In a groundbreaking study that challenges conventional wisdom, researchers have discovered that regular cannabis use over a two-year period did not exacerbate early symptoms of psychotic disorders among teens and young adults.
This revelation goes against the assertions of critics who claim that cannabis usage leads to mental health issues.
In fact, the study found that it was associated with modest improvements in cognitive function and a reduction in the use of other medications.
The research was conducted by a collaborative team from prestigious institutions including Zucker Hillside Hospital, Stanford University School of Medicine, University of Michigan, and University of California at Davis.
Their findings, published in the Psychiatry Research journal, cast new light on the relationship between cannabis and mental health.
Historically, recreational cannabis use has been suggested as a potential trigger for the onset of psychosis. However, the study’s authors noted, “To date, the evidence linking cannabis to negative outcomes in individuals at clinical high risk (CHR) for psychosis is inconsistent.”
To explore this further, the researchers closely monitored 210 CHR patients aged 12–25 who were participating in the Early Detection and Intervention for the Prevention of Psychosis Program (EDIPPP).
Over a two-year period, the mental health and prescription medication usage of regular cannabis users were compared to non-users.
The study’s results revealed that “continuous cannabis use over 2 years of follow-up did not lead to an increased rate of transitioning into psychosis, and did not worsen clinical symptoms, functional abilities, or overall neurocognition.”
The researchers acknowledged, “Nonetheless, our findings hint at the possibility that consistent cannabis use might be associated with slightly elevated positive symptom levels, although this increase is not statistically significant when compared to non-users.”
Interestingly, the study also showed that “CHR youth who consistently used cannabis demonstrated improved neurocognition and social functioning over time.
“Additionally, they reduced their reliance on medication, all while experiencing an improvement in clinical symptoms despite the decrease in medication.”
It’s important to note that the study is not advocating for youth cannabis use or suggesting cannabis as a therapeutic solution for those at risk of psychosis.
Instead, it contributes valuable insights to the body of scientific knowledge surrounding cannabis and psychosis. This is particularly relevant as opponents of legalisation continue to raise concerns about the potential for high-THC cannabis to trigger conditions like schizophrenia.
In a related study published by the American Medical Association (AMA) in January, data from over 63 million health insurance beneficiaries was analysed.
This study concluded that states which have legalised cannabis do not experience a statistically significant increase in diagnoses related to psychosis compared to states that maintain cannabis criminalisation.
A study from 2021 on twins found that THC use has little impact on rates of psychosis. Looking at nearly 3,000 sets of twins over their lifetime, researchers found no evidence of an effect of cannabis on psychosis rates.
One 2018 study looked at the genome of nearly 200,000 people and found that those who are genetically predisposed to schizophrenia are more likely to smoke weed, possibly as a form of self-medication.
In Cannabis and Psychosis: a Critical Overview of the Relationship, researchers looked at recent research on cannabis and psychosis, including studies done with schizophrenic patients and studies of first-episode psychosis.
They found that the evidence suggests that cannabis does not in itself cause a psychosis disorder.
“Rather, the evidence leads us to conclude that both early use and heavy use of cannabis are more likely in individuals with a vulnerability to psychosis,” the study says.
Now, just because cannabis use does not cause psychosis does not mean there aren’t risks involved with its use, especially when you’re young and your brain is still developing.
Chronic, high doses of THC – particularly during adolescence – can affect the way the brain develops. In people already at risk of mental disorders such as psychosis, it may bring on symptoms sooner.
However, healthy adults have little increased risk of mental health issues. This is displayed by the fact that while cannabis use has increased in many populations, including the UK, the corresponding level of psychosis incidence has not.
Additionally, rates of cannabis addiction are low (around 10% of consumers, which is below average compared to other drugs) and can be massively reduced further with the concurrent use of CBD, safe methods of consumption, and mindful use.
While these findings challenge prevailing notions, they are a testament to the importance of ongoing research to shape our understanding of cannabis’s potential impact on mental health.
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