Cannabis Vs. Alcohol

20 Feb

Cannabis is a widespread and commonly used drug. It is mostly smoked but can also be consumed.  According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists (2011), two million people in the UK smoke it regularly, and half of all 16 to 29 year olds have tried it.  The legal status of this drug is a controversial topic, with many people claiming that alcohol causes more damage to society and individuals than cannabis does. In January 2009 Cannabis was made a class B drug, meaning that five years in prison, maximum, could be given for possession of the drug; and 14 years in prison if caught dealing.

The active ingredient in Canabis is delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), it acts by changing the activity of cannabinoid receptors in the brain. This leads to the most commonly associated side effect of cannabis; the affect on mental health. A tenth of individuals who started using cannabis by the age of 15, where found to have schizophreniform disorder by the age of 26 (Arseneault et al, 2002).  Cannabis users can also struggle to fund their ‘hobby’. The average user of cannabis goes through 10 grams a week (CLEAR UK, 2011). With the street price being ten pounds a gram, this equals one hundred pounds spent on the drug, on average, per week.  There are also links between cannabis use and an increased risk of heart attacks, development of head and neck cancers and an increased risk of lung infection (Macnair, 2010).

Alcohol can have immediate negative affects on the body; known as alcohol poisoning. Between 2007 and 2008, more than 30,000 people went to hospital with this (Prior, 2012). In extreme cases it can cause heart attack or death. Individuals under the influence of alcohol are more likely to take risks; which could potentially cause them and other injuries and possibly death. Long-term health risks of drinking alcohol are liver problems, reduced fertility, high blood pressure, increased risk of a large number of cancers and heart attack. Women, who are classed as high-risk drinkers, are 50% more likely to develop breast cancer (NHS, 2010). There are also mental health problems associated with drinking alcohol; it reduces the number of neurotransmitters in the brain, which can cause anxiety and depression. It also destroys the brains memory (Prior, 2012). There is also the risk of becoming alcohol dependent (Mental Health Foundation, 2008). These affects of alcohol use seem to be much more severe than that of cannabis use.

Unlike alcohol, Cannabis has actually been found to have positive affects. It helps to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy treatment. There are also claims it can help with migraines, headaches, asthma, strokes, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, alcoholism, cancer, HIV/AIDS, insomnia and vision disorders (Szulakowska & Milnerowicz, 2007).  Medical Cannabis has been legal in California since 1996, and is now legal in 12 other U.S. states.  Cannabis is less addictive than alcohol. In 2001, there were 331 alcohol overdose deaths and 0 marijuana overdose deaths (U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 2004), which shows that Cannabis is less toxic that alcohol. People who are intoxicated with Alcohol account for a lot more crimes than those intoxicated with Cannabis. The figure below states the comparison between Alcohol and Cannabis, and clearly shows the severity of drinking alcohol.

[Image above retrieved from:


Overall Cannabis is a safer for the user and better for society. The question remains as to why Cannabis is illegal when Alcohol is legal.

This link has more information on the debate:




Arseneault, L., Cannon, M., Poulton, R., Murray, R., Caspi, A., & Moffit, T. E. (2002) Cannabis use in adolescence and risk for adult psychosis: longitudinal prospective study. British Medical Journal, 325, 1212-1213. doi: 10.1136/bmj.325.7374.1212

Buddy, T. (2011). The Health Effects of Marijuana; Negative Health Effects Are Numerous. Medical Review Board. The New York Times Company. Retrieved from

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2004). Alcohol-Attributable Deaths and Years of Potential Life Lost — United States, 2001. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 53(37), 866-870. Retrieved from:

CLEAR Cannabis Law Reform. (2012). Retrieved from

Iversen, L. (2003). Cannabis and The Brain. Brain, A Journal of Neurology. 126(6), 1252-1270. doi: 10.1093/brain/awg143

Macnair, T. (2010). What is Cannabis. BBC: England. Retrieved from

Mental Health Foundation. (2008). Alcohol and Mental Health. Leaflet retrieved from

National Health Service. (2010). The Risks of Drinking too much.

