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cannabis schizophrenia

Editor’s Note: Nothing on the MassRoots blog is intended as medical advice. Please seek professional help if necessary.  

Those of us suffering from schizophrenia or other types of psychosis would like to have a miracle cure, as would friends and families. Unfortunately, at this time there is no cure for schizophrenia, but there may a plant that can help. That’s right – cannabis. Although several studies have shown that schizophrenia symptoms may be exacerbated by the use of THC, the connection between cannabidiols and the endocannabinoid system in the human brain are now showing great promise in treating schizophrenia symptoms. Due to the intense symptoms of psychosis and schizophrenia, self-medication with cannabis is not recommended; in the future doctors working with patients may be able to prescribe CBD in order to help patients calm their symptoms and live more pleasant lives with less life-threatening side effects.

Past Studies on Schizophrenia Focused on THC Effects

In the past, medical science has found that cannabis “abuse” can be a “significant” factor in the development of schizophrenia, indicating that people who used cannabis either had more severe symptoms or were attempting to self-medicate in order to escape their symptoms. The THC component of cannabis seems to increase vivid hallucinations. However, in three of the past studies involving cannabis and schizophrenia, there was “a strong association between cannabis abuse and fewer negative symptoms in schizophrenia.” This indicates that the non-THC components of cannabis (cannabidiols or CBD) use may have positive effects on people, and in particular, this study also found that cannabis use in schizophrenics did not contribute to increased or deeper hallucinations in study participants. I know all of this sounds confusing and a little contradictory, but that’s indicative of new research and the often unknown quotients of schizophrenia and psychosis. It’s fitting that cannabis has emerged recently as a possible treatment for schizophrenia, since on October 23, 2003, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill predicted that it would be cured in the next ten years. Although we don’t yet have a cure, we do have promising research on CBD and more in the works if the government changes cannabis scheduling to allow future research (as it did recently for a PTSD study).

The New Promise of Cannabidiol (CBD)

A study conducted in 2012 found that CBD “is able to prevent psychotic-like symptoms induced by high doses” of THC. Following this discovery, other studies have found that CBD has general antipsychotic effects in both animals and healthy, human study volunteers, which is extremely promising for the mental health field and those who suffer from psychotic episodes. This same study noted that CBD “prevented human experimental psychosis” and “treated patients with schizophrenia with a remarkable safety profile,” meaning it may be safer for treating psychosis than many current antipsychotic medicines are.

Past & Present Schizophrenia Treatments, Medicines, and Unpleasant Side Effects

Current schizophrenia treatments include serious metabolic and neurological side effects, and the University of Maryland Medical Center noted that antipsychotic medications may include nerve, muscle movement, and coordination issues (in up to 70% of patients); weight gain leading to diabetes or heart disease; drowsiness, restlessness, or insomnia; confusion, short-term memory problems, disorientation or impaired attention; unhealthy cholesterol levels; seizures; extreme body temperature increases, hypotension; cataracts; and reproductive organ dysfunction in both men and women. Schizophrenic and psychotic patients want to avoid side effects if possible, and CBD may help prevent them or provide an alternative to the current medications.

Dr. Bonni Goldstein’s Interview with Project CBD

A small clinical CBD therapy study for schizophrenic patients found CBDs to be “an effective, safe, and well-tolerated antipsychotic compound,” but ceded that further studies must be conducted in order to confirm that this is true for the majority of schizophrenic and psychotic patients. In an interview with Project CBD, a website promoting the medical inclusion of CBD in many different types of treatments, Dr. Bonni Goldstein noted that autism is treated with therapy, and also two main antipsychotics. As Dr. Goldstein noted in the interview, “What we have to remember is that the endocannabinoid system…helps with homeostasis. It keeps the brain in balance. And, in certain patients, people with illness – that system is the core of the problem.” So the goal of the endocannabinoid system in the brain is to keep everything healthy and normal; thus research in this area can be aided by cannabis therapies. Although Dr. Goldstein warns against using CBD in developing teens and children, she admits that the complete loss of a child for a family or loss of time with their child is the number one concern for most. If cannabis therapy can help these families, that should be their choice.

