Understanding Cannabis and Schizophrenia
There is a complex relationship between cannabis and schizophrenia. In recent years, as cannabis has become increasingly available, it’s essential to understand how marijuana use can affect people with schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia is a severe mental health disorder that impairs cognition and significantly affects a person’s quality of life. It can strain interpersonal relations and interactions with society.
It affects the way someone thinks, behaves, and perceives reality. It is characterized by auditory or visual hallucinations, delusions, difficulty concentrating, disorganized thinking and speech, and reduced motivation. While there is no known single cause of schizophrenia, a combination of genetics and environmental factors are thought to play an important role in its development.
There are various treatments for schizophrenia including medication and psychotherapy.
About 0.25% to 0.64% of Americans suffer from schizophrenia. This figure may appear low, but the toll the disorder takes on the lives of sufferers is enormous.
Given the harmful effects, sufferers seek various treatment methods that may give them a chance of relief — which leads us to cannabis.
Medical marijuana has become immensely popular for treating various symptoms but is there a connection between cannabis and schizophrenia? Does cannabis cause schizophrenia? What is the relationship between THC and schizophrenia?
What is schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a severe mental illness that affects how a person perceives reality; it affects how they behave, think, and feel. This disorder involves psychosis, a mental illness where people can't distinguish between what's real and what they imagine.
This disconnect with reality makes it difficult for the patient to interact and participate in occupational, family, social, and personal activities.
Schizophrenia is not as common as other mental disorders. Still, its debilitating effects are no less severe. 24 million people worldwide, or 1 in 300, suffer from schizophrenia.
According to the World Health Organization, people with schizophrenia are 2 to 3 times more likely to die early than other population members. The disorder is one of the top 15 leading causes of disability worldwide.
The severity of schizophrenia varies from person to person. Some people may have only one psychotic episode, while others may have several episodes throughout their lifetimes but still live their everyday lives between them. In some people, the condition is so severe that it completely disrupts their lives.
The onset of schizophrenia is usually between teenagehood to early adulthood, meaning people with schizophrenia typically have their first psychotic episode between 16 and 30.
It is rare for younger children and people older than 45 to develop schizophrenia, and the onset is earlier among men than among women.
What causes schizophrenia?
Scientists have been unable to discover an exact cause for schizophrenia; instead, different factors can make a person susceptible to schizophrenia.
The risk factors include the following:
Parents can pass schizophrenia to their offspring; it sometimes runs in the family. However, fortunately, other family members are not sure to suffer from schizophrenia just because one person has it.
Studies suggest that a person's chance of developing schizophrenia may be due to many different genes, but scientists have not identified one single gene that causes the disorder by itself.
In addition, scientists know that genes play a role in the development of schizophrenia, but they don't understand how the genes work to cause schizophrenia.
Environmental factors play a significant role in human development and influence the development of schizophrenia. Viral infections, poverty, unhealthy surroundings, toxins, and stressful events may trigger schizophrenia in people whose genes make them likely to develop the condition.
Schizophrenia usually develops when a person goes through hormonal and physical changes like those that occur in teenagers and young adults.
Brain Structures and Function
According to research, people with schizophrenia show disruption in their neural activity due to genetic and environmental risk factors influencing brain development.
This study states that "schizophrenia is associated with structural and functional changes in the cortex, as well as in the connections between different cortical regions."
What are the symptoms of schizophrenia?
Symptoms of schizophrenia differ from person to person, but they fall within three categories, psychotic, negative, and cognitive.
These symptoms don't show up simultaneously, meaning a person may experience different symptoms at different times in their life.
What are the psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia?
Psychosis changes the way a person thinks and acts. Consequently, people with psychotic symptoms have a distorted perception of the world and lose touch with a shared reality with the general population.
Some people may have episodes of psychosis where it comes and goes, while for others, psychosis becomes stable over time. These psychotic symptoms include:
Thought Disorder (Disorganized Thinking)
Unusual or illogical thoughts mark this symptom. People with thought disorders may experience impaired communication because their speech comprises meaningless and unconnected words.
This symptom happens when a person sees, hears, or perceives things that are not there. Hallucinations may occur in any of the senses; the most common is hearing voices.
The family of someone who has schizophrenia may not always notice when they hear voices.
Movement Disorder (Abnormal Motor Behavior)
A person with schizophrenia may exhibit abnormal body movement and motor responses. They may continually repeat an action, show unpredictable agitation, or assume bizarre posture.
