What’s the hype?
When over a million people have tried cannabis in the past six months, the thought of a few of them suffering from mental illness such as psychosis, as a result of cannabis use, is a scary one. Up until today, scientists and researchers have been unable to provide a direct link between marijuana use and psychosis, even though the first research on the topic was done in the 1970s.
After 50 years, this question remains unanswered, as science responds with many open-ended questions. What has become clear over the years, however, is that more cannabis consumption correlates with higher chances of developing psychosis – often termed as the dose-response relationship. There is a strong link from the outset, but there is no actual scientific evidence to back the claim of a causal relationship.
According to a review in Biological Psychiatry, 7 out of 10 studies found a statistically significant link between cannabis use and psychotic disorder. When the results of all the 10 studies were put together, it was found that people who consume cannabis have a 40% higher chance of developing psychosis than those who never use the drug.
What causes drug-infused psychosis? Source
Psychotic disorders are serious mental health conditions which are generally characterized by hallucinations. In other words, people suffering from psychoses are incapable of distinguishing between what’s real and what’s not. They often undergo psychotic episodes that worsen their condition.
Symptoms of Cannabis-infused psychosis. Source
Is everyone at risk?
According to research, an average cannabis user is twice as likely to develop the disorder as a non-cannabis user. Further, a heavy marijuana user is four times as likely as a non-marijuana user. Also, there are people who can develop the disorder at a much faster rate because they’re more susceptible to the disease.
According to a recent study by the University of Montreal, regular consumption of cannabis by teenagers correlates to an increase in the chances of developing a psychotic illness. These results are not surprising, because adolescence is a critical period for neurocognitive development in the brain. Apparently, regular cannabis use can disrupt such development, resulting in abnormalities. Usually, the defects occur in the brain area associated with cognitive processing, complex working memory, and inhibitory control.
Effects of cannabis on teenagers. Source
2. Susceptible people
Certain life events can make one more prone to developing a psychotic illness. The health of the mother during pregnancy, child abuse, genetics, some head injury, or stress can trigger the onset of the disease sooner than expected. Some suggest that, if a person has such a disposition, cannabis can trigger an unwanted illness, and do so quicker than it would in those without such experiences.
Surprisingly, there is strong evidence that suggests that stress is influenced by an area of the brain where that’s susceptible to marijuana. Furthermore, people who suffer from depression and trauma are more likely to show symptoms of psychosis.
3. People consuming synthetic cannabis
Synthetic cannabis, also known as ‘spice’, increases the risk of developing psychosis. This type of cannabis is often mixed with another psychoactive drug, and sometimes lacks any cannabis at all. According to researchers, either one or both the compounds present in synthetic marijuana can trigger an early onset of the psychosis symptoms.
Final words – is legalizing the drug the answer?
The fact remains that, in more than 50 years, no causal links have been found between marijuana use and the onset of psychosis. Most of the studies carried out to find a causal link are done with unrestricted levels of THC, and even then result in only correlations. If in fact there is a causal link, then this implies that if the levels of THC are monitored by the government, the number of psychosis cases are likely to reduce. If this is accurate, then in the coming years, as more states and nations legalize the drug, there will be fewer people with this mental illness. In other words, legalization will help in mitigating the number of such cases. With legalization, consumers will be able to purchase quality-controlled products in packages warning about the potential side-effects of the drug. Perhaps the best way to reduce cannabis-infused psychosis, then, is to take the drug off the streets and shelve it in a government-regulated store.