What is Cannabis Therapy?

When we talk about cannabis therapy, we mean any type of cannabis-aided or -derived treatment for any ailment. In this case, CBD oil is being researched, and has been found to help patients suffering from schizophrenia and psychosis – calming their symptoms and even eliminating them during therapy. CBD oil is typically high in CBD and low in THC. Dr. Bonni noted that “[w]hat we’re talking about is a ratio…everyone responds differently to medicines…especially with cannabis medicines.” She also stated that CBD oils contain THC, other cannabinoids, and terpenoids – she believes that all of these whole plant components contribute to the benefits for patients, “because it’s all of these compounds that work synergistically to give the effects.” Dr. Bonni notes that the terpenoid beta-caryophyllene (an anti-inflammatory terpenoid) may be one of the keys to seizure prevention. Dr. Goldstein also related the positive experiences of teenagers with mental illnesses taking CBD oils for depression and anxiety in the Project CBD article.

Treating Psychosis with Cannabis

In the United Kingdom, there is a licensed and governmentally-approved grow facility with some 30,000 cannabis plants whose main purpose is medical research similar to what Sue Sisley and Dr. Bonni Goldstein are doing in the United States. The plants are also used for Sativex, a multiple sclerosis drug based on cannabis components. The grow facility is led by Dr. David Potter, Director of Botany and Cultivation for GW Pharmaceuticals in London, England. GW is on the cutting edge of producing cannabidiol-based medicines, including a new, unapproved drug called Epidiolex to treat various forms of epilepsy. Beginning in 2014, GW was working on “a cannabis-based treatment for psychosis and related illnesses such as schizophrenia,” according to The Guardian. Dr. Potter notes that the inborn endocannabinoid system in the human brain regulates pain, sensation, mood, memory, and appetite. In high doses, THC can result in “temporary schizophrenia-like psychotic symptoms such as paranoia, delusions, anxiety, and hallucinations” but cannabidiols appear “to have almost the exact opposite effect” on people. Put simply, purified CBD has antipsychotic and anti-anxiety effects and lessens psychotic symptoms in people who use THC. Using pure CBD is much more effective at lessening psychotic symptoms than simply smoking marijuana. The Guardian notes that, since the 1960s, the chemical profile of marijuana has changed to drastically increased THC content and almost no CBD content, resulting in very concentrated THC for more of the euphoric effects on the user.

Dr. Potter’s Brief History of Cannabis and Increasing THC Content

Dr. Potter’s open access to the UK’s confiscated cannabis and cannabis seed library from the Home Office and the UK police has allowed him to track the evolution of cannabis, beginning in 1970s California through modern day. Potter found that in the 70s, cultivators began keeping high-THC plants for a better high and throwing out plants with weak-THC content, thus selecting against CBD. Potter believes that “illicit growers may have inadvertently bred out a chemical that protected the mental health of users in the past” in this way. In 1984 “Skunk#1” had 15% THC instead of the 1-8% THC found in older strains of cannabis, and by 2005, Potter’s samples held almost no CBD at all.

New Antipsychotics and Cannabis

New antipsychotic drugs are needed now more than ever in the history of mankind. The reason for the rise in demand is unknown, but about 0.5% of the population of the planet may suffer from schizophrenia – that’s 20 to 30 million globally. Another problem is that a third of those suffering from schizophrenia do not respond to antipsychotics. Other symptoms of schizophrenia – such as chronic inflammation, low mood, anxiety, and cognitive impairment – are not treated by existing medications at all. Most antipsychotics alter dopamine production in the brain, but CBD does not. CBD has an anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety effect and might treat many more schizophrenia symptoms than dopamine therapy does. In a recent trial, half of the patients were given an antipsychotic and half were given CBD. At the end of a month, both groups showed significant symptom improvement, but only CBD-dosed patients showed “far fewer side effects.” There is hope for schizophrenia and psychosis sufferers in the world, and CBD may be the answer to reduction of unpleasant or life-threatening symptoms, as well as a way for patients to reduce anxiety, depression, and feel more mentally balanced in their day-to-day lives.

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