Does Cannabis Prohibition Cause Schizophrenia?

R. D. Laing

In The Politics of Experience, the great Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing presents his own understanding on the ultimate causes of schizophrenia. He concludes that schizophrenia is not mainly caused by either genetic or environmental factors but rather “the experience and behaviour that gets labelled schizophrenic is a special strategy that a person invents in order to live in an unlivable situation.”

This is a position that many schizophrenics could themselves agree with. Common to the schizophrenic experience is a sense of having been “skewered” by the world, in that one is doomed if one chooses a certain option but also doomed if one does not choose it. This kind of Catch-22 situation is regularly accompanied by a level of anxiety that is impossible to live with, followed by the mind starting to disintegrate as a way of relieving unendurable levels of stress.

It’s not a position that receives much sympathy from the psychiatric establishment, who are almost all hard-core worshippers of the cult of materialism. Most Western psychiatrists cannot conceive of mental health in any other terms than brain chemistry, and they cannot conceive of treatment in any other fashion than dishing out pills. That someone has been driven insane by society is an unpalatable possibility.

Cannabis use is believed by many to be the cause of schizophrenia, because the association between cannabis use and getting such a mental health diagnosis has long been noted. In the mainstream Western model, it is assumed that the causal relationship of these two variables goes in the direction of cannabis use causing people to develop psychosis and schizophrenia.

This has led to many psychiatrists telling their patients that not only are the patients themselves to blame for their own mental illness (which leads to terrible feelings of guilt and self-recrimination) but that only by avoiding cannabis can they hope to make a recovery.

The problem with this approach is, obviously, that cannabis is medicinal, and the vast majority of cannabis users know this, and so being told such things by a mental health “professional” is confusing, frustrating and enraging.

Getting lectured about what one needs to do to stay mentally healthy by a person who has never had schizophrenia, who has never had any experience with psychosis and who has almost certainly never used cannabis, much less a major psychedelic, is a difficult thing for any person to put up with, let alone an experienced psychonaut. When that person doing the lecturing is actually ignoring one’s own lived experiences with the medicinal qualities of the substance, it’s mind-boggling.

Because of cannabis prohibition, mental health care workers are extremely reluctant to tell the truth about the medicinal qualities of the substance (if they’re even aware of them). After all, if they recommend medicinal cannabis to a patient in a place where it’s illegal, they’re effectively recommending that the patient commit a crime, which comes with various ethical issues.

The problem is that the patient is frequently aware that the mental health care workers are lying by omission, which puts them in an impossible situation – exactly the kind of situation described by Laing as schizophrenogenic. If you have problems knowing what’s real and what isn’t, talking to someone who you know is lying to you while that person is also claiming to be helping you is just too much for the human mind to cope with.

If doctors and psychiatrists are there to help us, why don’t they tell us the truth about the medicine that does so much to relieve abominable suffering? The fact that they refuse to do so only feeds into the perception often held by paranoid schizophrenics – that they really are out to get you. It also makes people wonder if they’ve fallen into a time warp of some kind.

Prohibition of cannabis medicine is so absurd, so ludicrous, that it actually causes mental illness in the people whose lives are affected by it.


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