American Elephants

Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence by The Elephant's Child

From the new issue of Imprimus from Hillsdale College:

Alex Berenson is the author of Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence

The following is adapted from a speech delivered January 15, 2019 at Hillsdale College’s Allan P. Kirby Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship in Washington D.C.


Seventy miles northwest of New York City is a hospital that looks like a prison, its drab brick buildings wrapped in layers of fencing and barbed wire. This grim facility is called the Mid-Hudson Forensic Psychiatric Institute. It’s one of three places the state of New York sends the criminally mentally ill—defendants judged not guilty by reason of insanity.

Until recently, my wife Jackie­—Dr. Jacqueline Berenson—was a senior psychiatrist there. Many of Mid-Hudson’s 300 patients are killers and arsonists. At least one is a cannibal. Most have been diagnosed with psychotic disorders like schizophrenia that provoked them to violence against family members or strangers.

A couple of years ago, Jackie was telling me about a patient. In passing, she said something like, Of course he’d been smoking pot his whole life.

Of course? I said.

Yes, they all smoke.

So marijuana causes schizophrenia?

I was surprised, to say the least. I tended to be a libertarian on drugs. Years before, I’d covered the pharmaceutical industry for The New York Times. I was aware of the claims about marijuana as medicine, and I’d watched the slow spread of legalized cannabis without much interest.

Jackie would have been within her rights to say, I know what I’m talking about, unlike you. Instead she offered something neutral like, I think that’s what the big studies say. You should read them.

So I did. The big studies, the little ones, and all the rest. I read everything I could find. I talked to every psychiatrist and brain scientist who would talk to me. And I soon realized that in all my years as a journalist I had never seen a story where the gap between insider and outsider knowledge was so great, or the stakes so high.

I began to wonder why—with the stocks of cannabis companies soaring and politicians promoting legalization as a low-risk way to raise tax revenue and reduce crime—I had never heard the truth about marijuana, mental illness, and violence.


You might want to read this one. The whole issue is here, and you can subscribe to Imprimis at the end. I have enjoyed my subscription. Only comes once a month, and it’s completely free.

2 Comments so far
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I’ve been sharing studies on this for about a decade, now.

And every time, one of the folks who smoked pot when we were in high school goes utterly ballistic, then blocks me.

I recently saw someone online mention they’d never seen a study about this…and I know I’ve posted on the strong association before; about the only folks who are libertarian on drug use who do recognize it theorize that it might be reversing cause and effect– that those who are prone to schizophrenia are highly attracted to heavy pot use. From memory, the evidence in those countries without punishment for smoking pot, and with gov’t health care (so their sample size is the entire youth population) found a rate increase even when you correct for other factors.

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Comment by Foxfier

Marijuana is legal here in Washington State, and our governance is such that information about the effects, like the toll on traffic accidents, doesn’t appear. Pot shops are appearing all over, and investing in the marijuana business at all levels is being pushed, as a winning investment. More and more states are considering legalizing it (they always want another revenue source), and the negatives are not widely publicized. Like California, we have large “homeless” encampments under freeways and bridges. The assumption is that they are all addicts, but we insist on calling them “homeless” as if giving them a place of residence will solve the problems, but the government does not want to have to pay for treatment. Berenson’s book may be a help if it awakens more of the population.

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Comment by The Elephant's Child

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