Prior, K. (2012).

Szulakowska, A., & Milnerowicz, H. (2007) Cannabis sativa in the Light of Scientific Research. Adv Clin Exp Med, 16(6), 807–815. Retrieved from

Timms, P. (2009). Cannabis and Mental Health. The Royal College of Psychiatrists. Public Education Editorial Board: London.


The Costs of Controlled Crying

5 Feb

‘Controlled Crying’ is a method, which is advised by most Health Visitors, to get a baby to sleep through the night. It involves leaving the baby to cry in their cot for a certain amount of time, before going to comfort them, without touching them, and then leaving again. This continues until the baby has cried their self to sleep, and throughout the night until they sleeps through. Needless to say this causes a lot of distress to both the baby and parents. It is a very controversial topic. Some mothers and health advisors swear by it, whilst others argue that it is a quick fix to help a tired mum, who is unaware of the Psychological consequences this could potentially cause their child.

Controlled Crying is essentially a form of Learned Helplessness, and whilst it works to stop a child from crying, it teaches the child not to cry when they are distressed (The Australian Association for Infant Mental Health, 2002). Learned helplessness, in turn, is linked to depression (Seligman, 1967), which surprisingly affects 1 in 40 babies (Shatkin, 2006). Leaving a baby to cry also prevents him or her from forming proper attachments (AAIMHI, 2002) leading to various psychological and behavioral problems (Evergreen Psychotherapy Center, 2004). Research also shows that children who were left to cry as babies are 10 times more likely to have ADHD (Wolke, 2002). There is now recent research suggests that controlled crying not only harms the baby Psychologically, but also affects their brain development. Babies who have been left to cry have been found to have higher Cortisol levels, which if extreme, could cause a reduction in the number of synapses and the death of neurons (Schore, 2001).

Other studies have reported that Sleep Training causes no detrimental effects to Infants (France, 1992). A good night routine is in fact healthy for children, and research suggests that children who have one do better in school (The Princes Trust, 2012). A parent who has had sufficient sleep will also be able to care for their baby better through the day. Where as, a lack of sleep may make parents tired and grumpy, leading to marital tension and possibly divorce. Therefore, for some families, Controlled Crying may be the best option for the baby to have a happy childhood. It is also not clear whether some of the research linked to Controlled Crying actually reflects on the sleep training in particular, or to excessive crying due to other reasons. If so, the correlation between ADHD and Controlled Crying, for example, would not be valid. It could be that a baby born with ADHD, would cry more than a usual baby. There is not much valid research done on the effects of Controlled Crying due to ethics, and the fact the studies need to be longitudinal.

The question remains as to whether it is ethical to leave a baby, who is clearly in distress to cry by them selves. Separation anxiety often affects babies, causing them to want to be with their mothers. It would not be right to leave a hyperactive adult in a cage to teach them to sit still, so what really is the difference? Although research is not reliable at the moment, it is not worth the risk to the wellbeing of the baby.

“Many parents argue that they tried “Ferberizing” their baby and enjoyed great success with the technique. Indeed, the infant may stop crying and learn to go to sleep on his own, but this is a short-term pay off for parents. The baby has not suddenly discovered quiet content. He simply is exhausted from his futile efforts to be nurtured. Fifteen years later, the same parents shrug their shoulders and wonder why their kids are shutting them out.”  (Coburn, 1998)

A Couple of interesting links are: (really good leaflet)


 Australian Association for Infant Mental Health. (2002). Controlled Crying: AAIMHI Position Paper. Retrieved from

Coburn, J. (1998) In Commons, M. L. (1998). Emotional Learning in Infants: A Cross-Cultural Examination. Retrieved from

Commons, M. L. (1998). Emotional Learning in Infants: A Cross-Cultural Examination. Retrieved from

France, K. G. (1992). Behavior Characteristics and Security in Sleep-Disturbed Infants Treated with Extinction. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 17(4), 467-475.

