Part 2: Of the Downside of ‘The Downside of High’

So my saga with the writer researcher of the David Suzuki’s Nature of Things episode, ‘Downside of High’ Bruce Mohun, continues. After not hearing back from Mr. Mohun in regards to the letter I wrote to him regarding the episodes biased claims of a link between cannabis and the development of teen schizophrenia posted in my last blog entry I contacted the CBC Ombudsman:

Read orginal letter here.

To the office of the CBC Ombudsman,

Mr. Carlin,

I am writing you in regards to concerns myself and others have about the program aired on CBC’s David Suzuki’s, THE NATURE OF THINGS, episode, The Downside of High, which claimed a substantial link between teen cannabis use and episodes of the development of schizophrenia.

My main concerns, outlined below in my letter to the writer and researcher of this particular episode, Bruce Mohun, emailed on Feb. 5th, 2010, are in regards to the seemingly biased research, and funding for this episode.

As I questioned Mr. Mohun in my letter, although he claims to have “talked to virtually everyone in this field, all over the world,” there seems to be no evidence that Mohun contacted the researchers of 2009 British study, led by Dr. Martin Frisher of Keele University, which examined the records of 600,000 patients aged between 16 and 44, but failed to find a similar link to that proposed in The Downside of High. As CBC news and other media outlets covered this study, I find it hard to believe Mr. Mohun was unaware of it.

Read more:
This brings me to my concerns about potential funding for this particular program, as from my perspective of 20 years of pro-cannabis activism and research (3 books on the history of cannabis and dozens of articles) the timing of the episode has raised some questions in my mind. Questions which were raised directly to Mr. Mohun, but which he has failed to answer.

This production of this program coincides with a multi-million dollar Federally funded add campaign against cannabis, as well as Stephen Harper’s grant of 500k to Evangelical Minister Chris Summerville for a study which is directed at establishing a link between cannabis and schizophrenia. As both of these programs came at a time of world wide economic upheaval, this indicates how important an issue the continuation of cannabis prohibition is for the Harper government. Establishing a link between cannabis and schizophrenia would put a scientific label on this purely moralistic agenda. My concern is that part of this agenda may have been fulfilled the program The Downside of High, and knowledge of a connection through funding by the Federal government would establish that as a fact, and also answer questions about the bias nature of the research of the program, which was particularly disappointing to see on David Suzuki THE NATURE OF THINGS.

As Mr. Mohun has ignored my letter to him personally regarding these issues, I know turn to the office of the CBC Ombudsman in hopes of attaining an answer.


Chris Bennett

Response from the Ombudsman

Notice of reciept from the Ombudsman

Dear Chris Bennett:

I write to acknowledge receipt of your e-mail. It is the customary practice of CBC’s Office of the Ombudsman to share complaints with the relevant programmers, who have the right to respond first to criticism of their work. I have therefore shared your e-mail with Michael Allder, Executive Producer of The Nature of Things, along with the request that your concerns be addressed. If you are not satisfied with the response you receive you may ask me to review the matter.


Vince Carlin

CBC Ombudsman

…and then this led to a response from Bruce Mohun

Mr. Bennett,

The production was funded by The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the Canadian Television Fund. You can look up how those organizations are funded.

I am not biased. You’ve read another letter that I sent out to someone, so you’re familiar with where I stand. The issue of whether rates of schizophrenia can be matched to increased rates of marijuana use was covered by Jim Van Os in the documentary. Robin Murray agrees that increases or decreases in the rates of schizophrenia over time are virtually impossible to measure. It’s certainly very difficult, if not impossible, to attribute an increase or decrease to any one risk factor. Perhaps we should have spent more time explaining this.

This production aired important cautionary information on the use of marijuana in teens based on 35 years of studies. There are a few studies that don’t find a link. Their failure to find a link does not deny a link nor annul the other studies. The unbiased experts in the field (and as a journalist I defer to the unbiased experts) are quite confident that marijuana, for now, should be considered by society to be a risk factor for marijuana.

Bruce Mohun

And then a new response from me to Mr. Mohun, forwarded to the Ombudsman and other CBC officials who have been included by the Ombudsman.

Mr. Mohun

Thank you for taking the time to respond to my concerns.

I am unsatisfied with your response re: alternative studies. That you failed to even acknowledge the recent British study led by Dr. Martin Frisher of Keele University, which examined the records of 600,000 patients aged between 16 and 44, and failed to find a similar link, is wholly unacceptable. This was a major study covered in the international press and you failed to even mention it. Were any of the studies you are referring to dealing with numbers like those of the Keele study?

