Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Correlation Is Not Causation, Part 420

I've heard this story repeated in the news several times in the last week (here via Reason's Hit and Run): Marijuana smoking associated with psychotic outcomes. According to the report, marijuana smoking raises the chances of a psychotic outcome by 40%. But of course, as Jacob Sullum observes, correlation is not the same as causation. Just because smoking marijuana can be connected with these outcomes does not mean that it is the cause of these outcomes. Just off the top of my head, we could say that certain childhood traumas are likely related to an increased likelihood of marijuana smoking and an increased likelihood of psychotic outcomes.

Correlation has more value if, for example, we're talking about childhood trauma from child abuse. Child abuse is intrinsically bad, as are psychotic outcomes (in the sense that we'd like to avoid them), so any correlation we find here is potentially useful in examining the problems of child abuse. In other words, child abuse is a bad thing, so lets look at the possible negative outcomes. But when it comes to marijuana, we're talking about an activity which is not intrinsically bad and correlations used specifically to paint marijuana as bad or dangerous. Or in other words, marijuana is bad specifically because we can connect it with these bad outcomes.

Obviously I hate the policies handed to us by correlation is causation mistakes, but I think such mistakes do a disservice to people who really do have problems. We blame the substances themselves- marijuana, cocaine, alcohol- which tends to let people off the hook. The vast majority of people don't develop real drug problems- you know, the sort of problems that interfere with our everyday life and our relationships- without any issues or trauma from another facet of their life. In other words, people with drug problems tend to turn to drugs because of other problems in their life. When we blame the substance, we let everyone off the hook- the individual who should have more control over their own life, the people close to that person who should take a more active role in their loved one's life, and all of us as a society for not caring about everyone else around us.

In other words man, it's all about the love, not the pot.

3 Comments:

Blogger John said...

2 Things

1) What are the good effects of marijauna compared to the known bad effects and the possible effects?

2) You say drugs are usually abused by people with other problems in their lives, so why legalize drugs? Why make drugs that much more available to people with problems then? "It's all about the love", well you can't force people to love one another. This is the problem with all of your beliefs. You're too much of an idealist and not a realist.

6:39 PM  
Blogger QU 3L said...

1) The effects of marijuana is that it gets you high. For some people, it can help with nausea and help with appetite. Maybe a small percentage of marijuana users may become stoners that throw their lives away, while most marijuana smokers just proceed with their everyday life- but these aren’t effects of smoking marijuana, these are just the various behaviors of individuals who smoke marijuana. Similarly, some men may drink beer, get drunk, and beat up their wives, but wife beating is not an effect of drinking beer. In fact, I wouldn’t hesitate to say that people who become violent when they are intoxicated probably have other issues in their lives besides drinking too much. Yet we don’t ban drinking nor do we here studies about the evils of alcohol, only because alcohol is a socially acceptable substance.

2) Yes drugs are abused by people with problems in their lives. So is gambling, alcohol, food, and thousands of other legal products. I say, “it’s all about the love” with my tongue in cheek, but in essence, you make my point for me. You can’t legislate away the bad choices made by individuals and you can’t legislate away people’s problems. So why do we continue to try to do so with an ineffective and expensive war on drugs that hurts more people than it helps.

9:59 AM  
Blogger John said...

"So why do we continue to try to do so with an ineffective and expensive war on drugs that hurts more people than it helps?"

Because drugs hurt more people than they help and that is most definately true. Sure there are some people that smoke pot once a week just to relax, but the majority of people who smoke pot on a regular basis are the stoner idiots that you describe. We've both grown up in suburbia, and I've seen both cases. I've seen some people who give up pot, smoke it once in a blue moon and live normal productive lives. They have no reason for smoking other than getting high. Then there's the other group, the group that never stops, the group that live with their parents, work lousy retail jobs and move onto bigger and worse things. These people have no reason to smoke other than it's a drug. It doesn't help them, they think it does, but it just makes their lives worse. Basically I just described two people we know. Person 1 is going somewhere. Person 2 is heading down a dangerous road. Don't even argue that because you can't.

Now here in lies my major problem with all of your drug talk. You think because you can smoke every once in a blue moon and not abuse it, that everyone can. Well you're wrong. You can't factor in people's problems when you consider drugs. If you legalize drugs, you allow any person access to substances that can send their lives into downward spirals.

You also mention food, alcohol and gambling as other things that can be abused by people with problems. Well guess what, the vast majority of people who eat, drink and gamble can do so responsibly. Drugs on the other hand, are not used responsibly by the people who consume them regularly. That's why they are more dangerous and that's why they can't be legalized.

3:42 AM  

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