- - Sunday, January 20, 2019


By Alex Berenson

Free Press, $26, 272 pages

Many people these days, it seems, believe that marijuana is a mostly harmless drug that helps to ease pain and relaxes people, like a good, stiff, alcoholic drink. But like alcohol, the effects of marijuana can be serious and even deadly.

Alex Berenson, a thriller writer and former New York Times reporter, has written a book that exposes the myths of marijuana at a time when many politicians are pushing for nationwide legalization.

In “Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence,” Alex Berenson warns that the chemical in marijuana that causes one to “get high,” 9-tetrahdrocannabinol, commonly called THC, can cause psychotic episodes that can end in violence.

Mr. Berenson opens the book with a story about a woman in Cairns, Australia, who stabbed eight children to death in 2014. Seven of the children were hers and the eighth child was her niece. As Mr. Berenson explains, the woman suffered from psychosis and the mental illness schizophrenia, which can cause hallucinations, delusions and paranoia.

Justice Jean Dalton of the Supreme Court of Queensland ruled that the woman was suffering from mental illness, paranoid schizophrenia and that she had no capacity to know what she was doing was wrong. Justice Dalton also noted that the woman had a history of the use of cannabis since she was in the 9th grade, and that all the psychiatrists thought that it is likely that it is this long-term use of cannabis that caused the mental illness schizophrenia to emerge.

“With those words, Dalton made one of the first judicial findings anywhere linking marijuana, schizophrenia, and violence — a connection that cannabis advocates are desperate to hide,” Mr. Berenson writes.

Mr. Berenson claims in the book that cannabis-linked violence is spreading. He reports that in the four states that first legalized marijuana, murders have risen 25 percent since legalization.

“I know what a lot of you are thinking right now,” Mr. Berenson writes. “This is propaganda. Marijuana is safe. Way safer that alcohol. Barack Obama smoked it. Bill Clinton smoked it, too, even if he didn’t inhale. Might as well say it causes presidencies. I’ve smoked it myself, I liked it fine. Maybe I got a little paranoid, but it didn’t last. Nobody ever died from smoking too much pot.”

Mr. Berenson goes on to note that many will think his arguments silly and think of the ridiculous 1936 film “Reefer Madness.” He writes that he knows what many readers are thinking, as it’s what people have been told for the past 25 years and he once thought so as well.

But Mr. Berenson changed his thinking on the subject when his wife, Jacqueline, a Harvard and Columbia trained-psychiatrist who specializes in evaluating mentally ill criminals, told him that all the mentally ill criminals she evaluated smoked marijuana. She told her husband that all the big studies say this and that he should read them.

He did.

“I am not a scientist or physician,” Mr. Berenson explains. “But I covered the prescription drug industry for The New York Times for years. I learned how to read studies and research papers — and how to ask scientists about drug risks and side effects. Still, as I mentioned, when I began researching marijuana, mental health, and violence, I didn’t expect much.”

“I was wrong.”

Mr. Berenson offers the history of marijuana studies, which dates back 2,000 years, but suggests that more studies are needed. Today, he notes, doctors and scientists have much to learn about the links between cannabis and mental illness.

“Most people will never have a psychotic episode while using marijuana. Some will have temporary breaks from reality. But an unlucky minority of users develop full-blown schizophrenia,” Mr. Berenson writes. “At this point, doctors have no way of predicting who they will be.”

Mr. Berenson writes that the most important finding linking marijuana and psychosis is a 2017 468-page research report issued by the National Academy of Medicine titled “The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids.” The study reported that marijuana does not appear to cause lung cancer. But the study offers less good news when it comes to mental health. The study found strong evidence that marijuana causes schizophrenia and some evidence that it worsens bipolar disorder and increases the risks of suicide, depression and social anxiety disorder.

The higher the use, the greater the risk, the study concludes.

Mr. Berenson offers other studies and interviews with doctors and scientists and he makes a strong case of the linkage of marijuana and mental illness. He also interviews some of the movers and shakers behind the movement that want to legalize marijuana nationwide.

“Tell Your Children” is an interesting book that should be read by all concerned and not written off as merely anti-pot propaganda.

• Paul Davis is a writer who covers crime, espionage and terrorism.

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