Schizophrenia and psychosis have a complex relationship with cannabis. Research has shown that the herb can cause schizophrenia and psychosis in some cases, but new research suggests that CBD could help. Let’s take a closer look at schizophrenia and psychosis and see how cannabis – particularly CBD – might be able to benefit patients with these debilitating conditions.
Schizophrenia & Psychosis: What Are They?
Schizophrenia is a type of psychosis, a broad term used to describe a group of psychiatric disorders with similar symptoms. These conditions affect the way people think, behave, and perceive the world around them.
Every person with psychosis will have their own unique symptoms. However, there is a typical pattern that affects most people, and this involves three distinct phases: Prodrome, the acute phase, and recovery.
During the prodromal phase, people with schizophrenia or psychosis begin to display uncharacteristic behavior and mood changes. These are known as negative symptoms and could include:
- Finding it difficult to remember things or pay attention
- Unusual thoughts or ideas
- Reduced interest in hobbies or interests
- Social withdrawal
- Loss of motivation
- Poor self-care, including lack of personal hygiene
Throughout the prodromal phase, symptoms may gradually worsen and eventually begin to affect work, study, and relationships. This time can be very confusing and distressing for those affected and their families, especially in people experiencing psychosis for the first time.
During the acute phase, the negative symptoms of the prodromal phase are replaced by what is known as positive symptoms. These could include:
- Delusions, paranoia, or suspicion
- Agitation, anger, or anxiety
- Difficulty communicating
During the recovery phase, the acute symptoms of psychosis recede, although the person may be left feeling depressed and withdrawn. Some people can make a full recovery from schizophrenia or psychosis, but in the majority of cases, the negative symptoms will remain to some extent. There is also a possibility of relapsing, so appropriate long-term care is a must.
What Causes Schizophrenia and Psychosis?
Schizophrenia and psychosis are thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. These factors result in an imbalance in neurotransmitters, the brain chemicals responsible for mood and behavior, among other things. The primary neurotransmitter involved in psychosis is thought to be dopamine.
In a person with a tendency towards psychosis, the symptoms can be triggered by stress, lack of sleep, and regular drug or alcohol use. This is especially likely if drugs are frequently used during adolescence while the brain is still developing or if the person’s mother used drugs during pregnancy.
Treatment of Schizophrenia and Psychosis
Effectively treating schizophrenia and psychosis is a complicated affair. Antipsychotic drugs can be helpful for breaking the acute phase and maintaining recovery. However, these drugs can cause problems of their own. Some common side effects of antipsychotic drugs include:
- Weight gain
- Increased risk of diabetes
- Abnormal blood lipid levels
- Heart problems
- Neurological problems
One of the more distressing effects of antipsychotic medications is tardive dyskinesia. Tardive dyskinesia is a condition that results in unusual, involuntary movements such as shaking, squirming, chewing, or lip-smacking. Newer antipsychotic drugs are designed to decrease the risk of tardive dyskinesia, but it is still a significant problem.
In addition to medication, people with schizophrenia or psychosis will need ongoing psychiatric and social care to remain as independent as possible. Some patients with these conditions find therapies such as counseling or art therapy help them to deal with some of their symptoms.
Another novel therapy showing promise in the treatment of schizophrenia and psychosis is cannabidiol (CBD), one of the many biologically active compounds in cannabis.
In a 2017 clinical study on CBD for schizophrenia, half of the participants received 1000mg of CBD daily in addition to their usual antipsychotic medication, while the other half received a placebo. After six weeks, the participants in the CBD group showed a decrease in positive psychosis symptoms and were rated as being less severely unwell than those in the placebo group. The CBD group also showed some improvements in performance and cognitive function, although these outcomes were not deemed statistically significant.
Are there Cannabis Strains for Schizophrenia?
One of the most publicized ill effects of cannabis is that it can, in some people, trigger psychosis. Some estimates suggest marijuana is involved in as many as 50% of cases of schizophrenia and psychosis.
The reason that marijuana could trigger psychosis in susceptible people is down to another one of its active compounds, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the compound that gives cannabis its intoxicating effects. It can induce euphoria and relaxation, but it can also cause anxiety and paranoia in some people.
In the body, THC mimics the action of a chemical called anandamide. Anandamide is a part of the endocannabinoid system, which plays a role in many of the body’s vital functions – including regulating neurotransmitters like dopamine. Interestingly, people with schizophrenia have been found to have increased levels of anandamide in their bodies. They have also been found to have an increased number of CB1 receptors (with which anandamide can bind) in the prefrontal cortex of their brains.
