The criminogenic action of cannabis (marihuana) and narcotics




Pages: 23 to 28
Creation Date: 1964/01/01

The criminogenic action of cannabis (marihuana) and narcotics

Dr. Oswald MORAES ANDRADE Director of the Professor Adauto Botelho Institute of the Ministry of Health of Brazil

The hemp plant ( Cannabis sativa) has been known since ancient times.

In the year A.D. 1190, Hassan-lbn-Saba founded a secret society which solved its external problems by murder. However, before exterminating the life of whoever the victim was to be, the followers of the sect were intoxicated with hashish, a substance extracted from cannabis leaves.

During the period of intoxication, the proselytes were taken to gardens full of women where they were offered every pleasure, as a foretaste of the paradise that awaited them if they committed the murders that were assigned to them. In this ancient legend, the "Old Man of the Mountain" also promised his followers beautiful "houris" (maidens) along with the drug. Prof. Pedro Pernambuco, Jr., has asked in one of his works on cannabis: "Was it hashish or the desire to possess the beautiful houri that moved the arm of the assassin?" The question has never been answered. Yet the legend continues and the press repeats it daily, and today there exists an almost collective conviction that cannabis is specifically criminogenic.

** *

We tried to make a study of the criminals who passed through the court's insane asylum, Heitor Carrilho, of the National Bureau of Mental Diseases of the Ministry of Health, and who were connected with the use of cannabis. The conclusions in this article are based on ten years of observation of such cases.

A study was made of hundreds of patients who had been charged with the most varied crimes, such as homicide, aggression, armed assault, theft and the sale and use of cannabis. All the cases mentioned here either passed through, or are still interned in, the court's insane asylum, Heiter Carrilho, a specialized hospital for the examination of delinquents suspected of having mental disturbances.

In this institution we have tried to verify if the crime imputed to the accused, or his presumed dangerousness is, or is not, the consequence of a mental disorder.

In our observations in Heitor Carrilho, based on study and analysis of the criminal act and the delinquent's earlier life, we discovered a series of anti-social occurrences and extravagant acts that had nothing to do with the use of cannabis, even when the accused indulged in such use.

We have concluded that cannabis does not have the criminogenic action so unquestionably accepted by the police and by the press itself. We consider that it is a false idea that the use of cannabis obligatorily leads the user to a criminal act.

Among the cases sent to Heitor Carrilho, under the accusation that they had committed their crimes under the influence of cannabis, after thorough examination we found psychopathic personalities, maniac-depressive psychoses, schizophrenia, oligophrenia or neurotic disturbances. The cases were generally of unadjusted personalities, mental weaklings or psychotics, who were led to crime as a function of their morbid state. On studying the dynamic action of the crime, we came to the conclusion that the crime was an expression of the morbid state of the patient, independent of his marihuana "addiction ".

Prof. Pedro Pernambuco, Jr., during the symposium held in the city of Sao Paulo, Brazil, described a specific case which we had previously published in the Brazilian Journal of Psychiatry, of July 1958, in which we described a crime committed by a sailor of nineteen years of age, who, having smoked some marihuana cigarettes in company with other delinquents, decided to go with his companions to the Brazil Central Railroad Station. Arriving there, he entered one of the coaches that was taking on passengers. "At that moment," declared the criminal, "I had a 'crisis' and made my first stab into a passenger who was reclining in a seat in front of me. Afterwards I did some more stabbing, but that wasn't my intention."

Making a thorough study of this individual, we noted that his conduct had been always bad in various other places where he had been, provoking disorders and even attacking his companions. We came to the conclusion that he was not a true mental case, but rather a perverse psychopathic personality, of which his crime was an expression. He was submitted to a physical examination right after his arrest, and no traces of his being under the influence of marihuana were found. This delinquent was already a misfit, and cannabis was only a contributing factor triggering his tendency towards aggressiveness.

We know that the narcotics addict is extremely aggressive and capable of committing any crime and of acceding to the most abject proposals during the period of "lack ". On the other hand, it has been proved that cannabis does not have any effects produced by its abstinence, nor is there an imperative necessity to increase the amount of the drug.

Law-decree No. 891, of 25 November 1938, regulates the supervision of narcotics in Brazil, and it has given positive results in the cases of true toxicomanias - that is, in the cases of cocainomania, of opium intoxication and its derivatives, and of synthetic drugs of morphine-type action. The decree should not apply, however, in the case of cannabis, which it places among the narcotic substances, whereas this is contrary to the official definition of narcotics of the World Health Organization.

