Mad Mix of Mental Illness and Marijuana?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Stone explored what can be ascertained about Jared Loughner's mental state ahead of the Tucson shooting.

Arizona's shooting just a few days ago is just the latest mass casualty shooting in the U.S in recent years five years. Two other high-profile cases at Virginia Tech in 2007 and Fort Hood in 2009 stoked conversations about mental illness and weapons. The Tucson massacre, as did the other shootings, has ramped up the political talk for better gun control legislation around mental health.

Jared Loughner, the accused gunman in Saturday's shooting, had symptoms that lead Dr. Michael Stone to believe he may have been mentally unstable and Stone says his apparent heavy use of marijuana can tell us a lot as well. According to Stone, using marijuana at an early age can not only exacerbate mental illness, but can even cause it.

There's a certain proportion of adolescents who are very susceptible to the effects of marijuana and if they abuse it before the age of 17 or 18, they're very likely to begin having persecutory ideas, paranoid ideas. They may have auditory and visual hallucinations. And they end up with a condition that looks for all the world like paranoid schizophrenia.

Stone said Loughner may have had a predisposition to mental illness, but it's likely that drugs played a role in his instability. Stone said the political context of an angry Arizona district probably stirred the pot as well.

If you're in an area, an atmostphere where there's a lot of controversy and electrifying comments about a particular situation... and you then put into that mix a person who is becoming increasingly paranoid or deranged... those people are more apt to be swept along and they become intensely preoccupied with whatever is the topic of the day... I think he was swept up in the current there.

In the aftermath of Tucson, some politicians are calling for more gun restrictions for mentally ill people. But Stone says mental illness rarely leads to violence. He says 95 percent of mentally ill people with psychosis lead their lives without ever commiting a violent act.  But the likelhood of violence increases when you add drugs to the equation.

Ones who are paranoid and who, in addition, abuse drugs, whether it be alcohol, marijuana or cocaine, that increases the likelihood just about off the charts.

Many listeners found the cannibus connection a silly one, but Stone isn't the only one who's found it. Conservative columnist David Frum has seen it too, and put together a list of scientific research on the topic.

Mayor Bloomberg is one of many politicians who has spoken out in favor of stricter gun control, including background checks. In a press conference on Tuesday, he called Loughner "a mentally ill drug abuser who had access to guns he shouldn't have."


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Comments [52]

rodrigo lisboa santos


Mar. 01 2011 05:29 AM
Paul I. Adujie from New York City, United States

The usual standard is in these sorts of matters is to refer to mass murderers such as Jared Lee Loughner as a thug and describe him as a monster, animal, blood-lust terrorist hoodlum... but in this case, everyone is a psychiatrist with a diagnosis for this killer of a Federal Judge, and an innocent 9 year old girl and several others

The fascination with guns should stop and the violence to language when some describe political opponents must stop as well... why should we ask Alec Baldwin to mind his language and we are unwilling to say the same thing to Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh?

It leaves me again, wondering aloud about these permanent double standards and hypocrisies in America. First of all, this terrorist, were he an Arab, or an African or an African American, he will be castigated as a monster, animal, bloodlust terrorist hoodlum. But for some inexplicable excuse, the public and press have been strenuously building this terrorist’s legal defense by continually insisting that he is deranged, insane and his terrorism is therefore understandably expected?

An American Terrorist in Tucson Arizona

Jan. 11 2011 08:39 PM
Patrick from Hoboken, NJ

Is it more or is the link Dr Stone was trying to make between the Pakistani assassination and this event not entirely clear ? Was he saying that 100,000 people in Karachi agreed with the assassin, but would not have done the killing themselves?

Jan. 11 2011 05:45 PM

j from bklyn - years ago, I was prescribed Ambien for my insomnia. I took one as directed, and it did indeed put me to sleep. However, this was preceded by about 45 minutes of paranoia and mild hallucinations. The next day, I realized I probably ought to be taking half. I did this and never had any major problems after that (though Ambien users know better than to use the computer after ingestion!). Regardless, I realized it wasn't worth the risk and ceased taking it altogether.

Keep in mind that I used the drug as directed on the pharmacy label (I don't remember what the doctor had prescribed specifically). I was able to work out a proper dosage, but what about others in my situation?

While it might be correct to say, "marijuana may have had a hand in his brain functions," this is true of many drugs (including the legal ones). This possibility shouldn't be used to demonize the majority of responsible marijuana users.

