Schizophrenia is a severe chronic disorder of the brain that is characterized by numerous psychological problems. The key element that has been described in the patients with schizophrenia is “psychosis”, in which the patient cannot distinguish his/her personal thoughts and those facts from the reality (positive symptoms, including hallucinations and racing thoughts). In addition, there is a lack or absence of the normally expected functions, such as lack of emotion and impaired social functioning (negative symptoms) and difficulties in performing mental functions, including memory problems (cognitive symptoms).
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Some studies revealed that cannabis use is associated with worsening of psychosis and may have a part in the development of schizophrenia. On the other hand, it has been observed that cannabidiol (CBD), one component of the cannabinoids, may have beneficial actions against the negative symptoms of schizophrenia in general. As such, this study presented a review of the available evidence of the effects of cannabinoids as a potential treatment in patients with schizophrenia.
Body changes in schizophrenia in and their relevance to cannabinoids
The main symptoms of schizophrenia are mainly dependent on the nerve signal transmission by the help of a set of distinct chemicals in the brain. For instance, both the negative and cognitive symptoms occur due to a marked reduction of neurotransmission of dopamine, serotonin and other important chemical transmitters. In another area in the brain, a converse reaction of those transmitters takes place, where their transmission is enhanced, leading to experiencing the positive symptoms. Cannabinoids have the potential to exert their effects in the body through binding to their specific receptors, which are known as CB1 and CB2. In the brain, the CB1 receptors are widely distributed, allowing the cannabinoids to effectively reach to the different areas responsible for recognition and working memory. The location of CB1 receptors may also facilitate changing the nerve signal transmission. Therefore, there may be a significant therapeutic potential of cannabinoids for the treatment of schizophrenia.
Effects of cannabinoids in patients with schizophrenia
The effects of cannabinoid compounds on the symptoms of schizophrenia is complex. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), one of the mind-altering cannabis-derived compounds, can disrupt brain function by stimulating dopamine transmission resulting in worsening of the positive symptoms. Therefore, THC would augment the dysregulation of neurochemicals and possibly cause a significant deterioration. In contrast, several studies have shown that CBD has the ability to restore the abnormal transmission of neurochemicals leading to improvement of the negative symptoms with minimal or nil deterioration of the positive symptoms. In addition, CBD shows a safe profile with few adverse effects.
The use of cannabis appears to exacerbate the symptoms of schizophrenia. However, CBD administration may improve most of the symptoms by adjusting the abnormal nerve signaling. More studies are required to study the effects of other cannabinoids, including the synthetic ones, on the psychotic and cognitive symptoms for the treatment of schizophrenia in comparison to other antipsychotic medications.