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Saturday, April 16, 2005

Dunedin Stoners Psychotic

As if we didn't know this already, but a Times Online (UK) story has identified Dunedin pot smokers are 1 in 4 likely to be completely psychotic. One only presumes they chose Dunedin because of the high amount of Cannabis use??
The King’s team tracked 803 men and women born in Dunedin, New Zealand, in 1972 and 1973, who were enrolled at birth in a research project. Each was interviewed at 13, 15 and 18 about cannabis use, tested to determine which type of COMT genes they had inherited, and followed up at 26 for signs of mental illness.

A common genetic profile that makes cannabis five times more likely to trigger schizophrenia and similar disorders has been identified.
From these results, they deduced one in four people carries genes that increases vulnerability to psychotic illnesses if he or she smokes cannabis as a teenager!

And note the bit about 803 people being enrolled at birth. What, at age 13 were their parents encouraging them to toke up? "Here Nathan, use the bong. We've signed you up for this important study, you must go to school stoned or we'll look silly." I couldn't find any confirmation that all 803 "volunteers" were stoners. What if only 4 of them took it up, and just one of them was psychotic?

Has any-one correlated the number of Tree Hugging Hippies that went to Otago University, went on to join the Greens and are now formulating party policy?

It was just a thought...

UPDATE 17/4: Will points out that "the number of people who had smoked dope on three occasions by the age of 15 was just 29, and only three went on to develop psychosis. Hardly enough to warrant the spooky headlines, eh!" Which bolsters my suspicion about being able to draw meaningful data from such small groups of people.

To me, its a bit like studying weather patterns for a 30 year range and declaring proof of global warming. I would expect study of weather pattern cycles over thousands of years might alter any original conclusions, and should be taken into account.

Posted by ZenTiger | 4/16/2005 11:05:00 pm


Blogger Antarctic Lemur said...

Dunedin is mentioned because of a large long-term study done there, one of the few of its kind attempting to study links between genetics, violence, drugs, mental illnesses etc.

Dunedin is a good place for such a study because it has a well-regarded medical school and related research programmes, and because it has large numbers of young people coming through who don't mind participating in weird surveys!

Theres probably one or two key researchers who pushed the research through from day one. Thats typically how the better science programmes work out.

4/17/2005 12:00:00 am  
Blogger Antarctic Lemur said...

Similar research was publicised a year or two ago - i wonder if this new paper is a review of the same data by a team from a slightly different field.

4/17/2005 12:03:00 am  
Blogger Zippy Gonzales said...

Zen, I think you have misread the conclusions of the study. 1 in 4 Dunedin pot smokers are not completely psychotic. The 26 signs of psychotic symptoms are not in themselves a mental illness.

In actual numbers in the study (as opposed to statistically-derived conjectures) the number of people who had smoked dope on three occasions by the age of 15 was just 29, and only three went on to develop psychosis. Hardly enough to warrant the spooky headlines, eh!

4/17/2005 08:44:00 am  
Blogger ZenTiger said...

Yes Will, I thought it all looked very fishy when I came across the article.

I was certainly wondering just how many people had even smoked dope by age 13 (let alone 15), thus my "take the bong" comment.

I am generally suspicious of any meaningful data you can get starting from small samples: such as 29 (which is not the same as 803 people participating in the study).

There are too many variables to take into account when working with a pool of 29 people.

Obviously, the numbers probably jumped up a bit as the ages went up, but its still a bit like running a study on 50 people re the effects of smoking, when living next to Chenobyl. My point being, people would instantly think that the proximity to Chenobyl would alter results, but are happy to ignore the thousands of more subtle issues.

4/17/2005 10:20:00 am  

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