Gunnar, M. R., Brodersen, L.,Nachmias, M., Buss, K., & Rigatuso, J. (1996). Stress reactivity and attachment security. Developmental Psychobiology, 29(3), 191-204. DOI: 10.1002/(SICI)1098-2302(199604)29:3<191::AID-DEV1>3.0.CO;2-M

Orlans, M., & Levy, T. (2004). Evergreen Psychotherapy Center; Attachment Treatment & Training Institute. Suite, America: Comfort Technical Assistance, LLC. Retrieved from

Schore, A. N. (2001). The effects of early relational trauma on right brain development, affect regulation, and infant mental health. Infant Mental Health Journal, 22(1-2), 201-269. DOI: 10.1002/1097-0355(200101/04)22:1<201::AID-IMHJ8>3.0.CO;2-9

The Princes Trust. (2012). Retrieved from

Wolke, D. (2002). Persistent Infant Crying and Hyperactivity Problems in Middle Childhood. Pediatrics, 109, 1054-1060.

Critique of Research towards Sex Differences in Colour Preference

16 Dec

The journal article ‘Biological components of sex differences in color preference’ by Hurlbert and Ling investigates colour preferences of males and female. It supplies evidence towards the idea that boys prefer the colour blue and girls the colour pink. It does not do any research into the reason why. The part of the title, ‘biological components’, is not relevant to the information that they studied. There is the suggestion in the article about the reason for these colour preferences being the hunter- gatherer theory, but no research was done to find the validity of this.

The hunter- gatherer theory is the idea that female’s brains are more specialized to do gathering. So they will be able to pick out bright, ripe fruit, easier than males. This could explain why they prefer pink. It suggests that males prefer blue, as this is the colour of clean water and a clear sky. All that Hurlbert and Ling discovered was in fact that female did prefer pink, and males blue. This, for me personally, is not breaking news, or amazing findings. It is just scientific proof, for a theory. One which is already assumed as true.

The title of the 2007 Sunday Times article ‘At last, science discovers why blue is for boys but girls really do prefer pink’ is not accurate to the study findings. In fact, it is not at all accurate. The study did no research what so ever on the reasons why boys prefer blue and girls pink. The Sunday Times journal suggests that there was research into the reason why boys and girls prefer different colours. This was not the case, there was merely a suggestion at the end of the research report stating that there was a theory, the hunter – gatherer theory, which could help to explain the results that they obtained.

The media report explains the hunter- gatherer theory as if it was new information. It suggests the idea that it is a new scientific breakthrough. When in fact the hunter- gatherer theory is not what Hurlbert and Ling’s research was about at all. This shows how the media exaggerates information to make it more appealing and interesting for the public to read. Both the headlines imply that the reason why boys prefer blue and girls prefer pink was discovered. This is not warranted at all.



Henderson, M. (August 21, 2007). At last, science discovers why blue is for boys but girls really do prefer pink.

The Times. Hurlbert, A. C. &; Ling, Y. (2007). Biological components of sex differences in color preference. Current Biology, 17(16).

‘Video games cause violence’

1 Dec

Video games commonly involve controversial, ‘interesting’ topics. Things such as sex, drugs, crime, fighting, wars, nudity and racism are often found in video games. It seems obvious that these games could influence children, potentially causing aggression as they idolise their on screen avatar. For years the issue of video games causing violence has been debated in the media.

MRI scans on children’s brains after playing a violent video game have showed a negative affect on the brain. It is not just video games that cause this affect though, the same can be found after watching violent movies. Teens who play violent games for excessive amounts of time are found to be more aggressive. They are prone to getting into conflicts with their teachers and they are also more likely to engage in fights. It has also been found that violent video games can cause a decline in academic achievements (Gentile et al, 2004).

The constant repetition of the violent acts in video games could possibly be the reason why they can cause aggression in teenagers (Gentile & Anderson, 2003). Repetition is used as an effective learning method, so are these games in fact teaching children to be violent? The fact that many parents do not limit the time their children spend playing video games also contributes to this learning of violence (Walsh, 2000).

