An absinthe bender in 1888 reportedly prompted Vincent Van Gogh to cut his ear off and leave it at a brothel, but the green fairy was merely the scapegoat, not the catalyst. Alan Moss of the Swiss absinthe brand La Clandestine told PRØHBTD, "Van Gogh's ear-cutting was more likely a result of the fact that he had an easel loaded with paint in front of his nose all day. Paint standards were a lot lower than absinthe standards in the 19th century, and ingesting all those fumes did him a lot more harm than a couple of glasses of absinthe."
Correlation does not imply causation, yet prohibition-friendly researchers still find ways to blame substances like absinthe and cannabis for every evil under the sun. In the past few years, this effort included claims that cannabis might inspire people to pull a self-inflicted Lorena Bobbitt. When not making stoners lazy and unmotivated, weed apparently makes them really bad at circumcision, too.
The Weedwacker Theory
The theory that cannabis might motivate castration appears in multiple clinical journals, and the following are four examples:
"Bilateral testicular self-castration due to cannabis abuse," published by the Journal of Medical Case Reports in 2011, claimed that "dysfunction of the inhibitory brain circuitry caused by substance abuse could explain why this cannabis-addicted patient lost control and self-mutilated." In layman's terms, cannabis addiction so screwed up a 40-year-old's mind that he castrated himself with his fingernails.
The Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine in 2012 published "A case of self amputation of penis by cannabis induced psychosis." Per the study, cannabis turned a 35-year-old man into a psychotic, and this cannabis-induced psychosis motivated him to cut his junk off.
In 2008, the Italian journal Rivista di Psichiatria reported, "A patient, without previous psychiatric diagnosis... mutilated his own genitalia during an episode of massive and compulsive cannabis abuse which provoked an acute psychotic state." The 26-year-old Italian cut off both his penis and testicles.
A 2007 study in the Jefferson Journal of Psychiatry said, "A 20-year-old man presented to the emergency trauma service status-post autocastration and self-inflicted amputation of his penis. He had reportedly used a utility knife to sever his scrotum, testicles and penis without anesthesia some hours prior." In this case, the individual self-reported a history of alcohol, opium tea, mushroom, cocaine and cannabis use.
So-called cannabis risks have included acne, blindness, sterility, brainwashing, homicidal prompting and changes in sexual preference. Certain members of the medical community now add self-mutilation to the list. PRØHBTD officially calls bullshit.
WWJD (What Would Jesus Downsize)
The basis for the cannabis-castration theory is correlation, but in these particular cases, other prominent correlations exist such as religious extremism. Jesus said, "There are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can" (Matthew 19:12). An eunuch, for those who don't know, is "a man who has been castrated."
The 2012 study said self-castrators often have a "strong religious flavour to their delusion," and the 2011 study noted ties to "issues of religious content [and] guilt." Likewise, the 20-year-old who enjoyed a wide range of drugs in the 2007 study had not consumed cannabis in five days, but he said he "committed the sin of 'lust' and that his penis was the source, requiring removal as the path to atonement in God’s eyes."
The Italian eunuch had also become obsessed with the Bible. The clinical study acknowledged "a link between self-castration behaviours... and religious delusional ideas, referring in particular to episodes in the Gospels in which such actions are associated with the idea of spiritual purification." However, the researchers rejected the religious argument because the "individual without a psychiatric diagnosis of any kind" did the deed "during an episode of massive and compulsive cannabis abuse."
In the same journal in 2017, the researchers updated the study after finding another example. The second eunuch also suffered from "religious delusion," but they still blamed the weed. Coincidentally, both the 2008 and 2017 study started the text by calling cannabis the most widely used illegal substance, which is a telltale sign that funding came from a source that emphasizes harm studies.
Does cannabis cause people to become crazy? In 2015, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) came out against this theory, yet the studies above seem to treat the cannabis-crazy connection as fact. This discounts what might be a more reasonable conclusion: These individuals suffered from mental health disorders (possibly undiagnosed) and delusions that prompted them to act out, and the use of cannabis was merely an attempt to self-medicate.
Rivista di Psichiatria argued that the Italian did not have a "previous psychiatric diagnosis," suggesting he only became crazy when he started smoking. However, not having a previous "diagnosis" doesn't mean he was mentally fit. Mental health issues are often genetic, and his mother had a long history of clinical depression and suicide attempts. He also had so many personal issues at the time that his family encouraged him to quit work and get better, and only then did his cannabis use increase.
To what extent do you minimize erratic behavior and high-risk genetics simply because the 26-year-old did not have a previous professional diagnosis? How does one conclude that cannabis is the more plausible culprit? Does this mean the men would not have castrated themselves if they merely got lit on Jim Beam?
The 2011 study on the wannabe Wolverine at least suggested a neurobiological reason why cannabis might cause castration, i.e., cannabis acts on the mesolimbic dopamine system. The study argued, "There is a close relationship between dopamine and self-mutilation…. We know that psychoactive substances (such as cocaine and cannabis) alter synaptic transmission by interacting with dopamine transporters, and that their dopaminergic action is one of their most important neurobiological properties."
Believing that cannabis is physically addictive, the study added, "Dysfunction of the inhibitory brain circuitry in drug addiction could explain why this patient lost control and mutilated himself following drug use."
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that triggers brain reward, but most rewarding experiences involve higher levels of it. Acts that increase dopamine levels can include drinking coffee, sex and eating chocolate or avocados. Ever heard of runner's high? This too involves an increase in dopamine. So what does that mean for the just-got-laid guy who ran to Whole Foods for his avocado toast and Stumptown coffee?
Chopped & Screwed
Most weedwacker studies seem biased toward establishing harm, and this distracts from the important issues that need more attention. In a survey of 112 self-castrators, 40 percent said they did it to free themselves of sexual urges, which recalls what Jesus said in Matthew 18:8: "If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire."
Other factors—when coupled with mental health disorders—can include sexual fantasies, gender confusion and cosmetic preference (e.g., to look like a Ken doll), but it makes as much sense to blame Mattel for self-administered castration as it does to blame cannabis. Or to blame Van Gogh's ear on absinthe.
In the spirit of misplaced priorities, the Netherlands prohibited absinthe 21 years after the Van Gogh incident, yet it still struggles with toxic paint. In fact, the government agreed to pay €2.1 million in 2017 to toxic paint victims.
Now cue the propagandist who'll probably argue that cannabis coffeeshops are to blame for the paint.
David Jenison (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD. Photo credit: Flickr-NenaB.