Cannabis and schizophrenia: Causal relationship with damaging health effects

Cannabis and schizophrenia: Causal relationship with damaging health effects

Schizophrenia is a mental illness which affects how a person, feels, thinks and behaves.   According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about one percent of the world’s population is likely to have schizophrenia at some stage in their life while in America, approximately 1.1 percent of the population is already living with it. Symptoms of schizophrenia start between 16-30 years of age and the disease affects more men than women. Some of the symptoms that a schizophrenic person may experience are delusions, hallucinations and cognitive difficulties, which can become a lifelong struggle.

There is no single cause that contributes to the development of schizophrenia. According to experts, the causes can be both genetic and environmental. However, it is still difficult to use only genetic information to predict the onset of schizophrenia. Environmental factors such as exposure to viruses, malnutrition before birth, and other psychosocial factors can also lead to the development of schizophrenia.

A recent study conducted by a group of researchers from the Bristol School of Experimental Psychology and published by Psychological Medicine in December 2016, has revealed a correlation between cannabis use and risk of schizophrenia. The results have surprised the researchers by revealing that people with pre-existing psychotic symptoms stand a higher chance of using pot.

Risk of developing psychotic disorders is 5 times more in heavy pot users

The study sheds light on the correlation between use of illicit drugs and mental health by studying genetic variants of various individuals to predict the risk of cannabis use or developing schizophrenia. Instead of using traditional observational epidemiology, the researchers used mendelian randomization (MR) techniques to explore the contribution of other variants that may impact the association. Although the exact size of the effect could not be predicted, the study gave evidence that the relationship works in both directions. People afflicted with schizophrenia are more vulnerable to cannabis use and heavy cannabis users may be at greater risk of getting schizophrenia.

“In this study we could only look at cannabis initiation. What would really help progress this research is to use genetic variants that predict heaviness of cannabis use, as it seems that heavy cannabis use is most strongly associated with risk of schizophrenia. Once genetic variants are identified that predict heaviness of cannabis use we’ll be able to do this,” said Dr Suzi Gage, research associate with the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit.

In another research done by the University of New South Wales in Australia in 2011, which got published in Archives of General Psychiatry, the researchers predicted the likelihood of pot users developing psychotic disorders at least three years earlier that non-pot users. Scientists from various other countries have also agreed that frequent use of the drug can increase the risk of psychosis.

The production of new varieties of cannabis, sometimes called super strong cannabis, such as skunk, has led scientists to believe that daily users of skunk are five times more vulnerable to psychotic disorders than those who abstain from it; weekly users are nearly twice at the risk. The findings are a result of a six-year extensive study by researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London. These highly potent varieties of cannabis have caused alarm bells ringing as more and more young people are experimenting with the pot. This has necessitated the need for further debate regarding legalizing marijuana or relaxing certain restrictions regarding its use.

Recovery road map

Cannabis, one of the oldest psychoactive substances, is gaining popularity among teenagers and young adults. Exposure to marijuana in adolescence or early adulthood can have a long-term impact on the brain and the changes can be irreversible. It is better to seek treatment if one is struggling with substance abuse and mental illness at the earliest possible.

If you or your loved one is looking for a holistic treatment in treating co-occurring disorders, contact the Dual Diagnosis Helpline to find out about the best dual diagnosis centers or call us on our 24/7 helpline number 855-981-6047. You can chat with our representatives who will give you more information on the finest dual diagnosis facilities in your area.