With the increased normalization of cannabis products (marijuana) in our society, many people view marijuana as a harmless, natural drug. However, some studies show that marijuana use increases symptoms of psychosis, something many people are unaware of.

Understanding the Meaning of Psychosis

Before we delve into the specifics of this, let’s talk about psychosis. Many people associate someone being psychotic with being violent and aggressive, yelling, or behaving erratically. Those behaviors can occur when someone is in a psychotic state, but that is not what psychosis is, nor is it common for someone in a psychotic state. It’s important to note that psychosis is not an illness, but rather a symptom.[1]

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NAMI), “psychosis is a collection of symptoms that affect the mind, where there has been some loss of contact with reality. During an episode of psychosis, a person’s thoughts and perceptions are disrupted and they may have difficulty recognizing what is real and what is not." This often involves hallucinations or distorted perceptions. Hallucinations are simply experiences perceived from any of the five senses — sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell — that are not actually occurring. Most often people will hear or see things that are not there. People in a psychotic state also often experience increased paranoia, suspiciousness, and hypervigilance (very jumpy or reactive), as well as difficulty telling reality from fantasy.

Marijuana and Psychosis — The Relationship

Marijuana contains mind-altering compounds that affect your brain. The main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana is called THC, which stimulates the part of your brain that responds to pleasure and releases dopamine — often called the feel-good hormone.[2] However, marijuana affects everyone differently, and it may not always be pleasant. It may leave you feeling anxious, afraid, or paranoid. Sounds similar to psychosis symptoms, right? Let’s take a look at what research has to say.

A 2008 study by Wayne Hall and Louisa Degenhardt stated, "There is now reasonable evidence from longitudinal studies that regular cannabis use predicts an increased risk of schizophrenia and of reporting psychotic symptoms."[3] They conducted long-term (longitudinal) studies that showed how regular marijuana use increases the risk for schizophrenia or psychosis. They also made sure that any psychosis observed was not related to other factors. Another study found neurobiological changes due to cannabis use are similar to those seen in schizophrenic patients.[4] The study also indicated that cannabis is involved in approximately 50% of psychosis, schizophrenia, and schizophreniform psychosis cases. However, the study was clear that it did not establish a cause-effect relationship between marijuana and psychosis, as they do not yet fully understand the process that causes psychosis in marijuana users.

So, we may not yet understand exactly how marijuana use increases psychosis, but there is a great deal of research that shows the association. Timothy Hughes, Director of Outpatient Services, said, “While I do not fully understand how gravity works, I do know enough to not walk off the edge of a cliff. I have seen how someone walking off a cliff will fall to the ground.” The same can be said for the relationship between psychosis and marijuana use. This is not to say that everyone who uses marijuana will have a psychotic episode, however, there is an increased risk. The point of this article is to inform people that chronic marijuana use has been linked to increased rates of psychosis. There are many factors at play but understanding this connection can help you make more informed decisions.

Medical Marijuana Use — What to Consider

The use of medical marijuana is becoming more common in treating certain conditions, including mental health issues. There is plenty of research on how medical marijuana can aid people struggling with things such as PTSD or Bipolar Disorder. However, it’s important to understand that those who struggle with a psychotic disorder, have a family history of psychosis, or have other risk factors should likely reconsider using marijuana due to the potential for an increased risk of psychosis.

It's also important to remember that, while less common than with alcohol or illicit drugs, you can become addicted to marijuana — cannabis use disorder (CUD). While the estimates vary, studies have shown that 1 in 11 people who use marijuana become addicted. Another study indicated that among the participants who reported using marijuana, nearly 31% met the criteria for CUD.

Related: What is Addiction and How can it be Treated?

At Lake Point Recovery and Wellness, we are passionate about helping anyone struggling with addictions. If you or a family member are struggling with addiction, call 1-833-4HANDUP for more information.

 

[1] https://www.nami.org/about-mental-illness/mental-health-conditions/psychosis

[2] https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/marijuana-use-and-its-effects

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2424288/

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3927252/

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