In last month’s issue of the distinguished British medical journal Lancet (July 23, 2007), researchers reported that smoking marijuana increases the risk of psychosis later in life. The scientists tracked the records of tens of thousands of people to examine the effect of marijuana on their mental health. They found that people who used marijuana had a roughly 40% higher chance of becoming a psychotic; smoking every day or weekly increased the users risk for psychosis from 50% to 200%.

The researchers concluded that marijuana is not as harmless as many people think. At the same time, however, they admitted they could not prove that it was the marijuana that increased the risk of psychosis. All it means is that people who become psychotic later in life have smoked marijuana (who knows what other drugs they’ve done — and undoubtedly also drank milk as children). That hardly proves causality. Here’s another example: this month’s Annals of Plastic Surgery reported that women who receive breast implants are 3 times more likely to commit suicide — this does not mean breast augmentation causes women to kill themselves.

My personal and professional opinion is that it’s not the pot and it’s not the procedures, it’s the people. I am a scientist and like to subject my hypotheses to serious scientific inquiry, but serious research on marijuana is not possible in the United States. The federal government has a monopoly on research-grade marijuana and the authority to stifle independent research.

Professor Lyle Craker, Ph.D., director of the Medicinal Plant Program at the University of Massachusetts has been trying for six years to obtain a DEA Schedule 1 license to manufacture marijuana exclusively for privately funded, federally-approved research. The DEA first claimed his application was lost; thereafter, they didn’t respond for another two and a half years, so Craker sued the DEA for unreasonable delay. In February 2007, a DEA Administrative Law Judge, Mary Ellen Bittner, issued a decisive opinion recommending that Dr. Craker’s application be approved. But Judge Bittner’s decision is nonbinding, which means that Federal authorities can choose to ignore it. Practitioners and growers in states where marijuana reform legislation allows for its medical use are still prosecuted, because in 2005, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the federal government can enforce federal marijuana laws anywhere they want to.

Patients, doctors, and scientists have systematically been obstructed in their ability to perform and participate in privately funded FDA approved research. We need more credible research instead of fright tactics, because it is keeping us from helping patients for whom it can be profoundly beneficial.