Cannabis and Schizophrenia: What is the Connection?

Cannabis and Schizophrenia: What is the Connection?


With the growing popularity of cannabis as a viable medical treatment option, some doors have been opened for patients looking for a more natural approach. As an alternative to traditional pharmaceuticals, cannabis has emerged as an effective method for relieving the symptoms of some conditions, including mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.

Whether you’re new to the world of medical marijuana or have been part of it for quite some time, you may have heard talk of the cannabis and schizophrenia link that suggests a connection between marijuana use and the development of schizophrenia. During the 1960s and 1970s, there were a handful of studies that proposed that cannabis use and schizophrenia were somehow connected, perhaps by way of the compound THC and schizophrenia risk factors. However, today’s science has begun to paint a far more complex picture, weighing factors including THC, CBD, schizophrenia triggers and cannabis as a schizophrenia treatment option.

What is Schizophrenia?

“Schizophrenia” is a blanket term used to refer to a specific group of conditions that involves severely impaired brain function, typically leading patients to experience a sharp disconnect with reality. More than 7 million Americans have schizophrenia, with the onset typically occurring in men’s early twenties and late twenties to early thirties for women.

It’s a highly complex mental illness, with characterizing symptoms that are typically labeled as either positive, negative or cognitive. The positive symptoms of schizophrenia (and among the most well-known) include:

  • Psychosis
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Disorganized, illogical speech

The “positive” symptoms are typically the ones targeted by pharmaceutical medications, specifically antipsychotic medications. One of the most difficult challenges of the traditional pharmaceutical treatment plans is that patients often experience one-sided symptom relief. Although the positive symptoms can generally be minimized by antipsychotic, negative symptoms (lack of motivation to interact socially, inability to feel pleasure and a flat emotional affect) and cognitive symptoms (impaired memory, attention, and problem-solving skills) are typically not relieved.

Cannabis and Schizophrenia Risk Factors

Scientists believe that the abnormal brain cell connections that are a factor in schizophrenia symptoms are most often triggered by some combination of genetic predisposition and environmental factors. A single genetic factor or environmental risk is believed insufficient to lead to the development of the illness. For example, cannabis use alone has not been correlated to schizophrenic development, if the patient has no genetic predisposition. However, a combination of these factors can lead to a higher risk.

During the brain’s critical development periods, including during childhood and adolescence, exposure to environmental risk factors (in combination with genetic risk factors) can increase the risk of schizophrenia.

Why the THC Risk?

It’s believed that THC (the cannabis substance that creates the feeling of being “high”) is the specific risk factor for the development of schizophrenia during the brain’s development periods. The importance of the endogenous cannabinoid system (particularly CB1 receptors) is tied to its ability to control neural connections and communication. THC directly interacts with and activates these receptors, lowering the levels of glutamate and NMDA reception activation in the brain. This reduction can increase the risk of triggering schizophrenia (in combination with genetic risk factors).

Interestingly, although many studies claim to have established a direct connection between cannabis and the onset of schizophrenia, the science is not quite that black and white. Scientists have been unable to eliminate the possibility that people who are more likely to develop the mental condition may just be more prone to engaging in regular cannabis use.

How Does CBD Affect Schizophrenia?

CBD is the “sister compound” to THC and a completely non-intoxicating cannabinoid. It’s believed to have antipsychotic effects through the blocking of THC-induced psychosis. Specifically used to treat schizophrenia, THC has been shown as a potential treatment option for reducing not just the psychosis symptoms, but also the challenging negative and cognitive symptoms such as social interaction issues and memory deficit.

Also, because CBD is generally well-tolerated by a wide range of patients and has minimal side effects, it’s beginning to earn serious consideration as a potential schizophrenia treatment option. Unlike traditional anti-psychotic medications, CBD doesn’t have distinct effects on weight gain or appetite. Although studies are ongoing, medical marijuana, particularly CBD-based products, is emerging as a potentially effective way to relieve the symptoms of schizophrenia.

Learning More about Using Cannabis to Cope with Schizophrenia

If you’re looking for a natural, alternative way to cope with schizophrenia or other mental illnesses, medical marijuana may be the ideal solution. At Arizona Organix, our menu includes a wide range of cannabis-based products that meet a variety of needs, and we are more than happy to spend time chatting with you about your specific treatment goals. To learn more about how medical marijuana patients are using cannabis as a viable alternative to pharmaceutical options, visit Arizona Organix today.

Featured image: Feng Yu/Shutterstock