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Frum Fingers Marijuana As Culprit In Tucson Shooting

First Posted: 01/11/11 01:34 PM ET Updated: 05/25/11 07:25 PM ET

David Frum has a lot of smart things to say about this past weekend's tragic armed rampage in Tucson, but this isn't one of them:

After horrific shootings, we hear calls for stricter regulation of guns. The Tucson shooting should remind us why we regulate marijuana.

Jared Lee Loughner, the man held as the Tucson shooter, has been described by those who know as a "pot smoking loner."

He had two encounters with the law, one for possession of drug paraphernalia.

Yes, okay! Pardon me, CSI Tucson, we hate to interrupt you as you collect 30-some-odd shell casings and catalog them as evidence that a murdery gun rampage just happened, but have you stopped to consider the possibility of REEFER MADNESS? That's essentially what Frum suggests this crime may have been all about:

We are also learning that Loughner exhibited signs of severe mental illness, very likely schizophrenia.

The connection between marijuana and schizophrenia is both controversial and complicated. The raw association is strong:

* Schizophrenics are twice as likely to smoke marijuana as non-schizophrenics.
* People who smoke marijuana are twice as likely to develop schizophrenia as those who do not smoke.

But is correlation causation?

Frum thinks so, and submits that "experts" agree. He goes on to cite a strangely non-plural expert, Marie-Odile Krebs, who conducted a study that found:

[In a] population of 190 patients (121 of whom had used cannabis), researchers found a subgroup of 44 whose disease was powerfully affected by the drug. These patients either developed schizophrenia within a month of beginning to smoke pot or saw their existing psychosis severely exacerbated with each successive exposure to the drug. Schizophrenia appeared in these patients nearly three years earlier than in other marijuana-users with the disease.

The first problem here is that the author of the Time piece that Frum cites says he missed the point of her story. "He sort of made an overly simplified causal leap," says Maia Szalavitz, a Time magazine health reporter who, you know, knows what she's talking about. "There's a human psychological bias toward seeing something as either totally good and wonderful or horrible and degrading. The truth is, most things, including drugs, have some of both."

But Frum has a bigger problem: No one has confirmed, as yet, that Jared Loughner is schizophrenic, unless we are treating the distance diagnosis of self-accredited ophthalmologist Rand Paul seriously. Most of what's available at the moment is pure speculation from people who have neither examined the suspect nor properly diagnosed his mental illness.

Szalavitz also notes that despite the fact that pot has gone from obscurity to immensely popular over the past 75 or so years, there has been no increase in schizophrenia. That so many schizophrenics smoke pot is largely explained in the studies by the fact that so many are schizophrenics are men, and men are much more likely to smoke pot than women.

Another problem is that the only person anyone has talked to who was an intimate of Loughner's is Bryce Tierney, a friend since middle school, and while he recalls a change in behavior -- toward "nihilism" and obsessions with "semantics" and "lucid dreaming" -- occuring while the two of them were high school friends, this is what he recalls about Loughner's pot use:

In October 2008, Tierney was living in Phoenix, and Loughner came to visit. They went to see a Mars Volta concert with friends, and Tierney was surprised when Loughner said he had quit partying "completely." Loughner, according to Tierney, said, "I'm going to lead a more healthy lifestyle, not smoke cigarettes or pot anymore, and I'm going to start working out." Tierney was happy for his friend: "I said, 'Dude, that's awesome.' And the next time I saw him he was 10 pounds lighter." Tierney never saw Loughner smoke marijuana again, and he was surprised at media reports that Loughner had been rejected from the military in 2009 for failing a drug test: "He was clean, clean. I saw him after that continuously. He would not do it."

After Loughner apparently gave up drugs and booze, "his theories got worse," Tierney says. "After he quit, he was just off the wall." And Loughner started to drift away from his group of friends about a year ago. By early 2010, dreaming had become Loughner's "waking life, his reality," Tierney says. "He sort of drifted off, didn't really care about hanging out with friends. He'd be sleeping a lot." Loughner's alternate reality was attractive, Tierney says. "He figured out he could fly." Loughner, according to Tierney, told his friends, "I'm so into it because I can create things and fly. I'm everything I'm not in this world."

"There is the intriguing possibility that he was, kind of, going off his meds," Szalavitz speculates. But I know what you're thinking, and NO, you shouldn't NOT get sober for fear you are going to spiral into madness. This is simply to point out that the most compelling insight we have on offer into Loughner's life, from someone up close and personal, suggests that his mental health issues and his problems with drugs are incidental and unconnected to one another. And if quitting marijuana led to a worsening of Loughner's mental state, well, Frum's theories and studies would appear to be a dead letter.

But seriously analyzing Frum's weed-baiting misses the point, because what's happening here is something deeper: The tragic massacre on Saturday is working like the Clockwork Orange eyelid retractors, forcing us to stare deeply into the twisted soul of America's violent culture. Some folks, quite reasonably, would prefer to look at something a lot less scary. Like, say, pot.

Frum has had some company in his madness. The networks highlighted Laughner's history of weed smoking. Michael Bloomberg called him a "drug abuser." And Rush Limbaugh railed: "Where are the parents? Are they derelicts? He was so devoted to marijuana he wanted to make it the new U.S. currency."

Nevertheless, if these theories do prove themselves out somehow, I find Frum's conclusion to be extremely odd in the way he fails to close the circle:

After the Tucson shooting, there may be renewed pressure to control the weapons that committed the crime. But what about the drugs that may have aggravated the killer's mental disease? The trend these days seems toward a more casual attitude and easier access to those drugs. Among the things we should be discussing in the aftermath of this horror is the accumulating evidence of those drugs' potential contribution to making some dangerous people even more dangerous than they might otherwise have been.

Isn't the exceedingly obvious conclusion here that people who desire to own firearms should have to submit to both drug tests and a mental health evaluation? I guess the trend these days seems toward a more casual attitude and easier access to Glocks.

WATCH the nets on weed:


RELATED:
Exclusive: Loughner Friend Explains Alleged Gunman's Grudge Against Giffords [Mother Jones]
David Frum Asks Important Question: 'Did Pot Trigger Giffords Shooting?' [Wonkette]

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