With the worst mass shooting in U.S. history just days behind us, it’s tough to think about anything else other than the senseless loss. And yet we’ve seen people scrambling to attach some semblance of sense to the nightmare. We’ve heard that the shooter pledged his allegiance to ISIL, that the shooter’s father was a religious fundamentalist, and that the shooter himself regularly frequented the gay club where he committed the atrocity that’s left us struggling for answers; a feeling that’s becoming sickeningly familiar. Make no mistake that there are huge social issues at play here along with a complex system that is revealed to be failing us over and over. Yes, we’re a marijuana blog so we’re not going to bog you down with our political opinions on gun control. However, this event is too big to ignore so we are simply going to ponder whether marijuana could be used as an effective means of reducing gun violence by analyzing a series of related marijuana studies over the years.
A Problem with Gun Violence is Undeniable
We can entertain a myriad of different perspectives on gun control but it’s absolutely ridiculous to believe that America does not have a gun problem. You can argue a right to bear arms, you can argue that guns need to be banned, but you can’t argue that everything is okay as it stands. The events of 9/11 are widely considered to comprise the biggest tragedy to fall on American soil. Yet, last December, CNN presented a graph
that gave us the stark truth: gun violence in the U.S. contributes to 10 times as many deaths annually as the entirety of the 9/11 attacks. Again, we’re not going to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do with your guns but we are going to say if you see these statistics and don’t think there’s a problem, you’re in a special state of denial. What makes someone reach the point where they use a firearm to attempt to take a life? It’s a simple question with a multitude of answers; all rather complex. But whenever we see the image of a school shooter or mass murderer emblazoned on the screens of our computers and televisions, we’re often searching their eyes for insanity. So let’s begin by looking at the use of marijuana as a psychological treatment.
Marijuana as a Means of Coping with Anxiety
When I was a kid in the early ‘90s with a T.G.I.F. family-friendly-sitcom-fueled lexicon, watching anyone lose their shit earned them the dismissive advice to “take a chill pill.” Over 20 years later, I’ve evolved from arbitrarily prescribing chill pills to suggesting joints. I’m using ESP to suggest joints several times daily; whether I see someone engaging in a bit of road rage, losing their cool in line at the bank, or pushing boorishly through the crowded aisles at the grocery store. But unlike my childhood self, my adult self is quick to telepathically invoke the power of pot because I use it to help with my own anxiety and stress. In the ‘80s, my father was miserable. He started up a secret stash of weed sometime in the ‘90s and he suddenly seemed capable of handling the stress in his life. But what do the anecdotes of a stranger mean to you when I can hit you up with some cold, hard science? Marijuana’s potential for treating anxiety has received a fair amount of research. In 2013, a research group from the National Institutes of Health, University of Calgary, and the Rockefeller University determined that, among the numerous reasons people seek out cannabis, alleviation of stress
and anxiety is at the top of the list.
This isn’t a placebo effect. We know for sure that marijuana works with your body’s natural endocannabinoid system
, which is strongly hypothesized to control your level of anxiety. The theory posits that the endocannabinoid system utilizes chemicals similar to those found in cannabis to manage stress levels. As with pretty much anything involving marijuana, more research is needed (that’s becoming the mantra for this blog). In fact, many marijuana studies have determined that higher doses can actually result in an increased
sense of anxiety. Perhaps once research restrictions on cannabis are lifted, science can determine how marijuana can be used to relieve anxiety with certainty. While we can assume a great deal of pressure and stress is definitely a contributing factor in a person’s decision to become a mass murderer, it’s obviously not the sole reason.
The Depressed Mass Murderer
Would it be a leap to say mass shooters and people prone to gun violence are suffering from depression? It depends on how you look at it. Is a severely depressed person more likely to commit an act of gun violence than someone not suffering from mental illness? According to research conducted in 2015
, people suffering from severe mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and depression are 3 times more likely to commit violence against others or themselves but this results in just a 4% influence on gun-related homicides. It seems almost ridiculous to even question it, but we’ll re-emphasize: the vast majority of people suffering from depression will not commit any gun-related violence. But do most people that commit mass murders suffer from depression? Yes, according to Jack Levin, a sociology and criminology professor at Northeastern University. In a 2013 interview with NPR
, Levin explained, “You know, most mass killers have suffered some kind of chronic depression and frustration. Over a long period of time, they externalize responsibility, blaming everybody but themselves for their failings. They have some kind of an acute strain, a catastrophic loss - the loss of a job, the loss of a relationship at home, maybe even a terminal illness.”
Marijuana Studies on Depression Relief
The U.S. has outlawed a number of substances that are in various states of study with the belief that they can help treat depression. Strides have been made in research into psilocybin mushrooms and, yes, cannabis. The endocannabinoid system
also plays an immense role in human emotion and behavior, according to research conducted in 2015 by the University at Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions. Marijuana’s relation to the endocannabinoid system is responsible for its application as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. If marijuana serves as a healthier treatment for depression than the current pharmaceutical options on the market, it could potentially sway that very rare case of a person on the verge of mass murder. But treating cannabis with depression wouldn't come close to eradicating gun violence completely.
An End to the War on Drugs
In examining marijuana’s effects as a mental health treatment, we’re sidestepping the argument that gun violence stems from mental illness far less frequently than our society believes. It’s easy to ignore the argument because we can’t imagine anyone in his/her right mind committing such atrocities. It’s easier to attribute these crimes to mental illness or religious brainwashing; something that would divorce these people from their humanity because a human wouldn’t do such things. There’s also the fact that overhauling a system that’s been in place longer than most of us can remember would require massive amounts of work and strategy. But some have offered that an end to the war on drugs could actually lead to a massive reduction in gun violence. The war on drugs likely had no immediate relevance in the tragedy that just befell Orlando. But America’s issue with firearm deaths isn’t comprised solely of school shootings, depressed and stressed workers, and the odd case of domestic terrorism. Legalizing marijuana is a major way that cannabis could be used to reduce gun violence.
While modern day prohibitionists paint pictures of the gates of hell opening at the mere implication of legalized weed, marijuana studies have shown that medical cannabis legalization leads to a decrease in certain violent crimes
, including murder. Legalization attacks gun violence on two fronts, cutting out the necessity for illegal and gang-related activities while also spreading the herb’s pacifying benefits. The lead researcher in the above study conducted by the University of Texas at Dallas, Robert Morris, explained, “The findings on the relationship between violence and marijuana use are mixed and much of the evidence points toward reductions in violent behavior for those who smoke marijuana.” A study published in the Journal of Addictive Behaviors
clearly states, “cannabis reduces likelihood of violence
during intoxication.” Habitual cannabis users were studied by the National Academy of Sciences turning up evidence that THC contributed to a reduction of “aggressive and violent behavior”
The truth is that using cannabis to treat gun violence is akin to putting a band aid on a gunshot wound. The problem is just too massive to be so easily remedied. We have defects in policy, social and economic unrest, religious pressures, and political dissatisfaction constantly shifting and creating rifts between people. We search desperately for an explanation for what happened in Orlando but to find the true answer, we have to roll up our sleeves and really dig into the problems, following miles of tangled threads to the numerous sources. And then we need to strategize how to change those sources. Would the shooters of America’s mass murders have gone through with it had they reached for a glass pipe instead of a gun? Possibly. But there are deeper issues at play here and this problem demands full treatment at the root instead of a quick fix. It’s a hell of a “two pipe problem”, as Sherlock Holmes might say, and for once in this blog’s history, that pipe is not made of glass and stuffed to the brim with sticky dank herb.