Jan. 11 2011 01:04 PM


That's not a story about pot being stronger/different now - that's from people who smoked pot (and experienced the array of drugs of their day) then and who are familiar with it now and have made their own observations. I fear for the children of those who refuse to see that drugs are not so groovy after all! (hard liquor incl)

Jan. 11 2011 12:35 PM

This fellow was stalking the congresswoman long before we ever heard of Sarah Palin - that's the truth. And I am not a supporter of Sarah Palin.

Jan. 11 2011 12:25 PM

It is true that marijuana can cause anxiety and schizo-like behavior in adults... but it only affects a SMALL population of adults.

It is definitely true that marijuana use negatively effects teenagers; because their brains haven't matured, the relaxing effect of marijuana makes them incredibly lazy and unproductive.

Jan. 11 2011 12:05 PM
vanessa from nyc

Seems to me that someone is trying to steer the conversation away from hateful political rhetoric and instead focus on drug abuse as a cause for/component of the Arizona shooting.

Jan. 11 2011 12:03 PM
nyorker from nyc

This tragic incident should start a discussion about the parity of health insurance between mental illness and physical illness.

Jan. 11 2011 12:02 PM
Edward from NJ

Correlation does not imply causation. If someone is self-medicating with marijuana, they're probably also not getting proper treatment for their schizophrenia. Perhaps, the show could do a follow-up about just how mainstream the guest's theories really are.

Jan. 11 2011 12:01 PM

Hugh Sansom - do you know what a forensic psychiatrist does? Of course he knows the stats! This isn't a pro or anti-pot statement, it's medical. And are the neurosurgeons talking about what may be possible for Gabrielle Giffords also making remote diagnoses?

Jan. 11 2011 11:58 AM

Re: marijuana use - hasn't anyone heard the phrase "self-medicating?" The connection between mental illness and drug use and abuse is in the other direction - in an attempt to beat back the demons, those slipping into disfunction take anything they can get their hands on.

Jan. 11 2011 11:56 AM
Manz from Sunset Park, Bklyn

I knew people would call in to defend marijuana and I'm disappointed by it. Marijuana is not the harmless drug many want to believe it is. Seriously, it is definitely time to conduct conclusive studies on this drug. Personally I have seen many heavy 'weed' smokers ruin their lives because they could not kick his smoking habit.

Jan. 11 2011 11:55 AM
j from bklyn

to all who are denying the possible role of pot in a schizophrenic type rxn in some people, until you've seen it, you might not believe - i had a roomate, female, who stayed under a coffee table for several hours the first time she smoked pot, screaming at people that she wasn't coming out. she did not have this rxn when she tripped w/ acid, but she did w/ pot. she eventually put it together after the first couple of times b/c she had been mixing the [first 2/3 times] at parties.

some people just actually do have that brain/body chemistry, however rare. but unfortunately, it does exist.

Jan. 11 2011 11:54 AM
E NYC from NYC

Is like WHAT?! The fallout from this event in Arizona is disturbing.. If politics hasn't been about engaging people as human beings.. what has it been about? Engaging the flying spaghetti monster? How about the fact that it takes a disturbed white kid to realize there is a human face of politics? .. Thats disturbing in itself

Jan. 11 2011 11:53 AM
chirs c from ct

Never would of thought that pot smoking would make someone violent but had a male friend with schizophrenia who eventually became very violent and actually tried killing self and family members. He was a frequent user of pot and diagnosed with schizophrenia. Any correlation? To me what he is saying rings true with this particular circumstance.

Jan. 11 2011 11:52 AM
Jacob from Brooklyn

Marijuana causes mental illness? Dr. Stone is an embarrassment.

Jan. 11 2011 11:51 AM

Loughner was not just spouting jibberish around grammar - see this article today from Gawker, which describes the right wing conspiracy theory around grammar.

"The Southern Law Poverty Center's Mark Potok, whose job it is to keep track of the various crazies this country breeds and nurtures, links Loughner's bizarre fixation on language and grammar to the theories of a man named David Wynn Miller—or, as he styles himself, :David-Wynn: Miller. When Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown contacted Miller, he said he "absolutely" agreed with Loughner's assertion that "the government is implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar." Miller told The New York Times that Lougher had "probably been on my Web site."

Why Is Jared Loughner Obsessed With Grammar?So who is David Wynn Miller? According to Miller himself, he is a "Plenipotentiary-Judge" (and the King of Hawaii); he's also a 62-year-old former tool-and-die maker from Milwaukee. Miller's been selling his particular (and particularly bizarre) strain of the right-wing anti-tax "sovereign citizen" movement/conspiracy for years now, and gotten more than a few people thrown in jail for trying to use his theories. A visit to his website gives you a glimpse into the world of "QUANTUM-MATH-COMMUNICATIONS":"

Jan. 11 2011 11:51 AM

Basically, so he could have ingested too much of a variety of substances. There are often dire consequences when people don't exercise moderation, period.

