• “Tell Your Children” is a controversial book claiming cannabis causes violence and psychosis
  • 75 medical and academic experts have penned an open letter criticising the author
  • One of the experts was actually used as a source in the book
  • 76% of the British public would be open to consuming cannabis as a medicine

A group of 75 academic and medical professionals have condemned Tell Your Children, a popular new book which warns people on the apparent ‘dangers’ of cannabis, describing it as a blatant example of “alarmism” specifically designed to incite public distrust, based “on a deeply inaccurate misreadings of science.”

Last Friday, the 75 penned an open letter slamming controversial author, Alex Berenson, arguing that “establishing marijuana, as a causal link to violence at the individual level is both theoretically and empirically problematic”.

The book focuses primarily on already debunked myths about cannabis, for instance insisting that cannabis causes schizophrenia.

Amongst those who signed the letter were academics from prestigious American universities such as Harvard Medical School, New York University and Columbia University.

A wide range of medical professionals also signed, including care providers, addiction medicine doctors, psychiatrist, psychologists and social workers (i.e. those with real-life experience of cannabis).

In the letter, the experts wrote: “We urge policymakers and the public to rely on scientific evidence, not flawed pop science and ideological polemics, in formulating their opinions about marijuana legalization.”

The experts focused heavily on the damage that prohibition has caused to society, adding:

“Weighed against the harms of prohibition, including the criminalization of millions of people, overwhelmingly black and brown, and the devastating collateral consequences of criminal justice system involvement, legalization is the less harmful approach.”

Berenson’s arguments in the book rely primarily on two studies.

The first was published in 1987 by a Swedish researcher who concluded that “cannabis is responsible for between 10% and 15% of schizophrenia cases”.  

The second study is more recent, published by the National Academy of Medicine in 2017, found “cannabis use is likely to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia and other psychoses; the higher the use, the greater the risk”.

Berenson was so convinced of the arguments presented by the latter that he wrote in the NY Times last month that the issue on cannabis causing psychosis was “settled.”

Ironically, Ziva Cooper, who was actually a board member of the study lauded by Berenson, criticised his claim, tweeting that the researchers only “found an association between cannabis use and schizophrenia.”

Alex Berenson twitter cannabis

Ziva Cooper challenges Berenson’s use of her study to claim cannabis causes psychosis

Berenson named his book after the infamous 1936 propaganda film, Reefer Madness, which was originally released as “Tell Your Children.”

Speaking to the Guardian about being challenged by leading medical experts, the Yale-educated author expressed his surprise by the book’s nearly entirely negative reception (at least within the science community):

“The reaction from people in the advocacy and science community, I’m surprised by their intellectual dishonesty.”

One of those labeled as “intellectually dishonest” by Berenson is Issac Campos, an associate professor of history at the University of Cincinnati, and,  a signer of the letter.

Again, in an ironic twist, Berenson actually cited Campos’s work in his book in a passage about attitudes towards cannabis in Mexico in the early 20th century.

Campos spoke with Vox, telling them that Tell Your Children “pretty badly misrepresented” his argument.

[Berenson] cherry picks the science that he thinks fits his agenda and he disregards the science that doesn’t.
 – Paul Armetano, the deputy director of Norml

Berenson responded to the Guardian:

“I’m sorry that [Campos’] ideology doesn’t let him see what his research found, which is pretty amazing.”

Speaking with the Guardian, Paul Armetano, the deputy director of Norml, an American cannabis advocacy group, explained why he lent his signature to the letter:

“[Berenson] has a biased view.

“He cherry picks the science that he thinks fits his agenda and he disregards the science that doesn’t.”

“Norml is very up front and always has been that cannabis is not innocuous, and that marijuana poses particular risks.

“Berenson is not somehow playing ‘gotcha’ with a group like Norml by trying to highlight or identify the fact that there may be certain apps at risk populations for cannabis.”

It is refreshing to see anti-cannabis propaganda shot down so easily by those in the scientific community in 2019.

While proponents of wider legalisation of cannabis like Berenson are still trying to stoke the dying embers of Reefer Madness, the public’s attitude towards cannabis is generally becoming more positive.

Populus found that, despite Berenson’s contentions that cannabis causes mental illnesses, “the majority of UK public, 76%, would be open to consuming cannabis as a medicine if prescribed to them by a doctor.”

A further “59% of the public would support the legalisation of cannabis in the UK.”

While there may still be a long way to go for the full legalisation of cannabis in the UK, the vast majority of the public is now in support of the ancient herb, despite the attempts from fear-mongers like Berenson.