Schizophrenia and psychosis have a complex relationship with cannabis. Anti-marijuana campaigners often claim that the herb can cause schizophrenia and psychosis, but new research suggests that certain strains could actually help. Let’s take a closer look at schizophrenia and psychosis, and how cannabis could benefit patients with these debilitating conditions.
What are Schizophrenia and Psychosis?
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 which 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 get worse 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 are 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the recovery phase, the acute symptoms of psychosis recede, although the person may be left feeling depressed and withdrawn. It is possible for some people to 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 which are 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 which 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 in order 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 which is 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.
Cannabis, Schizophrenia, and Psychosis: A Complex Relationship
One of the most publicized ill effects of cannabis is that it can, in some people, trigger psychosis. Some estimates suggest that 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 psychoactive effects. It can induce a feeling of euphoria and relaxation, but in some people, it can also cause anxiety and paranoia.
In the body, THC mimics the action of a chemical called anandamide. Anandamide is a part of the endocannabinoid system which plays a role 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. It is thought 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. This has been confirmed by research which found that CBD reduces THC-induced anxiety and paranoia in healthy subjects, and may work in a similar way to antipsychotic drugs.
So it seems that the key to using cannabis to treat schizophrenia and psychosis is finding a strain which is high in CBD, but low in THC. Here are some of our favorite high CBD cannabis strains that are worth looking into:
5 Cannabis Strains for Schizophrenia and Psychosis
This high CBD, low THC strain is a 75% sativa-dominant hybrid created from Thai Sativa, Swiss Sativa, and Columbian Gold. It boasts CBD levels of 8–16% and THC levels of 4–7%, meaning that you will get a light buzz from this weed, but should not experience any anxiety or paranoia as can happen with some strains of this type.
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. It is often used for treating issues such as stress, anxiety, and depression, and can also relieve inflammation and pain. The negative effects of this strain include dry mouth and eyes, so keep plenty of water handy 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 16–24% CBD, and its low THC content of 0.5–1.2% means that you’ll get the medicinal benefits without the high, making it excellent for daytime use or when you need to get things done.
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 you high, you may well find that you 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 –11% it really fits the bill. The special thing about Sour Tsunami is that it has similar levels of THC, 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 there should be none of the anxiety or paranoia that can come with other strains.
As you may have guessed from the name, 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 ancestors – up to an incredible 22%! 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 as well as offering relief from pain, inflammation, stress, and depression. Although this strain’s low THC content means that it has no psychoactive 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 which phenotype you choose, but generally speaking, you should expect 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 you 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.
5 Cannabis Strains for Schizophrenia and Psychosis: Final Thoughts
If you have schizophrenia or psychosis, it is essential that you continue to receive the appropriate medical care. Marijuana is not a substitute for medication, and you should never stop taking prescribed drugs without consulting your physician first.
You should also be extra cautious when choosing a strain for 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 treatment for you, and stop using it immediately if your symptoms become worse.