Ben Carson Makes Head-Scratching Comments About Pot Use

By Paul Gaita 08/28/17

Carson's comments have since been blasted by marijuana advocacy organizations.

Ben Carson

Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Dr. Ben Carson appeared to voice his opposition to marijuana use, which he claimed can "lead to lower IQs" at a recent public event.

Speaking before the Native American Housing Association's annual summer meeting in Polson, Montana on August 21, Dr. Carson deviated from his remarks about housing to address the opioid epidemic and its impact on communities across the United States.

From there, he moved on to briefly address marijuana, which Dr. Carson said he was "not all that enthusiastic about," citing "numerous studies" which suggest that it could negatively affect IQ rates. His comments were dismissed by numerous pro-marijuana groups, which cited multiple examples of research that largely dispelled marijuana's potential to lower IQ as a long-standing myth.

Dr. Carson's comments about opioids and marijuana were just one of several tangential subjects he addressed during his speech at KwaTaqNuk Resort, including economic growth in the United States, before segueing to drug-related issues. In regard to opioids, Dr. Carson—who was a pediatric neurosurgeon before his White House appointment—appeared to express concern, saying, "As a doctor, few things break my heart more than to hear of families torn down and torn apart by substances which damage bodies and minds."

He then moved on to marijuana, explaining that studies have shown that "exposing a developing brain to marijuana can lead to lower IQs," before adding, "We already have enough people with a low IQ, and we don't need any more." According to the Flathead Beacon in Montana, he concluded his speech by stating that the answer to community issues—especially those within Indian Country—was to reduce government regulations.

The response to Dr. Carson's comments by marijuana advocacy organizations was epitomized in a blog post by NORML's Political Director, Justin Strekal, who wrote that "the ongoing stereotype of marijuana consumers may be funny in movies, but it runs counter to evidence-based science." The post cited a slew of studies which countered Carson's statements, including data from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which stated, "We find little evidence to suggest that adolescent marijuana use has a direct effect on intellectual decline… deficits observed in marijuana users are attributable to confounding factors that influence both substance initiation and IQ rather than a neurotoxic effect of marijuana."

Some research appeared to indicate that there was a tenuous connection between adolescent marijuana use and lower IQs, but in these cases, the study authors found that "there was little evidence that cannabis use was associated with IQ decline from age 12 to 18. Moreover, although cannabis use was associated with lower IQ and poorer executive functions at age 18, these associations were generally not apparent within pairs of twins from the same family, suggesting that family background factors explain why adolescents who use cannabis perform worse on IQ and executive function tests."

In its coverage of the comments, High Times made a point of listing a number of other well-publicized statements about science and history that Dr. Carson has given over the years, and which have drawn criticism and even outright disbelief. The article cites a 1998 commencement speech for Andrews University in which Dr. Carson opined that the Old Testament figure Joseph may have been responsible for building the pyramids of Egypt to store grain.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.