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The Relationship Between Cannabis & Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a severe, lifelong mental disorder marked by impaired thinking, emotions and behaviors. It is found in one percent of the general population and in ten percent of people who have a first-degree relative with it.  Schizophrenic patients are typically unable to filter outside stimuli and may have enhanced perceptions of sounds, colors and other affects of the environment.  If untreated, most schizophrenics withdrawal from interactions with other people, and lose their ability to take care of personal needs such as grooming and eating.

To say the relationship between schizophrenia and cannabis is contested would be an understatement.  If you were to read the Wikipedia page for schizophrenia, it would tell you only about how cannabis leads to psychosis, but it doesn’t give you any numbers, links, how much one would need to smoke or at what age. In reality, using cannabis does not cause schizophrenia outright, but it can increase the likelihood for people predisposed to it. For someone to say that cannabis causes psychosis outright would be premature, as no single gene has been associated with either drug addiction or schizophrenia, so these illnesses are the result of many genes working in combination, each with a small contribution to the overall risk of developing the disorders.  There are a wide range of factors that need to be taken into account, most of which we barely understand.

In fact, cannabis impacts the very system that research suggests has a major role in schizophrenia: the endocannabinoid system, which is involved in neurotransmission and helps to regulate functions such as sleep, cognition and emotion. In the last decade, some scientists have actually started to find that the genetic variants predicting schizophrenia can also be used to predict a person’s tendency to smoke cannabis, regardless of their mental history.  In order to really hone in on the connection, one would have to conduct thorough studies of people using cannabis compared with those who don’t, both having a family history of schizophrenia.  One study from 2013 did find that increased release of dopamine from smoking marijuana is amplified in the brains of people with schizophrenia, as well as in their close relatives.  The results of this are not entirely understood, but some scientists think that, “A chronic elevation of dopamine can increase one’s likelihood of experiencing psychotic episodes, and make the disorder harder to treat.”

Regardless, it’s important to remember that schizophrenia only affects a small number of people, so the vast majority of adolescents and young adults who use cannabis won’t develop it.  This is key because despite all the studies that link schizophrenia and cannabis, few have been able to explain why schizophrenia rates have remained stable in the face of pot’s increasing popularity among teens.  More people smoke cannabis today than ever in history.  If the connection between weed and schizophrenia is solid, then the number of people with the disease should also be going up, but it hasn’t.

Let’s say THC (psychoactive component of cannabis) is the ‘bad guy’ in this relationship between marijuana and schizophrenia.  Fortunately, there is also a “good guy”, named CBD (cannabidiol).  There is substantial evidence of antipsychotic properties found in CBD.  CBD inhibits the breakdown of the endocannabinoid AEA, thus boosting the endocannabinoid system.  A study from UC Irvine comparing CBD with those of antipsychotic medication found that both treatments led to significant clinical improvement, but cannabidiol resulted in fewer of the common side effects – including motor impairments and weight gain – that usually lead people to stop using antipsychotic medications.

Here at The Higher Path we see patients regularly who treat suffering family members with our CBD products, with many beneficial results. We offer flower, vaporizers, tinctures and edibles, all with different ratios of CBD. Please feel free to ask us any questions you might have regarding schizophrenia and how CBD might be able to help your family.

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