In fact, the science of many of the studies that have tried to show a link between cannabis and schizophrenia have themselves been called into question by other researchers, such as the 2008 study published in the Lancet and popularly cited, and which Psychiatrist Dr. Lester Grinspoon Associate Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School critiques in the winter/spring edition of O’Shaughnessys

Dr. Grinspoon, a psychiatrist and well known cannabis expert has been on the Nature of Things before, and would have been a realistic choice for an oppositional voice to the pro-link researchers you focused on, if the program which you wrote was truly meant to be unbiased.

As well, Dr. David Nutt, a psychiatrist and neuropsychopharmacologist specializing in the research of drugs which affect the brain and conditions such as addiction, anxiety and sleep and former UK advisor to the Ministry of Defense, Department of Health and the Home Office and the chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, has stated in regards to the suggested link between schizophrenia and the stronger forms of cannabis:

“The… paradox is that schizophrenia seems to be disappearing (from the general population), even though cannabis use has increased markedly in the last 30 years. So, even though skunk has been around now for 10 years, there has been no upswing in schizophrenia. In fact, where people have looked, they haven’t found any evidence linking cannabis use in a population and schizophrenia.”

Nutt’s firing from his government position for his stance on cannabis, which he felt should be legalized, was also covered in the international press, and would have been hard to miss while you were researching The Downside of High. I am sure Dr. David Nutt would have only been to happy to share his views with you in this regard.

You state that “Their failure to find a link does not deny a link nor annul the other studies.” In fact, at the very least, they bring the studies you refer into question – a question that should have been left open to the viewer, and by leaving these studies out, you have forced your position on the millions of Canadians who watch David Suzuki’s Nature of Things, and if that is not biased reporting I do not know what is.

Everything about any link between cannabis and schizophrenia in your program was based on the most minimal bits of anecdotal evidence. The human species has always produced individuals who develop schizophrenia, some of those people come to smoke cannabis before it develops and some afterwards as a form of self medication. That is not indicative of a causation link between the two. Your program was fear mongering and yellow journalism of the worst sort.

I strongly feel that as a resolution to this issue, Dr. David Suzuki should include a segment in a future episode as a follow up and refer to the contradictory findings of other researchers in regards to the one sided presentation put forth in The Downside of High.

I should also note in regards to your comments about why you think cannabis should remain illegal “I don’t want to see millions of acres of land go under the plough to grow a drug, when we desperately need that land to be either returned to nature or used for food production.” It would clearly not take “millions of acres of land” to produce cannabis flowers for both recreational and medicinal use. This just goes to show how completely askew your reasoning is when it comes to cannabis.

Chris Bennett

More to come……

If you were unhappy with ‘The Downside of High’ as well, write the CBC Ombudsman a letter and complain.

The CBC’s Office of the Ombudsman deals with complaints about information programming.

Complaints should be in writing. Please indicate the name of the program and whether it was on CBC Radio, CBC Television, CBC Newsworld or the CBC web site. Please be specific. If you feel a program or report was unfair or biased, for example, please indicate how it was unfair or biased. When we receive your complaint we will ask the relevant programmers to respond. If you are not satisfied with the response you receive, you can contact the Office of the Ombudsman again to request an independent review.

Please include:
Name, address and telephone number.

Here is how you can reach us:

[email protected]

Vince Carlin
P.O. Box 500, Station A
Toronto, Ontario M5W 1E6
Fax: 416/205-2825
Tel.: 416/205-2978

Chris Bennett
Chris Bennett

Chris Bennett has been researching the historical role of cannabis in the spiritual life of humanity for more than a quarter of a century. He is co-author of Green Gold the Tree of Life: Marijuana in Magic and Religion (1995); Sex, Drugs, Violence and the Bible (2001); and author of Cannabis and the Soma Solution (2010); and Liber 420: Cannabis, Magickal herbs and the Occult (2018) . He has also contributed chapters on the the historical role of cannabis in spiritual practices in books such as The Pot Book (2010), Entheogens and the Development of Culture (2013), Seeking the Sacred with Psychoactive Substances (2014), One Toke Closer to God (2017), Cannabis and Spirituality (2016) and Psychedelics Reimagined (1999). Bennett’s research has received international attention from the BBC , Guardian, Sunday Times, Washington Post, Vice and other media sources. He currently resides in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.