The above graph shows that exposure to violent video games decreases positive prosocial actions. These are actions that help others (Walsh, D; 2000). [Click image to enlarge]

Contrary to what many people may believe, research has found that children learn more from video games, than they do through books. In an experiment carried out by Dr David Lewis, historic information was integrated in a video game, and also presented in written form. Over three quarters of the children studied absorbed the information from the video game, whereas only half did when they read it.

However this research is only relevant to academic games, or games with educational information. It does not mean that they don’t also cause aggression and violence. Therefore it does not mean that all games are ‘good’ for children. This research just highlights the fact that video games can be used to benefit children academically and are not all aggression causing.

Again, this debate could refer back to correlation and causation. Could the correlation between aggression and violent video games just reflect on the type of person who is likely to play video games? The link is definitely there, but does this mean that video games are the cause of the aggression?

Gentile, D. A. & Anderson, C. A. (2003). Violent video games: The newest media violence hazard. In D. A. Gentile (Ed.), Media violence and children. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishing.

Gentile, D. A., Lynch, P., Linder, J. & Walsh, D. (2004). The effects of violent video game habits on adolescent hostility, aggressive behaviors, and school performance. Journal of Adolescence, 27, 5-22.

Walsh, D. (2000). Interactive violence and children: Testimony submitted to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, United States Senate. (March 21, 2000.) 

Facebook; a help or a hindrance?

18 Nov

Okay, so we all have facebook right? In fact, almost everyone on facebook are either students, teachers, people involved in education or people who want to learn (according to the online education programs guide). I would say the majority of us spend most of our time when doing our ‘uni work’ actually casually nosying in on our friends personal lives. During my A level exams and GCSE’s, I have been tempted to delete my social network sites numerous time. Hours of precious revision time, was unknowingly to my mum, spent browsing the same old boring newsfeed, where uneventful events happened to the same uneventful peoples lives. People who were also obviously also trying to avoid doing their work.

Since having a baby, facebook has become my connection to the real outside world. It’s the only connection to normal people I easily have, whilst being stuck indoors with a slobbery little elf man sicking all over me. While I have no time for socialising, reading newspapers or keeping up with my friends’ new boyfriends, in the rare few moments I do have free, facebook means I am not totally in the dark about what is happening in the world. It is surprising how much you can learn from a site that appears to be determined to ruin your grades. I mean I must have discovered that Amy Winehouse had died moments after it happened. Not that this is an important Psychological breakthrough, but it educated me all the same.. drink and drugs are bad!

Facebook can also be educational in a more traditional sense, all the helpful members on the undergrad psychology page have came to my need when things have just got too confusing for me. Posting a question you need answered takes a few seconds and is a lot easier than emailing a lecturer. I don’t know how I would have managed without it during my time at uni. So despite my mum telling me facebook is a waste of time, and it is going to make me fail, I still believe it’s a necessity in my life.

Understandably, not everyone shares the same views as me; a study by Kirschner and Karpinski (2010) discovered that Facebook users actually have lower Grade Point Averages than non-facebook users. They also spend fewer hours per week studying. Referring to my blog on causation and correlation, this information does not have to mean that facebook is bad! It might however be the people who are less likely to put as much effort into their work anyway, that use facebook. It doesn’t actually mean that the cause of these lower scores and less study time is facebook. It could merely be coincidence.

A different study used 909 undergraduate students from a UK university. It recorded their activity on facebook and concluded that facebook has its own place in education. It helps to manage the ‘role conflict’ that students find occurs between uni work, teaching staff and social lives (Neil Selwyn, 2009). This is true!! Facebook has its own niche and can be totally beneficial to a persons studies.

So what are everyone else’s views on facebook? Does it help or hinder our education?


Kirschner, P.A.,& Karpinski, A. C. (2010). Online Interactivity: Role of Technology in Behavior Change. Computers in Human Behavior, 26(6), 1237-1245. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2010.03.024

Selwyn, N. (2009). Faceworking: exploring students’ education-related use of Facebook. Learning and social software – researching the realities, 34(2), 157-174. doi: 10.1080/17439880902923622

The Causation Correlation Confusion.

