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Marijuana may increase psychosis risk, study says, refueling debate on pot's dangers

LONDON - Using marijuana seems to increase the chance of becoming psychotic, researchers report in an analysis of past research that reignites the issue of whether pot is dangerous.

The new review suggests that even infrequent use could raise the small but real risk of this serious mental illness by 40 percent.

Doctors have long suspected a connection and say the latest findings underline the need to highlight marijuana's long-term risks. The research, paid for by the British Health Department, is being published Friday in medical journal The Lancet.

'The available evidence now suggests that cannabis is not as harmless as many people think,' said Dr. Stanley Zammit, one of the study's authors and a lecturer in the department of psychological medicine at Cardiff University.

The researchers said they couldn't prove that marijuana use itself increases the risk of psychosis, a category of several disorders with schizophrenia being the most commonly known.

There could be something else about marijuana users, 'like their tendency to use other drugs or certain personality traits, that could be causing the psychoses,' Zammit said.

Marijuana is the most frequently used illegal substance in many countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States. About 20 percent of young adults report using it at least once a week, according to government statistics.

Zammit and colleagues from the University of Bristol, Imperial College and Cambridge University examined 35 studies that tracked tens of thousands of people for periods ranging from one year to 27 years to examine the effect of marijuana on mental health.

They looked for psychotic illnesses as well as cognitive disorders including delusions and hallucinations, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, neuroses and suicidal tendencies.

They found that people who used marijuana had roughly a 40 percent higher chance of developing a psychotic disorder later in life. The overall risk remains very low.