In the wake of legalization, research into cannabis and its effects has exploded. We now know more about the drug than ever before, with new studies published on a near constant basis.
Unfortunately, the bad news tends to be amplified above the good.
That was the case again last week, when a study published in early May hit the wire services and spread like wildfire.
It's easy to see why the story took off when you read headlines like, "Marijuana linked to mental health risks in young adults, growing evidence shows," from NBC News, or the blunt, "New research shows link between cannabis and psychosis," from NewsNation.
The study in question, published in the journal Psychological Medicine, looked at every person in Denmark who was between the ages of 16 and 49 at any point between 1972 and 2021. It did indeed find a link between cannabis use disorder and schizophrenia in young adults, particularly young men.
In the medical community there is an established and defined definition of cannabis use disorder. Specific criteria must be met for the diagnosis. Simply smoking weed isn't enough, but you wouldn't know that from these sensational headlines.
The phrase "cannabis use disorder" is mentioned in the NBC News and NewsNation stories a combined three times, and neither story makes any attempt to define it. As a result, readers could easily have the takeaway that simply smoking weed is making people go crazy.
It's almost Reefer Madness for the 21st century.
Almost, because unlike the 1936 anti-drug propaganda film now viewed as a comedy more than anything else, this study and others like it are real and they are concerning. The connection between cannabis use disorder and schizophrenia that they show appears genuine.
Cannabis users should be made aware of these potential risks.
Just like they should be made aware of potential benefits. Unfortunately, the mantra of "if it bleeds, it leads" is still too prevalent in some corners of the news media. Which explains why stories about young people smoking weed and developing mental health issues are going viral right now.
They're a lot easier to package than a story on, say, another study from early May in which the American Medical Association found that cannabis use led to significant quality of life improvement for people with chronic health issues.
The scientific community continues to learn about cannabis, both good and bad, and as consumers it's important to understand that there's always more to the story. ♦