More Lying with Statistics — The Drug Czar’s at it again

Several people today have been sending me a variety of articles out there that have combined the story of how the government’s war on drugs has turned into a war on marijuana (that I reported earlier) and a report from the Drug Czar’s office that supposedly demonstrates a brand new link between marijuana and mental illness!
Yahoo: Feds Sound New Warning About Marijuana Use

Government officials say recent research makes a stronger case that smoking marijuana is itself a causal agent in psychiatric symptoms, particularly schizophrenia.

“A growing body of evidence now demonstrates that smoking marijuana can increase the risk of serious mental health problems,” said John P. Walters, director of the White House Office of Drug Control Policy.

Administration officials pointed to a handful of studies to make their case. One, from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, found adult marijuana smokers who first began using the drug before age 12 were twice as likely to have suffered a serious mental illness in the past year as those who began smoking after 18.

CNN: Research: Youths risk mental health with pot use. Lots of the same stuff (and note the funky generic “drug” picture for illustration), but CNN’s Paul Courson at least gets a point for this paragraph:

Walters did not directly address the possibility of confusing cause and effect — that is, that people with mental problems might be more inclined to use drugs.

The thing is, this is not a new study — the release was timed to disrupt the other news today (the Sentencing Project report and the press conference about the States’ Rights to Marijuana Act). This is merely another crunching of numbers in another way from the SAMHSA datasets (see my earlier report.
Here is the entirety of the information that they have put together in this “report”.

  1. 18.5 million Americans (over 8 percent) apparently have a Serious Mental Illness.
  2. Those who are now over 18, but first tried marijuana before the age of 12, were twice as likely to be classified as “having a serious mental illness” in the past year as those who didn’t try marijuana until they were over 18.
  3. This was based solely on asking people questions in a survey.

Yep. That’s the startling “growing body of evidence now demonstrates that smoking marijuana can increase the risk of serious mental health problems” that Walters was talking about.
I call Shenanigans (and a whole lot more).
First, there is absolutely no evidence of causality here. Is it any surprise that kids who are in a family, peer, and community situation that allows or encourages the use of marijuana at age 10 or 11, might also, for reasons totally unrelated to marijuana use, have self-esteem issues later in life?
But the Czar is just humping data trying to get something to fall out in another way that he can use (and naturally I had to go dig through that data again today when I had much better things to do). And of course, there was plenty he avoided, such as:

Although SMI [Serious Mental Illness] is somewhat correlated at the individual level with past month use of an illicit drug, the correlation at the State level among persons aged 18 or older was fairly low (0.11). The correlation at the State level between SMI and past month use of cigarettes was slightly higher (0.27). This finding is consistent with literature that shows some correlation at the individual level between smoking cigarettes and SMI (Arday et al., 1995; Kessler et al., 2003; Romans, McNoe, Herbison, Walton, & Mullen, 1993; Woolf, Rothemich, Johnson, & Marsland, 1999).

That’s right. A higher correlation with smoking cigarettes than using drugs. Still a bunch of useless information when it comes to showing causality.
But wait — what’s this business about 18.5 million people having a Serious Mental Illness? Wow! With those odds, that means a lot of my friends are seriously mentally ill. (By these odds, there’s at least someone in the Drug Czar’s office that’s seriously mentally ill, but Duh!) So what is the definition of someone who is seriously mentally ill?
Well, the reports that the Czar uses dances around it a lot with such language as:

Serious mental illness, or SMI, is defined in this report according to the definition stipulated in Public Law (P.L.) 102š321, that is, having at some time during the past year a diagnosable mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder that met the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition (DSM-IV) (American Psychiatric Association [APA], 1994) and resulted in functional impairment that substantially interfered with or limited one or more major life activities.

Then I discovered that “SMI was assessed… using the six-item K6 scale.” Ah, and what is the K6 scale? A series of six questions that interviewers asked as part of this overall drug survey.
And here they are:

Most people have periods when they are not at their best emotionally. Think of one month in the past 12 months when you were the most depressed, anxious, or emotionally stressed. If there was no month like this, think of a typical month.

  1. During that month, how often did you feel nervous? (All of the time, Most of the time, Some of the time, A little of the time, None of the time)
  2. During that same month… how often did you feel hopeless?
  3. During that same month… how often did you feel restless or fidgety?
  4. During that same month… how often did you feel so sad or depressed that nothing could cheer you up?
  5. During that same month… how often did you feel that everything was an effort?
  6. During that same month… how often did you feel down on yourself, no good, or worthless?

One of the things that absolutely makes my head explode is that these people have the audacity to claim that medical marijuana doesn’t have sufficient scientific studies to validate its use, and then they try to feed us this junk pseudo science to justify their stupid, petty, taxpayer-funded rape of the American people.

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