To classify cannabis as a narcotic is contrary to the widespread and classic definition of narcotic substances, by Di Mattei, published for the first time in the Nervous and Mental Pathology Magazine, in 1931.

The World Health Organization subsequently decided that: "A toxicomania is a periodic or chronic state of intoxication, produced by the repeated consumption of a drug (natural or synthetic) which is harmful to the individual and to society.

"Its characteristics are:

"1. Uncontrollable desire or necessity (dependency) to continue consuming a drug and to try to get it by all means;

"2. Tendency to increase the doses;

"3. Psychic (psychological) and physical dependency as a result of the effects of the drug."

In Di Mattei's classification we have the following: "Narcotics are poisons of man and society which, capable of promoting a pleasant inebriation, act selectively upon the cerebral cortex and can be taken in increasing doses without causing acute poisoning and death, yet capable of provoking a state of necessity of the drug, serious and dangerous disturbances due to abstinence, and deep and progressive somatic and psychic alterations."

From the definitions above we can see that the true narcotic substance is that whose deprivation will produce more or less serious somatic and psychic symptoms (toxic privation). In the case of cannabis, experience proves and the authorities confirm that it is not an addiction-producing substance - that is, its deprivation does not bring on the well-known syndrome of abstinence caused by cocaine, opium and its derivatives and the synthetic drugs with morphine-like action.

This syndrome of abstinence was long ago studied among us by Pedro Pernambuco, Jr., and Adauto Botelho, in the publication entitled Elegant Social Vices, and by I. da Cunha Lopes in Toxicomanias.

Now, in accordance with the concept of the World Health Organization, which comprises the studies being carried out with regard to the use of cannabis, we can truly conclude that the individual who uses cannabis is not a drug addict, and that this substance is erroneously considered a narcotic, since it does not present the psychic and physical phenomena of abstinence.

Under the terms of the law-decree No. 891, of 25 November 1938, among the narcotic substances in general we will find, in group XVI, hemp ( Cannabis sativa) and the Indian variety, marihuana (known as maconha, meconha, diamba, liamba and by other common names).

In its article 281, the Brazilian Penal Code studied the crime that it calls "clandestine commerce or facilitation of the use of narcotics ", and that provision relates inter alia to the bearers and transporters of cannabis. In our opinion, this substance could not, and should not, be included, because, as we see it, it does not have the characteristics of a true narcotic substance.

Experience shows, and facts confirm, that there is a lot of fantasy and pseudo-science surrounding cannabis, not to mention the sensationalist articles which have harmful effects on society. Such distortions of reality are so harmful that, among the juvenile addicts, to consume the largest number of marihuana cigarettes per day constitutes a matter of pride.

There are numerous delinquents hospitalized in Heitor Carrilho and, in spite of great caution, during routine searches we sometimes find some amount of the cannabis weed secreted among the inmates.

We also noted that, due to the proximity of the court's asylum to the Sao Carlos slums, cannabis was frequently thrown in "balls of stockings" over the wall that separates the courtyard of the inmates from the slum-dwellings. The weed also gains entrance through visitors.

In spite of a strict vigilance, the inmates are sometimes able to indulge in the use of cannabis. However, there has never been among them any manifestation of aggression, nor has a crime ever been committed among the inmates that could be attributed to the use of cannabis, although crimes do sometimes occur. One of the criminals we examined, who had already been interned in the penal colony at Ilha Grande, told us that some prisoners even cultivate cannabis.

On one occasion, we examined a patient in the Lemos Brito Penitentiary, who was a very dangerous individual. On being returned to prison from a trial, he tried to escape from the prison's car and killed two guards. This individual told us that he was awaiting the visit of the magistrate to show him marihuana he received inside the prison itself! This seemed strange to us since this criminal was completely isolated from the other inmates. With regard to this patient, we arrived at the conclusion that he had a psychopathic personality.

Recently, it came to our knowledge that Judge Dr. Rubem Rodrigues Silva, in charge of the 9th Criminal Court, absolved the accused, N. M. M., tried on a charge of selling marihuana inside the Lemos Brito Penitentiary. He was already a prisoner serving a sentence for the same type of crime, and had been condemned by the judge of that same criminal court. The judge in question said in his sentence that "the law, when punishing the clandestine commerce in, or the facilitation of the use of, narcotics, presupposes that the agent is in a position to sell narcotic substances. Now, a prisoner, interned in the penitentiary does not enjoy the necessary freedom of action to practice illegal commerce. The practice of the crime, in my understanding, is impossible if the objective conditions for the sale of narcotics are lacking [selling inside the pententiary] .... "

We have mentioned the above case to illustrate our impression that cannabis is distributed even among the prisoners, and in spite of great vigilance.