Jan. 11 2011 11:51 AM
Hugh Sansom

If nothing else, Michael Stone's investment in pop media, namely his connection to television/entertainment media, raises questions about his honesty and objectivity.

Jan. 11 2011 11:50 AM
Mike from Manhattan

This person is attempting to advance his career and/or personal fetish. It takes about 15 minutes to scan the marijuana literature to see that his opinion is outside the mainstream. In any case, it is far too soon isolate the causes of this incident. I would like to say that the right wing hate radio talks shows are the cause, but I am not trying to advance to MY agenda with the deaths and injuries of these innocent people.

Jan. 11 2011 11:50 AM
Tara Simon from New York

Most mental illness does not start to show itself until the late teens or early 20s! It sounds like the shooter was self medicating for an untreated mental illness. This "Dr." is blaming pot for this Jardis' mental illness.

Jan. 11 2011 11:49 AM
jon one last time from brooklyn from bklyn

look, if you take lots and lots of ANY drugs you will do some dumb stuff.

i also hear that if you eat too many twinkies, you will kill mayors and city supervisors.

this guest is a joke.

Jan. 11 2011 11:49 AM
Andy B. from New York City

The simple fact is that all the liberal media outlets including NPR all spread the absurd lie that Sarah Palin was responsible for this.

Now they are too embarrassed to say they are wrong - so here we have a liberal psychologist giving a purely speculative opinion unsupported by any kind of science.

Let's cut the nonsense. We simply have no idea what goes on in the brain of an undiagnosed untreated mentally ill person.

Jan. 11 2011 11:48 AM

According to Parker, Loughner had "a lot of friends until he got alcohol poisoning in ‘06" and dropped out of high school.

maybe it was the alcohol made him do it.

Jan. 11 2011 11:47 AM
Christine Bridges from ny

Is this guy for real? Blaming pot? Do you know how many people smoke pot who have never killed anyone? What about his family life?

Jan. 11 2011 11:47 AM
Estelle from Austin

Maybe a future show could include an expert in mental health public policy?

Jan. 11 2011 11:47 AM

The "pot is different" idea is mostly just so that the media can sell the idea that pot is dangerous to a population that smoked a ton of it in their formative years.

Jan. 11 2011 11:47 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

Oh great, the Reefer Madness! Hypothesis... Where did you find this quack?? I'm sure a great many people shoot/stab and or run over others drunk than do stoned. As for this guys state of mind - he's obvs crazy but his expressions aren't stupid, just inartfully expressed. Anyone who has ever heard a political speech and takes it at face value, or that it has any value besides the purely symbolic is even crazier than this guy. He's probably trying to say that there can be no lawful government when the only thing we hear from our reps is propoganda or talking points - which is largely the case, no?

Jan. 11 2011 11:46 AM

Is his age not the exact time period of typical onset of paranoid schizophrenia? Why on earth are you deciding that it must necessarily be cannabis usage that is most at fault?

Furthermore, how does this guest have any ability to discuss this? How much time has he spent with the shooter?

Although it seems obvious that this young man is guilty, can we not let him go through the justice system before we completely demonize him? Also, how dare we go back and discuss arrests that were taken off the record. Do we not longer have any respect for privacy of people who have not yet been convicted?

Jan. 11 2011 11:46 AM
Hugh Sansom

Remember when Bill Frist offered remote diagnoses in the case of Terri Schiavo?

Mr. Stone is doing pretty much the same thing here. It is grossly irresponsible and raises serious questions of professional ethics.

Jan. 11 2011 11:46 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

Oh great, the Reefer Madness! Hypothesis... Where did you find this quack?? I'm sure a great many people shoot/stab and or run over others drunk than do stoned. As for this guys state of mind - he's obvs crazy but his expressions aren't stupid, just inartfully expressed. Anyone who has ever heard a political speech and takes it at face value, or that it has any value besides the purely symbolic is even crazier than this guy. He's probably trying to say that there can be no lawful government when the only thing we hear from our reps is propoganda or talking points - which is largely the case, no?

Jan. 11 2011 11:46 AM
Edward from NJ

The level of speculation here is what's really crazy.

Jan. 11 2011 11:45 AM
Jackson from Brooklyn

When are we as a nation going to understand, that it's the availability of guns that is the problem here. If the federal government doesn't make a move on gun control, local governments, states, and cities need to take the lead. The idea of making guns illegal within a specified distance of a political event is a great start, a small one considering this recent event, but a great effort to begin more robust discourse on this issue.

