According to a new study published in Lancet Psychiatry, the answer to the question “is cannabis addictive” is an astounding yes. The authors claim that people who use cannabis with higher concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, are more likely to have an addiction and mental health issues.
But how much of this is a chicken and egg problem? Do people with “addictive personalities” and mental health issues gravitate toward cannabis use as a means of self-medication? Or does cannabis cause these issues?
These are standard questions, but a better solution is to break that paradigm down completely. It isn’t a question of cause and effect but of narrative. What exactly is “addiction?” And is framing mental processes in terms of “health” the best way to solve psychological issues?
Of course, CNN didn’t ask the senior study author these questions. They low-balled their questions so he could give the textbook answers. That “high-potency cannabis… was linked to a four-fold increased risk of addiction.”
Details of the Study
The study says it’s “the first systematic review of the association of cannabis potency with mental health and addiction.” Although they admit that the “included studies were observational studies” and thus cannot establish causation. Nor do they attempt to, suggesting that further studies of a more rigorous nature will “strengthen the evidence of this association.”
But what is the evidence?
They looked at 20 observational studies. Genuine scientific inquiry tests specific interventions against a control group. The only way to scientifically establish that cannabis is addictive and will lead to mental health problems is by doing an experimental study.
The conclusions are suspect if the results aren’t from a randomized, double-blind clinical trial. How else can you truly determine a cause between two or more variables?
Many observational studies may confirm a link between poor mental health, addiction, and “cannabis use disorder.” But it’s a chicken and egg problem. Do people with poor mental health and “addictive personalities” become obsessive cannabis users? Or does cannabis turn one into a hopeless “addict?”
All this recent Lancet study showed was a correlation. And the first thing you learn in a statistics course is that correlation does not equal causation.
Would the study’s authors go on CNN and promote the correlation between ice cream sales and homicide?
What about importing Mexican lemons to prevent highway deaths? Or preventing swimming pool drownings by banning Nicolas Cage movies? Isn’t it curious that global warming began with the end of the Cold War?
Observational research can give us insights into connections between lifestyle and risks of a specific disease.
But all they can do is show correlation.
And who says mental health and addiction are diseases, anyway? Is having “cannabis use disorder” like having heart disease or cancer?
Is Cannabis Addictive? Why Don’t Africans Seek Treatment?
In the last ten years, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction has reported a 76% increase in people entering rehab for cannabis use. The CDC reports that 3 in 10 people in the US have “cannabis use disorder.”
The study’s senior author told CNN that the “proportion of people seeking treatment for cannabis addiction has risen in all world regions apart from Africa.”
But why is that? Like the rest of the world, African nations are liberalizing their laws. UNODC estimated that in 2005 there were about 38.2 million cannabis users in Africa, about 7.7 percent of the population aged 15 to 64.
And that number has only increased, as, in 2018, an estimated 20.8 million people smoked cannabis in Nigeria alone.
So why aren’t Africans seeking treatment for cannabis addiction or “cannabis use disorder?” Are they too poor? Do they have no rehabilitation centres to go to? They have plenty of rehabilitation centres for alcoholics, so that’s not the problem.
Perhaps addiction and mental health are cultural phenomena?
Is Cannabis Addictive? What is “Cannabis Use Disorder?”
Is cannabis addictive? Is “cannabis use disorder” real just because people identify with it? Consider the subtle but substantial differences in thinking about addiction.
On the one hand, we have the statements one would expect from a traditional Western belief in addiction and mental health.
On the other hand, we have statements stripped of their cultural baggage and left with bare universal facts, however uncomfortable.
Standard Belief: addiction is when outside forces – like cannabis – have the power to enslave you, making you do things you don’t want to do.
What the Facts Say: Cannabis is a dried flower. It doesn’t have any innate power of control.
Standard Belief: The individual is powerless over the allure of high-potency cannabis.
What the Facts Say: Each individual acts according to their goals. Cannabis is a lifeless substance without motives. You hold power, not the substance.
Standard Belief: Addiction is real, and treatment is needed to overcome it.
What the Facts Say: Some heavy substance users may require medical detox for their own safety. Fortunately, cannabis is not one of those substances. No one needs rehab or treatment to end or moderate their cannabis use.
Standard Belief: You cannot choose to stop. You cannot choose to moderate. Addiction overpowers your individual choices.
What the Facts Say: Your preferences for heavy, moderate or abstinence depend on your state of mind. A substance cannot hijack your mind and force you to do things you don’t want to do.
Is Cannabis Addictive? Does it Lead to Poor Mental Health?
The study’s lead author said, “The evidence linking cannabis potency to addiction and psychosis was very clear.” If you define “linking” and “evidence” by the results of observational studies rather than randomized controlled trials.
And no serious researcher does.
But the issue is more profound. We’ve already established that “cannabis use disorder” is a symptom of a person’s beliefs. It is not reflective of some objective reality. And the same is valid for mental health.
In The Myth of Mental Illness: Foundations of a Theory of Personal Conduct, psychiatrist Thomas Szasz criticizes and argues against the concept of mental health. Szasz says psychological problems aren’t diseases and that “mental illness” is an inappropriate metaphor. According to Szasz, there cannot be an illness of the mind since the mind isn’t physical. It’s metaphysical.
Szasz compares modern psychiatry to astrology and argues that it offends the values of freedom and individual autonomy and responsibility. And indeed, a common characteristic of authoritarian left-wing regimes is to silence political dissidents by “diagnosing” them with mental illnesses.
Szasz argues that a person must be taught personal responsibility instead of trying to “cure” them with pharmaceuticals. Psychotherapy is not a tool to help people recover from illnesses but to help them “learn about themselves, others, and life.”
And although the book came out in 1961, its thesis is still valid. Perhaps more now than ever. Dissident opinions are increasingly considered harmful misinformation. My flat-out rejection of addiction and mental health concepts isn’t just one person’s opinion. It’s basically violence.
But words aren’t violence, and cannabis is not addictive.
What is “Cannabis Use Disorder,” then?
Someone with “cannabis use disorder” is someone who finds benefits in consuming cannabis. Authors of the Lancet study would no doubt conclude that someone who compulsively smokes cannabis must be the victim of some powerful force overriding their free will.
But there is zero evidence to support that. It seems very unscientific to believe a “higher power” can force you to do something.
How does cannabis force you to consume it? It’s a habit, no doubt. And habits can be tough to break, especially if you enjoy them. Yet, at what point does cannabis climb inside your mind and override your fundamental preferences? How does it do it?
There is no such thing as “cannabis use disorder.” There is no such thing as a cannabis addiction.
The mind and brain are two different things. To quit, you have to want it. You can’t deprive yourself of something you like and call it a disease. Cannabis (or any other substance, including alcohol) doesn’t have special magic powers.
THC feels good. That’s why some of us enjoy it. Even if to the detriment of our responsibilities. That’s a different problem. THC doesn’t take control of a person. People consuming cannabis to the detriment of their duties is not a symptom of something harmful or dangerous about cannabis. Nor is it a mental illness.
Somebody claiming to suffer from “cannabis use disorder” is somebody suffering from bad ideas. Put there by an entire cottage industry of rehabilitation centres and treatment busybodies. Heaven forbid they find new lines of work.
Public health technocrats need power over you. It’s not enough for you to stay away from cannabis and purchase patented pharmaceuticals. They want to control your mind as well. They want you to believe the same things they do.