Because of how commonly marijuana is used, the reduction in stigma associated with it, and the increasingly legal status of the substance, people tend to be lulled into a false sense of comfort with this substance.
In general, compared to many other drugs, marijuana tends to have fewer adverse side effects and outcomes, but this doesn’t mean it’s entirely safe. Some people may be at risk of developing serious side effects resulting from their use of marijuana.
One area of concern is marijuana and schizophrenia. People wonder if there are links between marijuana and schizophrenia, so what’s the truth? Does marijuana cause schizophrenia?
Before looking at the relationship between marijuana and schizophrenia, what is this mental health disorder?
Schizophrenia is considered a serious mental health disorder affecting thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. A person who has this disorder has a difficult time differentiating between what’s real and what’s imagined, they may withdraw from social interactions, and they may have a hard time regulating or expressing emotions.
Schizophrenia isn’t a multiple personality disorder, and most people who suffer from this condition aren’t violent. It’s also not caused by things such as bad childhood experiences, although the cause isn’t entirely understood. Some researchers believe it may be caused by genetics, abnormalities in brain chemistry and structure, or even viral infections or immune disorders.
Schizophrenia is an incredibly complex disease, and it’s technically considered a group of disorders with varying causes and symptoms that differ between individuals. Throughout a person’s life, symptoms may decrease in severity, but if someone doesn’t take their prescribed medicines, uses drugs or alcohol, or are in stressful situations, their symptoms often get worse.
For many people, the symptoms of schizophrenia first appear in early adulthood. For men, it’s usually in their early 20s, and for women, it’s often in the late 20s or early 30s, but less obvious symptoms may be apparent earlier, such as problems with school or relationships.
With treatment, people with schizophrenia can often live fulfilling lives, although it does require ongoing treatment and support.
So, what about marijuana and schizophrenia? Does marijuana cause schizophrenia?
The relationship between marijuana and schizophrenia is one that’s been researched and debated for decades.
First and foremost, there are a few things to consider when asking does marijuana cause schizophrenia. Namely, we do know that marijuana can increase the risk of someone experiencing psychosis, in the short-term and the long-term, but the risk is low. With that being said, the risk of psychosis with marijuana use is higher in someone who is already at a higher risk of something like this, such as a person with a family history of psychotic disorders.
This is relevant to the conversation about marijuana and schizophrenia because as it stands currently, research points to the fact that cannabis may increase long-term psychiatric effects in susceptible people. This could manifest as an example in more severe symptoms of schizophrenia in someone who already has the disorder, or as the beginning of psychotic symptoms in a person who already has underlying mental health conditions.
Marijuana affects the endocannabinoid system of the user as well, and that’s a key area of the brain that’s associated with schizophrenia. The endocannabinoid system regulates most of the functions we use daily including cognition, sleep, and emotion, as well as reward processing. It seems that there could be deficiencies in this area in people with schizophrenia and they could have increased endocannabinoid receptors.
People with schizophrenia are more likely to use substances as a way to self-medicate as well, and some research shows that nearly half of people with schizophrenia also have co-occurring marijuana use disorder, and this can make the progression of their illness worse.
Scientists also believe that in people who are already susceptible to schizophrenia and start using marijuana in adolescence, the marijuana can be a trigger. Young people with schizophrenia risk factors should be very cautious when it comes to the use of marijuana.
So, to sum it all up, does marijuana cause schizophrenia?
At this point with marijuana and schizophrenia, researchers don’t believe that cannabis causes schizophrenia if no other risk factors are present. People may experience a short-term psychosis from using large amounts of potent marijuana, but this isn’t a long-term scenario.
What does happen with marijuana and schizophrenia is that it can trigger it or make symptoms worse in people who are already predisposed to have the disorder.
There is still a lot of research being done on marijuana and schizophrenia, particularly since both involve the brain’s endocannabinoid system, but the general advice right now is that anyone with schizophrenia or with risk factors for developing it be incredibly cautious with the use of any substances including marijuana.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.