Jan. 11 2011 11:45 AM
jon again from bklyn

right right the guy who killed the pakistani governor was also... ON DRUGS!!!

Osama Bin Laden? DOOBIE CRAZED!!

Timothy McVeigh? WAKE AND BAKE!!!

come on. this is a moronic segment. the killer is absolutely not a killer because he was on drugs. this is nuts.

Jan. 11 2011 11:45 AM

The "marijuana abuse" theory is extremely silly. The projections that you are allowing your guest to surmise about as to Jared Loughner's mental state, are just that, projections. Dr. Stone has no direct connection to the case, has not interviewed Mr. Loughner and is dependent on the same flawed information that we have been fed by a desperate media for days on end. Please be more responsible in your questioning of what amounts to plain old opinion.

Jan. 11 2011 11:44 AM
Jay F.

Brian, why do you incite your guests to blame the political rhetoric? The Loughner is a nutter plain and simple.

Jan. 11 2011 11:43 AM

Can you comment for boomers on pot today vs the pot of the 60s? So many people don't seem to get that they are very different. Can you talk about this?

Sorry I'm not sure where the comments are posted or if they are looked at by Brian while interviewing any more

Jan. 11 2011 11:43 AM
sogol from brooklyn

is this guy really blaming marijuana for schizophrenia? when are we going to stop blaming pot and start looking at the all the millions of other influences that could have led up to this? brian lehrer, i'm so disappointed that you are giving this guy air time to spew his nonsense

Jan. 11 2011 11:42 AM
Pordy from Madison, nj

Get this guy off the air- plugging his own agenda that seems way off base. First I've even heard of marijuana being an issue with this kid.

Jan. 11 2011 11:42 AM
Hugh Sansom

Michael Stone -- television psychiatrist for the Discovery Channel -- also offers a "scale of evil".

Where do George Bush, Dick Cheney or other American war criminals fall on that scale, or are they exempt because they're famous, rich and "officially sanctioned" by NPR and The New York Times?

Jan. 11 2011 11:42 AM
Pablo Alto from Da' Bronx

The idea that marijuana is the 'real problem' behind this shooting is just stunning! This gentleman has an agenda that is doing a disservice for the citizenry. We deserve better than this.

Jan. 11 2011 11:41 AM
john from brooklyn

Is it logical to condemn marijuana at this moment -- there seem to be other, more glaring reasons why these crimes occur, and why people feel so paranoid. Maybe if the government proved itself to be working in people's best interest, and didn't traffic in forms of alienation -- of which this poor kid was surely a victim -- crimes like these wouldn't take place.

Maybe adequate psychiatric help for young people or more conscientious and attentive school officials would be a better target here than a harmless drug on which way too many crimes have been blamed.

Jan. 11 2011 11:41 AM
Tricia from Brooklyn

It's time to discuss our culture which celebrates the cult of personality of murderers who do this for the notoriety. Can we talk about this man's actions without mentioning his name or plastering his face all over the media as a murdering celebrity? Can we stop enticing deranged people with the promise of instant celebrity?

Jan. 11 2011 11:41 AM
jon from bklyn

or to be more on topic:

it strikes me that the problem with the shooter is not that he smoked pot.

it's a lot more likely that he was sick in the head.

i actually know of one of his philosophy professors who said he was totally nuts in his class.

Jan. 11 2011 11:41 AM

Confusing how this is set up but here's a question - the pot I knew back in the 60s/early 70s was nowhere near as potent as today's pot, I understand - will you talk about this?

Jan. 11 2011 11:40 AM
Estelle from Austin

Would Dr. Stone say that signs of suicidal or death-wish tendencies in a friend or family member could also be seen as a warning sign of possible violent acts toward others?

I have noticed a link between the two in almost all mass shootings like this.

(I think things like this might be more helpful than, er, alarmism about marijuana use...)

Jan. 11 2011 11:40 AM

dr stone blames the pot. that's funny right?

i've not heard about this guys family life.

Jan. 11 2011 11:40 AM
jon from bklyn

wow. this guy HATES marijuana.

good work choosing this guest, bl show!

Jan. 11 2011 11:39 AM
Edward from NJ

Ahh, I see, it's all marijuana's fault.

Jan. 11 2011 11:39 AM

wild speculation!

Pot is the problem


Jan. 11 2011 11:39 AM
Hugh Sansom

So Michael Stone's diagnosis is reefer madness?

Jan. 11 2011 11:39 AM

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