In April 1961, we had a specific case in the court's asylum. The judge of the 3rd Criminal Court sent to the court's asylum, under order No. 1684, the accused, R. T. S., to have him submitted to "the necessary observation and immediate examination to verify properly his condition of addiction to marihuana, because, due to his aspect, he seems to be under the effects of marihuana.'' This very dangerous delinquent was arrested while assaulting and robbing several persons on the street. He resisted arrest and refused to give his identity. When taken before the magistrate, he tried to attack him. It was stated that the violent aggression performed by the patient was caused by marihuana. This patient was immediately sent to Heitor Carrilho by order of the judge of the 3rd Criminal Court, to find out if his crime and the high degree of dangerousness he showed were or were not the consequence of marihuana, of which he was under the influence.

The patient was hospitalized, and examined by Drs. Iza A. da Matta and Edmundo de Abreu, Jr., who presented their respective psychiatric and clinical reports as follows: "We found the patient in his cell pacing from one end to the other, always in the same direction, continuously raising his head, and having a facial expression of bewilderment. He came to the examination room reluctantly, uttering then the only words we heard from him during the entire interview: "They are going to kill me." During the examination, he remained in absolute silence, with a tight face, vertical wrinkles between his eyebrows, standing up and irresponsive to stimuli. At times he came out of his hypokinesia in order to rub his face with the palm of his hands, a gesture he repeated innumerable times. Once in a while he would raise his head and examine the entire ceiling of the room in a perplexed attitude, without answering, no matter how much we insisted and tried to find out what was his trouble. Besides not speaking or looking at the examiner, he did not respond to any of the orders given to him such as to sit down, stand up, extend his arm, etc. However, he did not resist when we helped him to take these positions. The only request he complied with, after great insistence on our part, was to stick out his tongue. Discharged after the examination, the patient did not move when we told him he could leave and return to his room, and he had to be guided by an attendant. Later, we saw him in the same state in which we had initially found him: pacing his room always in the same direction and, on reaching the wall, raising his head to examine the entire ceiling, without uttering a single word. According to the reports of the hospital attendants, the patient had maintained this same attitude since the time of his admission. We also were informed that the patient had not accepted any food till the moment he was interviewed.

Diagnostic impressions: "In the over-all picture presented by the patient there were no elements found that would allow us to suspect intoxication by marijuana. He presented a picture of catatonic syndrome."

Later we examined this patient thoroughly and concluded that it was a case of schizophrenia of a catatonic form, subjected to the so-called catatonic impulse (raptus). (Report of mental health examination No. 3,249, of 26 June 1961.)

Subjected to specialized treatment - electric convulsotherapy in conjunction with chlorpromazin - the patient entered a phase of remission of the symptoms which brought about his hospitalization in Heitor Carrilho.

Other cases: A criminal, W. P. S., nicknamed "Little Skull ", of widespread ill fame in the State of Guanabara, who was found dead a short time back with his body riddled by bullets, in a slum of Rio de Janeiro. This criminal had already been prosecuted by the following criminal courts: 4th, 6th, 8th, 12th, 13th, 18th and, twice, by the 21st. He had also been caught in the act and arrested "for having on his person a certain amount of the narcotic substance called 'marihuana ', which was confiscated and duly analysed." (Deposition on page 2 and report on page 11, records of the 13th Criminal Court.) He incurred the punishment set by article 281 of the Penal Code. On examination, we found him to be a schizophrenic who at the time of the crime was in the condition dealt with in article 22 of the Penal Code. That is, at the time of the criminal act he was, due to mental illness, completely incapable of understanding the criminal nature of the act and incapable of behaving in accordance with that understanding.

Among the various objective cases of individuals accused of practising anti-social acts under the influence of cannabis, we can mention also the case of E. P., who, on 20 April 1961, was arrested in a restaurant of Rio de Janeiro for having been caught with a certain amount of the narcotic substance called marihuana ( Cannabis sativa) on his person, and for violently resisting the order of arrest.

The information we received on this patient was that he had recently acquired the vice of smoking marihuana, which made him violent and aggressive, in spite of his apparent mental balance. This patient had more than twelve entries among the various police districts. When examined at the court's asylum, he also had crises of psycho-motor excitement, independent of the use of cannabis.

After the examination, we arrived at the conclusion that he presented paradoxical reactions, variable disposition, morbid interpretations, auditory hallucinations and stereotyped attitudes, rounding out the symptomatological picture of schizophrenia, and leading to the conclusion that his aggressiveness had nothing to do with the use of cannabis.

