Marijuana use can accelerate the onset of a psychotic disorder


The world sits audience to the tennis match of favoring and opposing marijuana use. We hear the audible shouts at each hit and contested return: Medicinal! Innocuous! OK for recreation! Brain deteriorating! Scientific data has been served from both sides. Meanwhile fair-weather fans of its usage worldwide continue to swarm to the winning team’s side, like a crowd doing the wave.

But now, scientists in the U.K., U.S., Australia and parts of Europe are solidifying a consensus that frequent use strengthens the risk of psychosis in vulnerable people.

Cannabis use and psychosis, latest research

That’s the message Robin Murray, professor of psychiatric research from the Institute of Psychiatry, at King’s College in London, emphasized in a podcast on Science Weekly that heavy smoking of strong cannabis, particularly from a young age, increases the risk of psychosis in combination with a family history of psychiatric disorder. He emphasizes that while not everyone with these circumstances will develop psychosis, cannabis should not be seen as harmless.

Murray and a group of other panelists chimed in on cannabis, psychosis and the need for accurate public service announcements worldwide. The scientists add, “While the vast majority of people who smoke cannabis will not develop psychotic disorders, those who do can have their lives ruined. Psychosis is defined by hallucinations, delusions and irrational behavior, and while most patients recover from the episodes, some go on to develop schizophrenia. The risk is higher among patients who continue with heavy cannabis use.”

Research from Harvard Medical School in 2013 demonstrated several key points clarifying the tie between cannabis use and mental disorder:

  • Cannabis may accelerate the age of onset of schizophrenia but is not evidenced to be the cause of the illness
  • Family history of schizophrenia is the underlying basis for the disorder manifesting, not cannabis use
  • A proclivity for depression, bipolar disorder and psychotic episodes are seen more in the relatives of cannabis users than nonusers; suggesting partakers are more prone to affective disorders
  • Drug dependency has a genetic component

Regular marijuana use is legal for recreational and medical uses by certain states’ laws, but some chronic pain experts say many people use what’s intended for physical pain to assuage mental and emotional distress. Herein lies the concern. Clinicians worldwide affirm people with a family history toward mental disorder should abstain from marijuana use, as it can instigate psychotic disorders.

Industry experts on the podcast agreed people are just left to figure out for themselves what to do because government departments are inconsistent and public health messages are slow to reflect the dangers.

Wait a bit before taking a hit

That’s the suggested message from Suzi Gage, senior research associate in the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit at Bristol University, in England. Murray says the average 14-year old has no idea what class or phase marijuana is. Traffic accidents, academic performance, developmental concerns and dependency can result for a healthy teen’s use of marijuana. Gage warns whether it’s the teen who carries a schizophrenia gene or another whose brain is still in the formative stages, wait a bit until you’re an adult before taking a hit of marijuana. It could mean one’s future, either way.

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About the author

Kristin Currin-Sheehan is a mindful spirit swimming in metaphysical pools with faith as her compass. Her cover: a 30s-something Cinderella breadwinner of an all-sport blended family. Her repertoire includes writing poetry, lifestyle articles and TV news; editing, radio production and on-camera reporting. 

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