Many have said that truth is the first casualty of war. In the war on drugs, truth died before the first shot was fired. In the US, cannabis prohibition began in 1937 after several years of anti-narcotic propaganda. The intellectual low point of the campaign came in 1936, when the notorious exploitation film Reefer Madness was released.
The original title of Reefer Madness was Tell Your Children. This also happens to be the name of fiction writer and former journalist Alex Berenson’s new book. Nowhere in his book does he acknowledge his title’s irony, yet Berenson’s reference to Reefer Madness is appropriate: Like the movie, his book is ripe with hyperbolic assertions and biased interpretation of scientific literature.
Berenson claims that cannabis use leads to psychosis and violence. He states his thesis just a few pages into the book, claiming that “whether marijuana is dangerous to the brain and can ultimately cause violence is a scientific question, with a hard yes or no answer. We have that answer.”
This absurd promise is the fatal flaw of Berenson’s book. To date, research has not demonstrated a simple connection—let alone a causal connection—between cannabis and violence.
A disclosure: We are physicians who support the legalization and effective regulation of cannabis, based on principles of public health and social justice. We strive to follow the science, even when the science contradicts our conclusion that the harms of cannabis prohibition are far worse than the harms of cannabis use.
In that spirit, we acknowledge one key point of agreement with Berenson: Research does show that cannabis can trigger or worsen psychosis in predisposed individuals. Indeed, we have spent years educating the public about this risk.
Former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders is an honorary board member of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation (DFCR.org), which is the first and only national physicians’ association dedicated to the legalization and effective regulation of cannabis in the United States. Dr David L. Nathan and Dr Bryon Adinoff are board members of DFCR. From 2016-2018, DFCR received 11% of its income from the cannabis industry.
The authors report no conflicts of interest concerning the subject matter of this article.