief and ignore all the good proof about cannabis, especially its manifest wellness added benefits, you finish up with a sinister caricature. Berenson’s book is filled with misrepresentations and poor interpretations of study. He and Gladwell assume the worst any time there’s conflicting scientific information or study with regards to possible harm that cannot be replicated. But if it cannot be replicated it suggests it may perhaps not be harmful.

Let’s deconstruct thematically some of the main flaws in this most up-to-date rendition of reefer madness.

Theme 1: Cannabis and mental illness – conflating association and cause.

The central methodology of Berenson’s book and the New Yorker post by Gladwell is to highlight study that suggests any association or hyperlink to cannabis and assume the hyperlink is causative. With that critical predetermination, the plant becomes the de facto bring about in any instance of a mental wellness disorder exactly where cannabis is present in any quantity. The try to attribute illness or a violent occasion to a single aspect reeks of hereditarian and eugenic ideology, which reduces someone’s worth or possible to a single unit or aspect.

But if there’s an association or correlation amongst cannabis use and mental wellness troubles, it does not necessarily imply that cannabis causes mental illness. Nor does it imply that mental wellness will boost if cannabis use is prevented. It could imply just the opposite – that mental illness causes individuals to consume cannabis as a type of self-medication.

“Spurious Correlations” is the name of a web site – with lots of information from the Center for Illness Handle and other sources – that aptly illustrates the folly of conflating association and causality. Google this web site and you will discover numerous examples of hugely correlated phenomena that naturally are not causally related.

Case in point: Are you conscious that there’s a 95 % correlation amongst cheese sales and the quantity of individuals who’ve strangled themselves by their personal bed sheets in the previous 10 or 20 years?  There’s also the classic instance that hyperlinks ice cream sales and drowning (each raise on hot summer season days). These examples may perhaps demonstrate an association or hyperlink but maybe are greater explained by secondary correlations.

Theme two: The higher from THC causes paranoia, delusions and psychotic episodes that lead to violence.

Violence and mental wellness issues are multifactorial. Berenson degrades and obfuscates our understanding of mental wellness and violent crime by blaming the consumption of cannabis for these troubles. He ignores the function that components such as family members history of illness and one’s social atmosphere and financial situations play in affecting numerous outcomes in a person’s life.

Promoted by Berenson and Gladwell, the assumption that cannabis causes mental wellness and violent crime narrows our creativity and prevents us from seeing possible options that lie outdoors of the scope of marijuana’s presumed nefarious influence. This does a enormous disservice to our society. It is specifically cruel to stigmatize individuals with mental wellness issues as violent criminals.

The assumption of a causal hyperlink amongst cannabis and psychotic violence, when threadbare, is also unfalsifiable in a sense for the reason that it is un-debunkable by clinical experiment. If you are claiming that cannabis use is going to bring about schizophrenia, then you cannot ethically give a individual cannabis to test regardless of whether it really causes schizophrenia.

In reality, there’s lots of superior (albeit nonclinical) information that shows cannabis does not bring about schizophrenia. For starters, according to demographic analyses, the enormous raise in cannabis consumption in the United States given that the 1960s has not resulted in a parallel rise in instances of schizophrenia.

1 can say that coffee causes individuals to be jittery if they drink also substantially. But no 1 contends that drinking a cup of coffee will give you interest deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Similarly, also substantially THC, when not fatal, can trigger transitory anxiousness or paranoia, but that does not imply THC causes mental illness. If a drug quickly triggers an practical experience or has an impact that mimics the symptom of a illness, it does not necessarily imply that the drug causes that disease.

Violence, Psychosis &amp the Weather

Important hyperlinks, associations, and correlations are not proof of causation. Right here are a quantity of components – extra so than cannabis – that are strongly connected with increases in violent crime and the threat of establishing mental illness:

  • There is a good correlation amongst earnings inequality and crime prices (the U.S. ranks 3rd amongst the most earnings-unequal nations).
  • Decrease household earnings is connected with enhanced threat for mental illness.
  • Violent crime increases when there is warm climate (regardless of the season).
  • Higher intelligence is connected with establishing mental illness.
  • Increases in violent crimes are connected with enhanced access to liquor.
  • Head injuries are strongly connected with establishing mental illness.
  • Increases in violent crime are connected with higher blood pressure.
  • Having A grades in college are connected with an enhanced threat of establishing bipolar disorder.
  • Smoke from wildfires is connected with increases in violent crime and asthma.
  • Consuming rapid meals, sugar and soft drinks is connected with a greater prevalence of ADHD.
  • Lead exposure is connected with an raise in crime.
  • Larger frequencies of prevalent mental issues (depression and anxiousness) are connected with low educational attainment, material disadvantage and unemployment, and for older individuals, social isolation.
  • Increases in violent crimes are connected with gentrification.

Theme three: Cannabis is a gateway drug and it increases opioid use.

Even the Drug Enforcement Agency has changed its web site data and now concedes there is not adequate proof to help the gateway theory. This is the theory that cannabis consumption inexorably leads to the use of other dangerous drugs.

Undaunted, Berenson and Gladwell (like the Japanese soldiers who emerged from the forest soon after 60 years of hiding and didn’t know the outcome of the war) have revived a quintessential drug war meme, the old gateway gag, the scientifically baseless contention that cannabis is a stepping stone to opiate addiction.