21 Oct

“Man is so intelligent that he feels impelled to invent theories to account for what happens in the world. Unfortunately, he is not quite intelligent enough, in most cases, to find correct explanations. So that when he acts on his theories, he behaves very often like a lunatic.” –Aldous Huxley

Causation is when one thing has caused the other outcome to happen. For example, saying that smoking causes lung cancer. Correlation shows a relationship between two events, for example there is a relationship between smoking and alcoholism. A correlation however does not mean that one has caused the other, it just shows a link. It does not mean that smoking causes alcoholism, or alcoholism causes smoking, but there is a link between the two. In research there could be loads of other variables, which can’t always be controlled, and so therefore although there is a correlation, it cannot easily be proven to be causation.

I think that people do generally use correlations to assume causations; I know that I for one do. The human mind likes to make relationships between information and jump to conclusions. Thankfully, in professional Scientific and Psychological research papers, this is not the case! But a huge culprit for assuming causations is the media! I think that by now, we all know that the media do not always tell the truth. They are there to interest people, sell stories and make money. Sadly the truth is not always as interesting as they like, people want facts! They want to know the cause of things, not a link between two things that could mean anything. So the media, especially tabloid papers, like to make mountains out of molehills when it comes to scientific and psychological discoveries. Even politicians have been known to assume causation to put across their beliefs to the public.

Some silly assumptions by the media are:

“Men who have beards are happier than men who do not.” This leads the public into thinking that beards have a magic that CAUSE the male owner of them to be happier. This has to be nonsense! If a man grew a beard, he wouldn’t necessarily be happier overnight! The correlation between the two may have been due to the fact that maybe more self confident and laid back men grew beards.

“People who own red cars are twice as likely to have an accident as people who own blue cars.” This doesn’t mean that red cars are more dangerous. There could be many reasons as to why red cars have more accidents. The owners of red cars may pick the colour red due to them being aggressive. The colour red may also be more popular with bold, ‘I want to stand out’ people, who are more likely to drive aggressively.

sooooo… to avoid all this silly confusion: ALWAYS LOOK AT THE ORIGINAL PAPER!

An interesting website on this correlation vs causation topic is:

“What role does the null hypothesis REALLY play in the scientific process?”

13 Oct

3rd blog already, how time flies! This week I was pretty stuck for ideas on what to write my blog on, so I resorted to looking at the list of possible blog topics. I have been puzzled over the need for a null hypothesis since writing my ‘Is Psychology a Science’ assignment, so I have decided to debate it.

In science, research must follow the rule of the null hypothesis. This is the assumption that all assertions are false, unless they have been proven, with evidence, to be correct. So in other words, everything that hasn’t been backed up with evidence is considered untrue. The null hypothesis is the opposite of what the experimenter predicts, that there is no relationship between the two variables. The Alternate hypothesis is the null hypothesis’s rival. The alternate hypothesis would assume that the assertion was true.

For example:

Hypothesis– The plate is hot due to it being in the sun.

Null hypothesis– The plate being hot is not due to it being in the sun.

Alternate hypothesis– The plate is hot due to it being in the sun.

But why do scientists actually use the null hypothesis? They say that the only way to support a hypothesis is to disprove a null hypothesis! Rather than trying to prove that the alternate hypothesis is correct, you must find the null hypothesis to be wrong! This means that we would have to look for other reasons that the plate could be hot, rather than it being in the sun. Doesn’t that sound all very complicated and unnecessary really?  Why cant we just find evidence for a hypothesis being correct?

I think that the null hypothesis is mainly used to act as a safety guard. It helps to reduce bias in experiments. Researchers will be inclined to be bias towards the results that they would like in their experiments. But if they were to set out to prove or disprove a null hypothesis, would they be less biased? It helps to cancel out other variables and ensures that the researcher has covered all possible variables in their experiment.

I’m still finding this all a little confusing, so please criticise my ideas as to why the null hypothesis is important!