In short, we did not have any cases in which we could attribute the cause of the crime to cannabis. Studying the dynamics of the crime, in which there was the supposition that the patient had committed the crime under the influence of cannabis, we found out that they were mental cases and that the crime had been a manifestation of their morbid state, and we did not find anything that we could attribute to cannabis.

In the patients mentioned above we did not find the classic signs of intoxication by cannabis, which were so well described by Jose Lucena in his work "The Marihuana Smokers in the State of Pernambuco ", presented to the 4th Annual Reunion of the Medical Society of Pernambuco. According to the author, these signs include: "Facial modifications, paleness, or more frequently, vascular dilation at the level of the cheeks and ears; dryness of the mouth; slight narrowing of the eyelid slits; modifications of the pulse, of the blood pressure, of the respiratory rhythm and of the temperature; changes of sleep habits and of appetite."

Heitor Peres, in a published work on cannabis addiction ( Toxicomanias, Cunha Lopes) reveals that in the penitentiary of the city of Manaus, Dr. Carpinteiro, Jr., during the two periods in which he was the director of that establishment, always had the opportunity to verify that most of the criminals coming from the interior of the state, mainly those from the lower Amazon, used cannabis, and a strict vigilance had to be maintained in the prison in order to ensure that the visitors would not bring in the drug. However, he was never able to verify the direct relation between cannabis and crime.

In the anthology of Brazilian works on cannabis, edited and published by the National Bureau of Sanitary Education, we noted that in the experiments made in anima nobili [on humans] no one of them presented reactions of aggressiveness that could culminate in the commitment of real crimes.

In experiments in anima nobili carried out under the orientation of the National Commission for the Supervision of Narcotics and directed by Professors Decio Parreiras, Pedro Pernambuco, Jr., and Cordeiro de Farias, clinical research work was initiated in a certain medical centre of the State of Guanabara, with the purpose of determining the symptomatology of the Brazilian addiction to marihuana, using weed produced in the State of Alagoas. In order to avoid the possibility of suggestive phenomena that would influence the information to be obtained from the patients, the researchers utilized, besides marihuana cigarettes, other cigarettes made of corn leaves, which had identical external characteristics. In these experiments not a single case was found in which cannabis could be made responsible for violent impulses or psycho-motor excitement that could culminate in homicide.

Among other cases, we can mention that of "O. D., arrested for having on his person a certain amount of the weed known as 'marijuana ', Which is considered a narcotic substance, as can be verified in the technician's report appearing on page 14." In the somatic examination we did not find any of the signs generally found in individuals still intoxicated by marihuana.

Psychic examination: The clothes of the patient were clean and neat, and he showed a certain amount of care in his personal appearance. His disposition was calm and normal, showing real interest in his situation: lucid mind; perfect correlation with respect to his own person and to others in time and space; not having at the time of the examination senso-perception disturbances (hallucinations or illusions), nor referring himself to any other period of his life. His attention, whether spontaneous or solicited, was normal. Perfect memory for recent events or old ones. His thinking was logical and coherent with regard to form, and with regard to the contents there was not the slightest indication of delirious or obsessed ideas. His good sense, power of reasoning and imagination were adequate to his level of culture and intelligence as well as to the social environment. He had no disturbances of speech. His affective and volitional reactions were adequate; and there was no indication of disturbance of the instincts or the impulses. Schizothymic temperament.

The question of the use of cannabis: A patient was found with marihuana in his pockets (in the records of arrest). In the police precinct he declared that the marihuana was for his own personal use (page 6 of the records) and that he had smoked the weed "for eight months more or less, on account of feeling dejected because his wife had left him."However, during the trial and when talking with the police experts, he denied having used cannabis and told us that it was true that in the police precinct he had declared that the marihuana was for his own use, but that this had been only a lie to defend himself.... However, his denial to us was not convincing, and a brother of his told us that the patient had made an occasional use of cannabis.

Now the question arose: Is this patient an addict? We verified that he had smoked marihuana, but that had been rather occasionally, and still in the early stages. We did not find, nor did the patient tell us, anything that could be considered physical or psychic signs of a really strong and deeply rooted intoxication by marihuana.

The criminal offences of the addicts, as we have already seen, are almost always committed during the periods of "lack", and we know that cannabis is not addiction - producing, since it does not provoke the state of organic necessity as the true toxicomania does.

Our personal observation in the court's insane asylum, "Heitor Carrilho ", refutes the popular belief in the criminogenic action of marihuana.

The severe measures that are taken in relation to the habit of smoking cannabis are due to the international conventions, of which Brazil is a party, and is thus obliged to comply with the controls established by them.


