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Former New York Times writer Alex Berenson spoke on the risks of mar­i­juana.

The media has failed to report the dangers of mar­i­juana use accu­rately, according to author and former New York Times writer Alex Berenson.

Berenson spoke on Jan. 30 in Hillsdale College’s Plaster Audi­torium.

Berenson’s 2019 book, “Tell Your Children: The Truth about Mar­i­juana, Mental Illness, and Vio­lence,” has drawn attention from oppo­nents and sup­porters alike. Last year, he gave a talk at the Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Con­sti­tu­tional Studies and Cit­i­zenship, a recording of which has received over 800,000 views on YouTube. 

Director of Health Ser­vices Brock Lutz, who intro­duced Berenson, said the Student Affairs Office spon­sored the talk to inform stu­dents of the dangers of mar­i­juana use. 

“Unfor­tu­nately, Amer­icans under the age of 25 have been led to believe that smoking mar­i­juana is barely more dan­gerous than smoking cig­a­rettes, and we wanted someone to come in and dispel those myths,” he said.

Throughout his pre­sen­tation, titled “Cannabis, Mental Illness, and Vio­lence: A Gen­er­ation of Evi­dence (from all over the world, in the world’s best peer-reviewed medical journals),” Berenson cited a range of evi­dence. 

“The medical lit­er­ature is very clear that cannabis is dan­gerous for mental health,” he said. “The idea that it can cause tem­porary psy­chotic episodes and that it is bad for anxiety and depression is not open to question. 

He cited a 1987 study of 50,000 Swedish mil­itary con­scripts who used cannabis at age 18 or 19. Those who used mar­i­juana 10 or more times were twice as likely to develop schiz­o­phrenia and the risk for those who used it 50 or more times increased sixfold. 

A 2002 study in New Zealand checked children for symptoms of psy­chosis at age 11 and began tracking their mar­i­juana use at age 15. It found that even con­trolling for other factors, cannabis use triples the risk of devel­oping psy­chotic dis­orders.

He went on to debunk a few popular beliefs about mar­i­juana use. 

Berenson said that cannabis legal­ization does not prevent opioid abuse. Most people who claim oth­erwise cite an out­dated study, skewed by the fact that mar­i­juana legal­ization started in the western United States, while the opioid abuse epi­demic spread from the east. 

“If it were true, we should see a nationwide drop in opioid use with cannabis legal­ization,” he said. 

He also said that cannabis is not an effective painkiller. According to Berenson, a GW Phar­ma­ceu­ticals clinical trial found no dif­ference in pain-relieving ability between water and a spray con­taining tetrahy­dro­cannabinol, the psy­chotropic com­ponent of cannabis attributed to  easing pain. 

“If a phar­ma­ceu­tical company had proven THC effective, there would be a huge market,” he said. 

Berenson blamed jour­nalists for pro­moting “pro­pa­ganda from the cannabis industry.” 

“The sci­en­tific aspect is important and inter­esting, but even more inter­esting is why you don’t know it,” he said. “This is a giant failure of the people in the media who believed the people in the cannabis industry. Do not trust that the people selling a sub­stance will tell you it’s harmful and addictive.” 

Berenson pointed out that many medical author­ities caution against the risks of mar­i­juana use. The National Academy of Sci­ences, Engi­neering, and Med­icine in 2017 reported that cannabis use is likely to increase the risk of schiz­o­phrenia and other psy­choses, and that the risk increases with higher use. 

In 2019, United States Surgeon General Jerome Adams warned that mar­i­juana use is dan­gerous for youth and pregnant women. Berenson likened Adams’ statement to the Surgeon General’s 1964 advisory against smoking in that both were largely ignored by the public.  

Nonetheless, Berenson said he believes science will prevail.

“It’s going to take us a while to get there, and people will be broken along the way,” he said.

Sophomore Spencer Woodford said he found Berenson’s insight valuable.

“It was infor­mative. What he said was important. People should view mar­i­juana like they would view tobacco,” he said. “We should know more about the harmful effects of mar­i­juana.” 

Sophomore Ellen Hancock said she was not impressed. 

“His evi­dence was one-sided,” she said. “He could have artic­u­lated it much more effi­ciently.”

Mean­while, Lutz said Berenson’s points were con­sistent with his expe­rience.

“I’ve worked in the mental health and sub­stance abuse fields for the last 20 years and have observed the acute and long-term, more insidious con­se­quences of mar­i­juana use,” he said. “Much of Berenson’s writing and research findings support those claims as well.”