Unlicensed television psychologist Dr. Phil McGraw claimed on an episode of his talk show last week that cannabis use can make people violent and cause a drop in IQ scores. McGraw made his claims during a segment about an 11-year-old boy named JJ whose mother sought advice to help control his violent and destructive outbursts on the show Dr. Phil.
Video clips and a voice-over depict JJ as a disturbed boy with a history of violence, including hitting his mother and threatening her with a kitchen knife. JJ’s mom also describes finding photos of him holding a gun and exhaling smoke. Another photograph showed the boy smoking what appears to be a blunt.
After the video clip introducing JJ and his mother, McGraw says that JJ is smoking pot to self-medicate his anxiety, adding that he doesn’t believe cannabis use by children is a wise choice while betraying his own bias on the issue.
“Smoking marijuana at 10 years of age, not a good idea,” McGraw says. “Not a good idea at 11 or 12 or 13. I don’t think it’s a good idea period.”
Dr. Phil Makes Unfounded Claims About Pot
Then McGraw makes a wild assertion with no basis in fact, saying his claims are backed by research but conveniently failing to cite it.
“When you smoke marijuana, it’s like opening your computer up and pouring water inside,” McGraw declares. “A lot of things short out and it connects where it’s not supposed to and really creates problems. And this isn’t my opinion, this is hard, solid scientific research.”
David Juurlink, the head of clinical pharmacology and toxicology at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Toronto, tells Vice that “it’s ludicrous to equate smoking cannabis with pouring water on a computer.”
While cannabis use does have some risks, he adds, the idea that pot can cause permanent damage is sensationalism.
“Maybe Dr. Phil should redirect hyperbole to alcohol, tobacco, opioids, and benzos, all of which are considerably more harmful, as is exploiting your troubled preteen on national television,” Juurlink says.
After making his unsupported claims about cannabis’ supposed harm to brains, McGraw makes more unsubstantiated proclamations about the effects of weed, saying that it lowers intelligence and motivation.
“Even occasional marijuana smokers will look at a multi-point drop in IQ, even with just occasional use, like once a week or two or three times a month, you’ll see IQ drop and motivational drop across time. It changes your brain,” says McGraw.
No License to Practice Psychology
While McGraw has no credentials that qualify him as an expert on cannabis or its effects, he has earned a master’s degree in experimental psychology and a doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of North Texas. However, he is not licensed to practice psychology in any state.
His license to practice psychology in Texas was voluntarily surrendered in 2006. In 1989, he was reprimanded by the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists for having an inappropriate non-physical relationship with a patient. McGraw first came into prominence by appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show in the 1990s.