Our conclusions are the following:

The use of cannabis is not a toxicomania but a habit which, to a certain extent, is harmful to the individual and to society.

The use of cannabis can be cut off abruptly without producing psycho-somatic alterations in the individuals who use it, as happens in true toxicomanias. Therefore, cannabis cannot be considered as a true narcotic substance.

Cannabis does not produce psychoses.

Cannabis does not have the much-publicized criminogenic action, in the sense that smoking does not lead directly to the committing of a criminal offence. We do know that cannabis is used collectively in the religious rituals of "macumbas" and "candomblés" (voodoo practices of Brazil).

In Brazil it is necessary that cannabis cases are not handled by police measures, which do not solve but rather worsen the problem. The ideal way is what is being tried right now: that is, to destroy the clandestine plantations of cannabis in the northern and northeastern states of Brazil, which is the only way to eradicate the evil, since plantation of the cannabis plant is forbidden by law.


Psychiatric classification


Attributed to cannabis








1951 4           4  
1952 6       1   4 1
1953 4         1 1 2
1954 6         1   5
1955 6       1   3 2
1956 10       1 2 5 2
1957 21   1 1 1 1 6 11
1958 20   2 1 2 4 7 4
1959 28 2 4   2 7 8 5
1960 15 2       4 4 4
120 4 7 2 8 20 42 37

Psychiatric classification

I. - Neuroses
V. - Schizophrenias
II. - Epilepsies
VI. - Psychopathic personalities
III. - Manic-depressive psychoses
VII. - Not having mental disturbances
IV. - Oligophrenias

I. - In the 120 patients examined we did not find any criminogenic action that could be attribusted to cannabis;

II. - In the majority of the cases examined we found patients with psychic disturbances;

III. - The cases of evident psychopathies or mental diseases were distributed as follows: psychopathic personalities, 42; schizophrenias, 20; oligophrenias, 8; epilepsies, 7; neuroses, 4; manic-depressive psychoses, 2;

IV. - In the cases in which we did not find mental disturbances, a total of 37, the crime attributed to them was that of carrying or selling marihuana;

V. - The cases mentioned above are substantiated by reports by experts which arc filed in the archives of Heitor Carrilho.

We would like to report that in the last twenty years we have not had in Heitor Carrilho any cases of toxicomanias caused by opium and its derivatives. In the statistics chart, corresponding to ten years of observations among the delinquents that were sent to the Court's Asylum for having committed crimes under the effects of cannabis, we verified that the 37 delinquents who did not present mental illness nor disturbance, the crime committed by them was to earn money with cannabis, that is, they sold the cursed weed. In the study of the dynamics of the crimes of all the others, we saw that there was a link between the crime and the illness, independent of the use of cannabis.

Cannabis is harmful to the individual and to society, but it does not have the homicidal characteristic that is so much publicized daily by the newspapers, to the extent of calling it the assassin weed in accordance with an old Oriental legend.

Those who make use of cannabis and other toxic substances are, in general, predisposed personalities who are in greater need of medical orientation than of police repression.

Our statistics, spanning a decade of case histories of delinquents interned in Heitor Carrilho, make it evident that those who were not cases of maladjusted personalities or of mental illnesses found in marihuana a means of making a living - that is, they sold marihuana and distributed it as a business, from which they derived a profit.

On the previous page is a statistical chart with observations including the period from 1951 to 1960 on delinquents who were sent to Heitor Carrilho under the allegation that their use of cannabis was directly responsible for their criminal offences. As we can see, these delinquents were, in the majority, psychopathic personalities or psychotics, for whom cannabis was just an epiphenomenom.


1. Expert Committee on Addiction-Producing Drugs - World Health Organization, 1950[52[55.

2. Cunha Lopes, I.: Toxicomanias, Rio de Janeiro, 1939.

3. - : Higiene Mental, 2nd. ed., Rio de Janeiro, Pongetti, 1960.

4. Barbosa, M. & Moraes Andrade, O.: Problemas de Toxicomanias, Arq. do Manicomio Judiciário "Heitor Carrilho", 26 (1), 119-124.

5. Moraes Andrade, O.: Ação Criminógena da Maconha, Jornal Brasileiro de Psiquiatria, 1111 (1/2), 119.

6. Pernambuco Filho, P.: Estudos Medicos Sociais da Toxicomania, Rio de Janeiro, 1931.

7. Poret, A.: Les toxicomanies, Etude medico -sociale , Alger, 1945.

8. Serviço Nacional de Educação Sanitaria: Maconha (Coletânea de trabalhos brasileiros), Rio de Janeiro, 1958.