This happens when a person shows strong attachment to beliefs that are not true and may seem irrational; it involves strong beliefs that have no basis in reality.
For example, people with delusions may believe that a celebrity is in love with them or that someone is trying to harm them.
What are the cognitive symptoms?
- Difficulty processing information and decision making
- Inability to focus and pay attention
- Trouble applying information immediately after learning it
- Failure to recognize that they have these problems
What is the role of cannabis in schizophrenia?
Cannabis is often used to self-medicate due to its ability to reduce stress levels and provide temporary relief from symptoms associated with schizophrenia such as paranoia or anxiety. However, cannabis use can also exacerbate symptoms like disorganized thinking or psychosis. Research suggests that people with schizophrenia who use cannabis have increased symptom severity compared to those who do not use it at all.
Additionally, regular use of marijuana by individuals with schizophrenia may lead to increased risk of developing long-term cognitive deficits such as decreased memory function or executive functioning skills.
Furthermore, research has suggested that smoking marijuana may disrupt dopamine levels in the brain which can further worsen psychotic symptoms such as delusions or hallucinations. It's important to note that marijuana does not cause schizophrenia; however, it can worsen existing symptoms and increase the risk of relapse for those already diagnosed with the disorder.
Can you get a medical card for schizophrenia?
As more states legalize recreational marijuana use, it’s important to understand the relationship between cannabis and schizophrenia so people living with this disorder can make informed decisions about their health care choices. Understanding the risks associated with using cannabis if you have been diagnosed with schizophrenia is key when considering whether or not you should use this drug medically or recreationally.
Although there are potential benefits associated with using marijuana while living with a mental illness like schizophrenia, it’s important to be aware of the potential risks involved as well. Consulting your medical provider before making any decisions about your healthcare is recommended if you are living with a mental illness such as this one.
Unfortunately, not all states allow you to get an MMJ card for schizophrenia. However, you may be able to get a medical card for some of the symptoms of schizophrenia.
If CBD offers you a chance to mitigate the symptoms of schizophrenia and get your life back, the first thing you need is your medical card.
At Elevate Holistics, our specialty is to make it easy for patients to access medical marijuana and an MMJ card is a significant part of that access.
Our board-certified marijuana doctors are ready to discuss your condition and work with you from the comfort of your home.
What are cannabis's side effects?
Marijuana has side effects, too. Fortunately, the side effects are usually mild to moderate and resolve quickly, but they can be severe when the patient does not adhere to the physician's dosage instructions.
That said, people with schizophrenia should avoid marijuana products containing high levels of THC because it can worsen psychosis. The side effects of medical marijuana include;
- Increased heart rate
- Dry mouth
- Impaired memory
- Hallucinations (when consumed in high doses)
- Delusions (when consumed in high quantities)
- Psychosis (when you consume high-potency marijuana)
Should I consume CBD for schizophrenia?
We do not advise you to self-medicate. Why? Everyone will not react to CBD in the same way, and patients may have unique needs.
It is best to speak with a qualified marijuana doctor who will assess your condition and give you an expert recommendation.
If your doctor recommends CBD for psychosis, here are a few things to note:
- Full Spectrum CBD Oil: This one comes from the whole hemp plant and contains up to 0.3% THC. Avoid it; THC is strictly off limits because of the negative interaction between THC and schizophrenia.
- Broad Spectrum CBD Oil: This one does not contain THC, but it has other cannabinoids in it.
- Pure CBD Oil: This is nothing but 100% pure CBD oil, with no cannabinoids or terpenes.
Before you buy CBD, check the label to be sure there's no THC in it, and purchase from only licensed dispensaries, their labels are accurate, so there's no risk of accidentally consuming THC.
What's the connection between CBD and schizophrenia?
Is CBD good for schizophrenia? Joseph Pierre, MD, a psychiatrist and professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, said, "Since CBD opposes some of the effects of THC in the brain, it makes sense it could be useful in treating psychotic disorders. There's also some evidence that CBD has properties similar to antipsychotic drugs."
Animal studies showed that CBD improved psychotic symptoms without the catatonic side effects induced by haloperidol and clozapine, which are also used to treat psychosis.
Also, research has shown that CBD is well tolerated and, unlike THC, does not worsen psychotic symptoms. This effect may be due to the sedative qualities of CBD, but we're not sure yet.