The relation between marijuana and schizophrenia has been widely discussed throughout the last century. Between 1960s and 1970s, researchers believed that smoking cannabis could trigger psychosis in just about any person. Although the results between different studies vary today, some scientists still share the opinion that you can get schizophrenia from using weed if you are predisposed to this mental illness, namely those with family histories of the condition.
On the other hand, there are studies that suggest that people who suffer from schizophrenia are more prone to smoke pot. As a new study in Molecular Psychiatry has found that genetic factors determining schizophrenia can be used to predict if a person will be more likely to smoke marijuana, regardless of their mental health record.
That being said, we can clearly see the causal relationship between cannabis use and schizophrenia. Although the phenomenon still remains unclear to the medical community, it’s believed that there is at least a small link between the genes predisposing some people to enjoying weed and those that are responsible for developing schizophrenia.
The Reason Behind The Possible Link
A study conducted by Dr. Suzi Gage and her team, from the School of Experimental Psychology at Bristol University in the United kingdom, has found that there is more evidence that marijuana may be particularly risky for people who suffer from schizophrenia. Nevertheless, the group of researchers has indicated that it’s also important to highlight other factors that impact mental health.
Dr. Gage examined genetic factors that may determine whether a subject is likely to use marijuana, and whether they are likely to develop schizophrenia. Using the Mendelian Randomization technique to analyze the data, the authors of the study were able to investigate other factors impacting our mental condition.
Findings say that when a person starts to use cannabis, this may increase the risk of schizophrenia. In addition, people who are at risk of schizophrenia will be more likely to use marijuana than healthy subjects.
How does this link between marijuana and schizophrenia work? As Prof. Marcus Munafo, a member of the team responsible for running this study, explained that some behaviors or symptoms linked to schizophrenia risk might be mitigated by the effects of cannabis. In short, cannabis can be considered a kind of self-medication in schizophrenia patients. Alternatively, it’s believed that people who are at risk of developing schizophrenia may particularly enjoy the psychoactive properties of cannabis.
How do CBD and THC Affect Schizophrenia?
THC is believed to cause transient psychotic experiences. Unlike Tetrahydrocannabinol, CBD has no mind-altering properties while being a potent medication – that’s what the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has to say.
Since the majority of marijuana strains available on the market is THC-rich and low in CBD, it’s more likely that people who share direct contact with these substances are more likely to go under some small psychotic experiences. According to researchers, the proportion of THC to CBD presumably plays a significant role in psychotic symptoms.
The main limitation to this research is a relatively small population of people with high risk for developing schizophrenia overlapping with those who regularly enjoy cannabis. The number of such a group is estimated to 1,500 people.
The Debate Continues
Source: Sites at Penn State
Like I said, there is still not enough evidence, at least at a population level, that cannabis use throughout adolescence is a ruling factor in the development of schizophrenia. Without such evidence, we still have to face the fact that people with schizophrenia who consume marijuana are more likely to be hospitalized than those who don’t use the herb. In order to gain a better understanding of how regular usage may impact the wellbeing of vulnerable cannabis users, we have to dig deeper into the subgroups of such individuals.
There are plenty detailed studies that prove cannabis can have very different effects on the brain of a person who is at risk for schizophrenia. For example, a 2013 study indicated that there is a connection between the increased release of dopamine from using cannabis and the reaction of the brains of people with schizophrenia. To cut the long story short, a chronic elevation of dopamine is capable of increasing one’s likelihood of experiencing mind-altering moments, making the disorder more difficult to treat.
Furthermore, according to some studies, people who are in the early stages of schizophrenia experience greater modifications in the brain when using marijuana – these changes take place in their white matter.
The Future Research On the Relationship
Although the evidence isn’t clear-cut, it looks like the link between marijuana and schizophrenia is even more complex and serious than we’ve ever thought. There is no specific gene associated with either marijuana use disorder or schizophrenia, so this mental illness is associated with a result of many genes working together. Even if their number is not impressive, each combination makes a small contribution to the general risk of developing schizophrenia.
Still, the concept that marijuana use and schizophrenia share common genes shows great hope for future research on this relationship, which would confirm this thesis once and for all. Medical knowledge aside, further research on marijuana and schizophrenia could shed more light on the problem, as schizophrenia affects a small number of people on a global scale.
Do you think that smoking weed may lead to increased anxiety and speed up the development of schizophrenia? Share your thoughts!