Psychosis is a common symptom of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder. Up until now, treatment for psychosis has been rudimentary and largely experimental — and plagued by unwanted side effects. However, new research suggests that CBD could be a safer and more effective solution.
Typically, psychotic symptoms involve hallucinations and delusional thinking. People experiencing psychosis often have difficulty thinking in rational or logical ways, which is frequently accompanied by paranoid thoughts along with extreme fear or anger. They are often completely unaware that they are suffering from an illness, and believe that what they’re experiencing is real, which can make it challenging for them to get the help that they need.
Even the most experienced mental health professional needs a diverse set of methods to treat psychotic episodes, and CBD is one of the most versatile new tools available. Studies have found that it can have a wide range of positive effects on health and wellness without the drawbacks of antipsychotic drugs.
Extracted as an oil from the cannabis plant, CBD is now used as a mainstream treatment for medical conditions like inflammation and pain. However, its potential for treating psychosis and other mental health issues like bipolar disorder are still only dimly understood. But with restrictions on cannabis research loosening in recent years, scientists are finding new reasons to think that CBD could help to reduce the abnormal brain activity that causes psychosis.
A recent study conducted at King’s College London showed that CBD could have major therapeutic benefits for people whose psychosis is resistant to traditional treatments, which would be the first major advancement in the field since the 1950s. Sagnik Bhattacharyya, who led the research, told The Guardian that “these results will clearly pave the way for developing a novel class of antipsychotic treatments.”
Bhattacharyya was not exaggerating — his team found that just a single dose of CBD significantly reduced hallucinations, delusions, and other classic signs of psychosis.
Despite these positive results, there are still many people who are concerned that the long-term use of cannabis and cannabis derivatives can cause mental health problems such as schizophrenia, and their concerns aren’t entirely unfounded. Some researchers believe that CBD could increase the risk of schizophrenia in patients who are genetically predisposed to the condition. Others have suggested that CBD could also increase anxiety in certain patients, which could exacerbate pre-existing mental health conditions.
The King’s College study set out to determine if these concerns were founded or not. According to Bhattacharyya, researchers “knew from previous studies that CBD had antipsychotic effects, but we didn’t know how it worked.” The study scanned the brains of 33 people, 16 of whom had been administered CBD and 17 of whom had received a placebo. During the scanning process, participants were asked a series of questions and instructed to perform other tasks that tested their cognitive abilities.
What the researchers found was the brain activity of those who received the placebo was highly abnormal, but the brain activity of the participants who received CBD was much closer to what would be considered normal. Considering the fact that this group of people had only received a single dose of CBD before these tests were conducted, it is a remarkable result.
The current treatment for psychosis relies heavily on medications that target the brain’s production of dopamine, a naturally-occurring chemical called a “neurotransmitter” that helps regulate feelings of happiness and other body functions. However, this treatment method is over 60 years old, and hasn’t been updated much since the first medications were developed. The side effects of antipsychotic medications can also be severe and often include drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and restlessness.
While CBD appears to be a highly promising replacement for these outdated treatments, the research team at King’s College London aren’t getting ahead of themselves just yet, explaining that “one shouldn’t get the impression that it’s OK to start prescribing CBD [for psychosis] tomorrow.” However, if future studies confirm what Bhattacharyya and his team have found, people who are living with psychosis could have a much brighter future ahead of them.