Schizophrenia is a difficult illness to live with, and even more difficult due to the limited range of medical solutions out there – and their even more difficult side effects. Studies show that schizophrenia can be exacerbated by THC, but CBD may be a better option for those suffering from this illness. People with schizophrenia often consume cannabis to calm anxiety caused by the symptoms of the disease, and a new study shows that while psychosis and high THC cannabis consumption may not mix, there is still hope for psychosis disorders and CBD oil. Unfortunately, fear and false representation of schizophrenia in horror films meant to frighten people is the major media image of the disease today; many people don’t understand the true face of schizophrenia or how it can impact a person’s life and the life of the people who love that person. So before we discuss cannabis therapy and the disease, let’s a take a look at what it actually is, what causes it, and other types of therapy that may help patients.
What is Schizophrenia?
The National Institute of Mental Health in the U.S. defines schizophrenia as a chronic, severe, mental disorder affecting a person’s thinking, emotions, and behavior – many patients seem to have “lost touch with reality.” Schizophrenia is a rare mental disorder with severe symptoms, and usually begins sometime between age 16 and age 30. Symptoms are categorized as positive, negative, and cognitive. Positive symptoms of schizophrenia include hallucinations, delusions, thought disorders (paranoia, derailment), and movement disorders (rocking, pacing, posturing, strange mannerisms). Negative symptoms are disruptions to normal emotions and behaviors, and include “flat effect” (reduce expression of emotion in voice tone or facial expression), reduced pleasure taking in everyday life, difficulty beginning or sustaining activities, and reduced communication with others. Cognitive schizophrenia symptoms include poor executive functioning (ability to understand information and make decisions based on it), trouble focusing or paying attention, and problems with working memory (using learned information immediately). Risk factors for developing schizophrenia include heredity and environmental factors such as virus exposure, prenatal malnutrition, birth problems, and psychosocial factors. We don’t really know what causes schizophrenia, but scientists believe it is due to a brain chemical imbalance involving the dopamine and glutamate in neurotransmitters – faulty connections, in other words. Treatments which focus on eliminating or reducing schizophrenic symptoms include antipsychotics, psychosocial treatments, Coordinated Specialty Care (a combo of antipsychotics, psychosocial treatments, family involvement, and supported education and employment services for a higher quality of life), and now, cannabis therapy.
Why Do Schizophrenics Self-Medicate?
In a study conducted in 2003, researchers asked why schizophrenics self-medicate. People without schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders self-medicate with cannabis for pleasure, anxiety relief, or pain relief in most cases; people with psychotic disorders like schizophrenia self-medicate with cannabis to reduce their symptoms. This study found that schizophrenics may not be trying to reduce the difficult symptoms listed above with cannabis consumption, but rather the other symptoms that accompany a schizophrenic lifestyle or diagnosis: depression and anxiety. Although many past studies are based on the theory that cannabis increases psychotic symptoms in patients, organizations like the Schizophrenia Society of Canada believe that it’s actually the other way around: psychotic patients seek out cannabis for its calming and uplifting properties; they experience psychotic symptoms whether they are consuming cannabis or not. Higher pleasure rates for people with psychotic issues may also be a factor.
What are the Risks and Benefits for Schizophrenics Consuming Cannabis?
Basically, schizophrenics and other people with psychotic disorders should be very cautious about THC-containing cannabis use. It may help some people, and it may harm others. Everyone’s reaction to cannabis is different, and the interaction of cannabis with pharmaceuticals prescribed for psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia may be brutal. That said, CBD oil does not contain much THC, and could be a safer alternative for schizophrenic or psychotic disorder sufferers. More powerful strains of cannabis may put people who already suffer from psychotic disorders at higher risk of showing symptoms or having psychotic episodes; while cannabis alone does not cause psychosis, use of high-potency THC-laden strains may increase psychotic symptoms in current patients. Findings of a Bristol University Study in the U.K. found that those at risk for schizophrenia are more likely to consume cannabis. So, while cannabis consumption can help some schizophrenic or psychotic symptoms, cannabis may be consumed more often by these patients because they enjoy it more than other people. THC is associated with transient (passing) psychotic experiences, while CBD is not. In general, if you have a psychotic illness or it runs in your family, you should be cautious with or refrain from cannabis THC consumption – you could stick with CBD for treatment of anxiety or depression, for example. If you self-medicate for a psychotic illness, please consider therapy and other medications to help control your symptoms, or self-medicate with caution.