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No Evidence Cannabis Leads To Schizophrenia In Black Men

Black Britain, 17th June 2006

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Dele Olajide states the black community must vociferously challenge the assumption that smoking cannabis causes schizophrenia in black men and explains how alcohol abuse can lead to increased violence in relationships.

Dr Dele Olajide is a Consultant Psychiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital in South East London. and is using the occasion of National Men’s Health Week, which has focused on mental health this year, to speak out on two issues which he feels have not been properly explored and which are more myth than fact.

The use of cannabis among black men is an extremely controversial area. Cannabis is also referred to as ganga, marijuana, herb, weed or skunk - a more potent form of cannabis favoured by young people. The debate centres on the view of some academics that cannabis use causes psychosis among black people.

As Dr Olajide pointed out, previously the debate was that psychosis was caused by a genetic condition: “But all research on genetics and schizophrenia among black people has not been conclusive,” although some speculate that environmental causes are the reason for the apparent prevalence of schizophrenia among black people, especially black men. But Dr Olajide is not of that opinion: “I myself do not believe that because there is no evidence of direct causality.”

According to Dr Olajide all the research suggests is that cannabis may be contributory along with other factors. If all of the other factors are not present a person could smoke cannabis and it would not lead to psychosis. A large number of people, both white and black smoke cannabis who never develop psychosis.

“What we can say is that if you are predisposed to psychosis or schizophrenia and you start smoking cannabis it is likely to exacerbate your symptoms to make it worse,” he told Black Britain. This is because the experience of paranoia can be intensified with cannabis use. It also intensifies the feeling of being relaxed and causes demotivation, which is a common symptom of schizophrenia.

But Dr Olajide warned: “What we must fight and challenge in the black community is the blanket assumption that cannabis use in the black community is causing an epidemic of schizophrenia. That I disagree with and I think we must resist it and challenge it on every occasion.”

He pointed to the number of people- both black and white who smoke cannabis including undergraduates across the country who do not become schizophrenic and was critical of the suggestion that black people who smoke cannabis do: “Even scientists who advise the Home Office agreed that there is no evidence to suggest a direct link between cannabis use and schizophrenia at the moment,” he said.

Black Britain asked Dr Olajide to comment on the experience of Devon Marsden who was sectioned after being examined by a psychiatric doctor and after being questioned about his cannabis use. His response was that it is common for someone who might experience paranoia for other reasons to be assumed to be suffering from cannabis psychosis when it is learnt that the person smokes it: “That label is increasingly sticking to black men,” he said.

But jumping to such conclusions is dangerous because it prevents investigation into other possible causes of schizophrenia: “For example, racism is a major, major cause of psychological stress in black people. Even people who are so-called ‘normal’ experience a pernicious impact of racism on their lives,” he said.

Dr Olajide said that within the pool of socially deprived black men there will be many who smoke cannabis but this does not necessarily mean that it causes schizophrenia and there is no such evidence to support that theory. Large scale research in Sweden and the Netherlands has looked at this but has found no significant evidence of any associated cause of schizophrenia.

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