There is emerging proof that cannabis use can be connected with a dramatic reduce in the use of prescription drugs like opiates and benzodiazepines. Scientific study supports the concept that cannabis may perhaps really assistance individuals get off of opiates, alcohol and other drugs. Scientific information does not only undermines the gateway theory, it supports the opposite of Berenson’s worse-case situation for cannabis.

It is correct that some individuals who use cannabis will use other drugs later in life, perhaps even create substance use issues. Nonetheless, most clinicians and drug abuse researchers agree that smoking weed does not drive 1 to use really hard drugs. What drives individuals to use unsafe drugs has a lot extra to do with anxiety, maladaptive coping mechanisms, and exposure to pharmaceutical drugs such as opioids and benzodiazepines  rather than with a handful of puffs of the Funny Stuff.

Theme four: We do not know adequate about the dangers of THC – and there’s a paucity of study supporting the FDA-authorized therapeutic makes use of of THC and CBD.

Berenson and Gladwell dredge up the usual mishmash of unsupported claims: THC is inherently toxic, it damages the brain, and we do not totally recognize the unfavorable influence of this malevolent molecule. They would have us think that there have been no properly-developed research on cannabis items that show therapeutic benefits.

Once more, the opposite is correct. THC is 1 of the most extensively studied drugs in history. Hundreds of peer-reviewed science articles have explored the neuroprotective effects of THC and CBD. There’s no proof that THC and other cannabis compounds kill brain cells – but they can kill brain cancer cells. Preclinical study also shows that cannabinoids, which includes THC and CBD stimulate neurogenesis, the creation of new brain cells, in adult mammals.

THC has undergone rigorous testing and was authorized in a purified type as “Marinol” by the FDA in the mid-1980’s. There are dosing recommendations for pharmaceutical THC and its abuse possible and dangers are properly established. Researchers had to do all that perform, which Gladwell and Berenson denigrate, for THC to grow to be an FDA-approved medicine.

Pharmaceutical THC is a Schedule III substance, a category reserved for medically valuable drugs with minimal abuse possible. CBD is also an FDA authorized medicine (Schedule V). And cannabis terpenes, the plant’s aromatic elements, are normally regarded as protected (GRAS) by the FDA. If all the person elements of cannabis are legal in 1 type or yet another, then why is the plant nonetheless illegal? Do not ask Berenson or Gladwell.


Diverting attention

For Berenson and Gladwell, it is an post of faith that if you legalize cannabis, even just for health-related individuals, it will be simpler for young individuals to access the evil weed and descend into the abyss. But the abuse possible of regulated, standardized cannabis items is minimal and pharmaceutical THC has practically no worth on the illicit marketplace.

Ditto for Sativex, a sublingual tincture with a 1:1 THC:CBD ratio, which is legal in extra than two dozen nations (but not however in the United States). As with Marinol, there’s been tiny, if any, diversion of Sativex. The similar can’t be mentioned for a drug deemed to be hugely addictive such as Oxycontin, aka “hillbilly heroin,” which proliferates on the black market.

Gladwell and Berenson are unable or unwilling to distinguish variations in mental wellness outcomes when cannabis is employed for health-related and recreational purposes, or if cannabis items are acquired by way of a clinician’s supervision, a licensed dispensary or from the street. As far as they are concerned, therapeutic and recreational use are equally perilous.

In his post praising Berenson’s book, Gladwell compares usually unsafe cannabis to “the after extraordinarily lethal innovation of the automobile [which] has been progressively tamed in the course of its history.” But no 1 has ever died from cannabis toxicity. And there’s naturally a major distinction amongst making use of a nonlethal herb and zooming down the road in a metal box just before pedestrians had any rights (the term J Walking was coined to defend the automobile business). What tends to make Gladwell’s argument specifically outrageous is that his analogy is extra suitable for describing opioids currently when extra Americans are probably to die from an opioid overdose than a car crash.

Uncontaminated cannabis

There are other techniques to address public wellness issues about cannabis rather than by way of prohibition and criminalization. Significantly of the danger attributed to cannabis and other illegal drugs comes from what they are contaminated with. Cannabis items would pose tiny threat to public wellness if sensible regulations and rigorous security requirements favored the creation of productive items cost-free from contaminants.

Numerous hemp entrepreneurs and cannabis advocates want the business to be properly-regulated, taxed, and unionized. They want cannabis items to be clinically studied and to meet higher requirements in order to be covered by wellness insurance coverage. For that to come about, cannabis would have to be rescheduled and decriminalized.

Rather of fixating on contrived nightmare scenarios, let’s flip the script and consider what a ideal-case situation may possibly be. Rather than reflexively assuming that extra cannabis study will expose as however unverified harms, let’s assume the opposite. Let’s look at the possibility that if anachronistic study restrictions are removed, health-related scientists will be capable to validate promising anecdotal and preclinical reports by establishing cannabis-primarily based therapy alternatives for numerous pathological conditions.

That would be a thing to inform your children.


Jahan Marcu, PhD, a Project CBD contributing writer, is the Director of Experimental Pharmacology and Behavioral Analysis at the International Analysis Center on Cannabis and Mental Well being.

Additional Reading: The Origins of Reefer Madness and The Return of Reefer Madness.


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