You may have heard that cannabis use and schizophrenia are connected. This article will provide a comprehensive exploration of the cannabis and schizophrenia relationship and give you insights into the potential mechanisms through which cannabis-induced schizophrenia can take place.
Schizophrenia is a mental health disorder that affects between 0.25% and 0.64% of Americans. It is a severe mental health condition that can be disabling. Despite having a low presence compared to other disorders, it can have significant ramifications if you don’t get treatment.
Schizophrenia causes disruptions in things like thought processes, interactions, perceptions, and emotional responses. Clients with schizophrenia might have the following:
- Difficulty with social relationships,
- Cognitive impairment,
- Reduced motivation to get things done,
- Difficulty expressing their emotions,
- Co-occurring thought disorders.
The exact cause of schizophrenia is unknown. Most research suggests that it is a combination of genetics, brain chemistry, and environment.
To that end, changes to brain chemistry can result from cannabis use. Similarly, stressful life events can trigger schizophrenia and are also situations where individuals are more likely to try and self-medicate with cannabis use. As such, cannabis-induced schizophrenia is when individuals who previously did not have symptoms of schizophrenia begin to show symptoms after regular cannabis use.
But can cannabis actually cause schizophrenia?
Exploring the cannabis-schizophrenia connection
In order to better understand cannabis use and schizophrenia, it’s important to appreciate correlation versus causation and vulnerability and susceptibility.
Correlation vs. Causation
When answering questions like “Can cannabis cause schizophrenia” it’s important to differentiate between correlation and causation.
- Correlation means there is a relationship between two factors, but one doesn’t necessarily cause the other.
- Causation means one thing actually causes the other.
This means that there is a correlation between cannabis and schizophrenia; a client can use cannabis and have schizophrenia. However, there is no evidence that the use of cannabis causes schizophrenia, only that cannabis use can cause a pre-existing disorder to manifest.
Vulnerability and Susceptibility
Vulnerability and susceptibility are equally important terms. Some potential biological mechanisms link cannabis use with schizophrenia, but it might not be what you think.
Some early evidence has linked schizophrenia and cannabis, indicating that cannabis use can increase the onset of psychosis in those who are predisposed to psychotic disorders genetically, which includes schizophrenia.
Other evidence has also found that individuals who already have schizophrenia, diagnosed or not, are more likely to experience a worsening of symptoms because of cannabis use.
Cannabis linked to schizophrenia is higher in men than women. However, research has simply found that there is a higher diagnosis of cannabis use disorder and schizophrenia as co-occurring disorders, but this does not conclusively prove that there is such a thing as cannabis-induced schizophrenia.
The important delineation is that:
- Cannabis on its own has not yet been shown to cause schizophrenia, but
- Individuals who already have schizophrenia or who have a genetic predisposition for schizophrenia can trigger symptoms and increase symptom severity through cannabis use.
Note: The younger in life you begin using cannabis, the higher the risk of mental and physical health problems, including cannabis-induced schizophrenia. Teenagers under the age of 16 can increase their risk of activating schizophrenic symptoms at a much younger age.
Strategies for reducing the potential risks of cannabis use
Learning strategies to cope with symptoms or reduce stress can reduce your potential risks.
One way to reduce the potential risk of cannabis use, especially if you are at high risk for schizophrenia on a genetic level, is to utilize low-potency cannabis that has a lower THC level or a higher CBD level.
Given the relationship between schizophrenia, cannabis use, and stress levels, integrating self-care can help you reduce your risk not only of increased cannabis use but of schizophrenia activation or symptom exacerbation.
Self-care can extend to several aspects of daily life, including:
Sleep hygiene is an essential component in ensuring you have a regular sleep schedule. Sleep impairments can lead to cognitive impairments, a symptom of schizophrenia as well as reduced motivation because of fatigue. Similarly, many users turn to cannabis to help with sleep problems which could be better addressed through sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene includes:
- Keeping your room dark, quiet, and cool when you sleep;
- Going to bed at the same time and getting up at the same time, even on weekends;
- Doing light stretching, meditation, or journaling before bed.
If you are worried about a predisposition to schizophrenia, it’s important that you speak to a mental health provider. If schizophrenia runs in your family or if you are experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia, getting proper treatment sooner rather than later can reduce your risk of cannabis-induced schizophrenia.
Tangentially it can teach coping mechanisms to help manage acute or chronic stress and self-care techniques and expose you to any medication management services you might need in order to control symptoms of schizophrenia.
Antipsychotic medications might need to be prescribed to help you cope with these symptoms of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a disorder that requires lifelong treatment even if you aren’t currently experiencing symptoms. Psychosocial therapy combined with medication might prove most successful depending on your circumstances.
Schizophrenia is often treated with customized combinations of medication and talk therapy. Talk therapy for schizophrenia can include cognitive behavioral therapy, group psychotherapy, and psychoeducation to better understand the characterizations of your mental health disorder, as well as family therapy.
Family therapy and group therapy can encourage family members to better understand the characterizations of schizophrenia as well as cannabis use and help with social relationship impairment, emotional expression, and delusions.
If you have asked, “Can cannabis cause schizophrenia,” it might be time to find strategies to prevent cannabis use and schizophrenia risks. There are many complexities in the cannabis and schizophrenia relationship, and it’s essential that you get balanced perspectives from professionals who understand the complexities of schizophrenia from a mental health perspective as well as cannabis use. Look for reliable information and consult healthcare Professionals for personalized guidance.