This finding supports the theory that THC can cause changes in the prefrontal cortex, especially in young people whose brains are still developing. One study shows that people who try cannabis before the age of 18 are 2.4 times more likely to develop schizophrenia than those who do not, and the risk increases with increased use.
However, CBD can counteract the negative effects of THC. Research shows that CBD reduces THC-induced anxiety and paranoia in healthy subjects and may work similarly to antipsychotic drugs.
So it seems that the key to using cannabis to address schizophrenia and psychosis is finding a strain that is high in CBD but low in THC. Here are some of our favorite high CBD cannabis strains.
Please note that these haven’t been proven to be the best strains for schizophrenia and psychosis in any studies; they are merely our recommendations.
5 High-CBD Cannabis Strains
This high CBD, low THC strain is a 75% sativa-dominant hybrid created from Thai Sativa, Swiss Sativa, Nepali, and Columbian Gold. It boasts CBD levels of 8–15% and THC levels of 4–10%, meaning that users will get a light buzz from this hybrid but should not experience any anxiety or paranoia as can happen with some sativa-dominant strains.
Harlequin has an earthy aroma with fruity notes and a spicy, woody flavor. It provides a clean, energetic high, which can help to spark creativity and improve focus. Users consume this strain to address stress, anxiety, and depression, and it reportedly can also relieve inflammation and pain. The adverse effects of this strain include dry mouth and eyes, so keep plenty of water nearby and stay hydrated.
Another strain with a generous dose of CBD is ACDC. This strain is a sativa-dominant phenotype of Cannatonic, one of the original high CBD strains. ACDC contains a hefty 16–20% CBD, and its low THC content of 0.5–1.2% means that users get the medicinal benefits without the high, making it excellent for daytime use.
With a sweet, earthy aroma and a spicy, tangy flavor, ACDC can be used to relieve everything from anxiety to seizures and chronic pain. Although it will not get users high, consumers may feel more calm and relaxed when smoking this strain.
3. Sour Tsunami
Sour Tsunami was specially bred to have a high CBD content, and at 10 –13%, it really fits the bill. The unique thing about Sour Tsunami is that it has similar levels of THC (10-11%), making it a very balanced strain. This sativa-dominant hybrid is a cross between Sour Diesel and NYC Diesel and was created by Lawrence Ringo, a pioneer in the field of high CBD strains.
As the name suggests, this strain has a slightly sour, citrusy aroma and taste with notes of diesel. It produces a mild, relaxing high and can be used medicinally for alleviating stress, depression, and pain. The adverse effects could include dry mouth or headaches, but users are less likely to experience anxiety or paranoia.
Harle-Tsu is a cross between two of our other favorite strains for schizophrenia and psychosis, Harlequin and Sour Tsunami. This strain has an even higher CBD content than either of its parents – up to an incredible 24%! Couple this with its low THC levels of around 1%, and you have a fantastic medicinal strain.
Harle-Tsu has a woody, earthy aroma and taste with hints of pine. It can promote relaxation and reportedly offer relief from pain, inflammation, stress, and depression. Although this strain’s low THC content means that it has no intoxicating properties, its medicinal benefits more than make up for it!
5. Ringo’s Gift
Another one of Lawrence Ringo’s creations, Ringo’s Gift, is a 60% sativa-dominant strain bred from CBD heavy-hitters ACDC and Harle-Tsu. There are many phenotypes of Ringo’s gift, which vary in their CBD and THC levels. The original is a very balanced strain with a 50:50 CBD/THC ratio, but some phenotypes have a ratio as high as 24:1! The effects of this strain will vary depending on the phenotype, but generally speaking, it provides a relaxing high that affects both the body and mind.
This earthy and piney strain is frequently used by patients with conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression, and PTSD. It has very few adverse effects, but users could experience dry mouth and eyes. Because of its high CBD to THC ratio, this is probably one of the safest strains to try for medicinal use.
People with schizophrenia or psychosis need to continue to receive the appropriate medical care. Cannabis is not a substitute for medication, and sufferers should never stop taking prescribed drugs without consulting their physician first.
Patients should also be extra cautious when consuming cannabis with schizophrenia or psychosis, as the wrong one could end up making things worse. Talk to a qualified healthcare professional about whether marijuana is an appropriate option, and stop using it immediately if the symptoms worsen.