Spotlight On: Cannabis and Schizophrenia

What is a safe level of marijuana use? The answer isn’t all that clear. With the legalization of cannabis across many states, the perception of how harmful marijuana use can be is on the decline. However, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recognizes that today’s high-potency cannabis may pose serious health risks for some of our more vulnerable populations.

While it is generally understood that frequent cannabis use can impose negative health effects, more recent studies suggest a strong relationship between regular cannabis use and the occurrence of schizophrenia or psychosis. This is especially true for individuals with a family history of schizophrenia or other related psychotic disorders. In fact, among individuals predisposed for psychosis, it is estimated that cannabis use accounts for 8-14% of all schizophrenia diagnoses. (Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, 2019)

Individuals who initiate cannabis use early, particularly in adolescence, are also at an increased risk of developing psychotic disorders. This is likely explained by the interaction of cannabinoids (like THC and CBD) with neuroreceptors in the brain, interfering with important signaling systems during key years of brain development. One pioneering study found that predisposed youth who had tried cannabis before the age of 18 were more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than their non-using peers. Similar results have been reproduced time and time again in more recent research. (World Psychiatry, 2013)

All in all, it’s a lot to consider for ‘just a plant’! 

The good news is that cannabis use is considered a modifiable risk factor for schizophrenia. This means we have the power to prevent these psychotic episodes by limiting our use of cannabis products. Of note, researchers have estimated that up to 30% of schizophrenia cases among young men (aged 21-30) could have been prevented by not using cannabis. (National Institutes of Health, 2023).

Our minds are unique, and so is our personal risk for side effects from all substances, including cannabis. Have you considered yours? Doing so might just prevent the onset of a serious psychiatric condition.

Adapt provides services for the comprehensive treatment of substance use with or without co-occurring mental illness, for both youth and adults. Please call (503) 440-3532 if you’d like to set up an appointment.