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Study: Significant number of young men could have been spared schizophrenia had they avoided marijuana

Photo by David Canales/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

New research has provided additional support for the previously established link between marijuana use and schizophrenia, further revealing that thousands of young men with a predisposition to madness have needlessly lost their minds.

A team of Danish researchers associated with the Copenhagen Research Center for Mental Health executed a deep dive into Danish health histories from 1972 to 2021, examining the health records of roughly 6.9 million people.

Their analysis has fleshed out additional insights into the role that delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC: the primary psychoactive component of cannabis) has in the triggering and/or worsening of mental illness, schizophrenia in particular.

The team indicated in their study, published Thursday in the journal Psychological Medicine, that not only are young men especially susceptible to the effects cannabis has on schizophrenia, but up to 30% of schizophrenia diagnoses could have been averted had men in the 21 to 30 age range not abused cannabis.

Carsten Hjorthøj's team noted that among the broader age range of 16 to 49, "approximately 15% of recent cases of schizophrenia among males in 2021 would have been prevented in the absence of CUD [cannabis use disorder]; by contrast, among females, 4% of recent cases of schizophrenia would have been prevented if they did not have CUD."

The researchers indicated this is not a problem soon going away, granted the recent liberalization of laws around the drug, massive uptake worldwide, and ever-increasing marijuana potency alongside a rising rate in schizophrenia diagnoses.

"For example, in Denmark, the incidence of schizophrenia steadily increased from 2000 to 2012, and the schizophrenia population attributable risk fraction (PARF) for CUD increased three- to fourfold over the past two decades, parallel to increases in THC concentration," wrote the researchers. "The increased THC content may thus, along a potential increase in the prevalence of CUD, be a main driver of the population-level increase in PARF between CUD and schizophrenia."

Hjorthøj underscored that "while this isn’t proving causality, it’s showing that the numbers behave exactly the way they should, under the assumption of causality."

The researchers stressed that prospective pot users should not take the drug lightly, reported Scientific American.

"People are their own agents," said Hjorthøj. "They can decide for themselves. But they should, if they do use cannabis, decide based on proper data and not from a story that cannabis is completely harmless and maybe even something everybody should use, which I think is the way the public discourse is moving."

Nora Volkow, a co-author of the study, said that the results should prompt "urgent action" and reconsideration of marijuana use, reported the Daily Mail.

"The entanglement of substance use disorders and mental illnesses is a major public health issue, requiring urgent action and support for people who need it," said Volkow. "As access to potent cannabis products continues to expand, it is crucial that we also expand prevention, screening, and treatment for people who may experience mental illnesses associated with cannabis use."

Recreational marijuana is fully legal in 22 states and Washington, D.C. In 37 states and D.C., there are comprehensive medical marijuana programs in place, enabling Americans to acquire the drug.

According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 300 people are affected by schizophrenia worldwide.

The National Institute of Mental Health indicated that it is one of the top 15 leading causes of disability worldwide and those afflicted with it have an increased risk of premature mortality.

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