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Cannabis is without a doubt the most popular illicit drug in the world. It’s estimated that approximately 22 million people use the drug each month. It’s also believed that half of all twelfth graders have tried cannabis at least once. Clearly, this is a drug that isn’t going away. If anything, it seems to be growing in popularity year on year.
Medical Cannabis in particular is coming on leaps and bounds in terms of its popularity in the United States right now. Folks are opening their minds to the potential healing powers of this ancient plant. It’s properties are being tested in greater depth. The number of states which has legalized the use of cannabis for medical and recreational purposes is growing steadily. The future looks bright for medical cannabis.
However, there are still some widely held misconceptions about cannabis. One of the most prolific is the belief that medical cannabis can cause schizophrenia.
There are a number of names for schizophrenia including schizoaffective disorder and paranoid schizophrenia. The American Psychiatric Association defines schizophrenia as “a chronic brain disorder that affects about one percent of the population.” It is a very serious mental illness which has a direct and profound effect on a patients quality of life. As there is no cure for the disorder, people with schizophrenia are faced with the challenge of managing their symptoms for the rest of their lives.
The signs and symptoms of schizophrenia are categorized into four groups:
Positive psychotic symptoms include:
Negative symptoms include:
Disorganization symptoms include:
Impaired cognition symptoms
These are just some of the symptoms of schizophrenia. If any of them sound familiar to you, it would be wise to book an appointment to speak to a mental health professional.
A person with schizophrenia often suffers from auditory hallucinations. Along with hearing voices, they commonly see things that aren’t really there. This usually makes it impossible for them to work. They often feel intensely paranoid and believe with every fibre of their being that the people in their lives are conspiring against them. Many live in almost constant fear. They almost always socially withdraw from friends and family members. The loneliness and isolation they feel can be devastating. It is truly up there as one of the worst mental illnesses a person can develop.
For years there has been a strong link between cannabis and schizophrenia. It’s clear that there is some kind of relationship between the drug and the disorder. What isn’t clear is the exact nature of that relationship. Does cannabis use directly cause schizophrenia? Or do people with schizophrenia tend to use cannabis? Correlation and causation are not the same thing. This is why debate around the relationship between cannabis and schizophrenia has been so difficult.
In recent years there have been some interesting studies done in this area. One such study, which took place in Tel Aviv University, tested cannabis use on two groups of mice. The first group were genetically susceptible to schizophrenia. The second were not. The study found that the effects of cannabis differed dramatically between the two groups. The susceptible mice display schizophrenia-like effects, while the others did not.
The results of this study are really interesting. The findings could mean that cannabis use doesn’t cause schizophrenia but rather speeds up the development of the disorder in people who will inevitably develop it.
For now, the picture remains unclear. More studies are underway and hopefully as they progress our understanding of the relationship between cannabis and schizophrenia will deepen. For those suffering with schizophrenia, early diagnosis and treatment of symptoms in the long term are the priority. Antipsychotic medications and innovative therapies can go a long way towards bringing a level of peace to people with schizophrenia today.
In the meantime it’s always best to remain mindful of the fact that the biological effects of cannabis remain largely untested. The overwhelming feeling is that cannabis is a safe drug to use. However, that doesn’t mean it is without risk. For more information on the effects of cannabis on mental health, the National Institute of Mental Health’s website contains lots of helpful information.