Marijuana May Both Trigger and Suppress Psychosis

It’s a familiar experience for most marijuana smokers — that sudden discovery of great meaning, humor or intensity in what they would ordinarily find to be mundane situations and sensations. It’s part of why people seek out marijuana, but this undue attention to what ordinarily seems insignificant is also part of the psychotic experience of schizophrenia— and new research finds that the two main ingredients in marijuana have opposing effects on it.

The study examined 15 normal men who had previously smoked cannabis only a few times. Researchers exposed the men to each of the two most psychoactive ingredients in marijuana — delta-nine tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) and compared their effects to a placebo while the participants performed a mental task.

The men were asked to study arrows, placed on either the left or right of the screen, which mostly pointed straight, but occasionally—in what’s known as the “oddball” situation— the arrows were tilted at a 23 degree angle. The participants’ brains were scanned while they identified which direction the arrows were pointing, so scientists could determine which parts of the brain were affected by marijuana’s active ingredients.

In all of the situations, not surprisingly, it took longer for the men to respond to the unusually pointing arrows. After taking THC, however, the men responded faster in both the oddball and usual cases than they did under the influence of either CBD or placebo. But their responses were even more affected in the usual cases.

The fact that that the men responded faster after taking THC to the straight arrows more than the bent ones meant that THC particularly affected how participants experienced familiar sights. (Interestingly, while THC seemed to reduce the accuracy of responses compared to CBD and placebo, the difference was not statistically significant, meaning it could have been due to chance.)

The scans showed that THC lowered activity in a region on the right side of the brain called the caudate nucleus—and the more it reduced activation, the greater effect it had on the mens’ response times and the more they experienced a sense of paranoia and an intensified sense of significance and auditory hallucinations.

Those are all “psychotic symptoms,” which can indicate schizophrenia if they occur when people are not high on marijuana or other drugs. Understanding how they occur may help researchers better understand how psychosis develops. For example, an inability to filter out irrelevant stimuli may lead people to hallucinate voices when others hear only noise. And, if a sense of heightened significance occurs simultaneously, this could lead to hallucinations common in schizophrenia, like a sense that the voices are commanding you to do something important or are the voices of religious authorities or gods.

Of course, the same lack of filtering— with less intensity or with awareness that they are produced by a drug— could also aid creativity, which often involves paying attention to those elements of life that are usually ignored. Indeed, some research suggests that the relatives of people with schizophrenia are more creative than others— and this tendency not to tune out the ordinary could explain why.

In contrast, CBD had the opposite effect on the brain and earlier research has suggested that it may have antipsychotic properties.

Does that mean that marijuana could play a role in either triggering or even treating schizophrenia? Possibly. In people with the disorder, marijuana use can intensify symptoms and research suggests it can bring on schizophrenia in some people who are predisposed to develop it. But the interaction is complicated: as marijuana use has increased dramatically in the population, schizophrenia rates have stayed the same.

CBD might help explain that. Since marijuana typically contains both compounds, CBD could counteract THC’s tendency to create psychotic symptoms, which might prevent someone with a predisposition to schizophrenia who smokes pot from falling over the edge into active disease.

And if this is true— as studies increasingly suggest is the case— it may have important implications for the debate over both marijuana legalization and over “fake pot” products like Spice or K2. These contain only THC-like substances and therefore may actually be more dangerous than natural weed. If marijuana and similar substances were regulated, a requirement to include a certain level of CBD might be one way to minimize harm.

The research was published in the Archives of General Psychiatry and led by Sagnik Bhattacharyya of the Department of Psychosis studies at King’s College, London.

– Article from TIME.



  1. JohnDillinger on

    Old news. Knew about this more than five years ago and commented on it in the forums.

  2. David762 on

    The whole problem with any initiation of a temporary psychosis through the use of cannabis is that old, truthful joke: “That just because you are feeling paranoid doesn’t mean that certain people aren’t out to get you.” And when it comes to the totally irrational Global War Of Drugs, it turns out that certain Right Wing Authoritarian people including LEOs, DAs, and politicians really are out to get us — some even want to impose the death penalty for cannabis users. Repeat this study in Portugal or Switzerland where cannabis is quasi-legal, and evaluate the extent of ‘induced psychosis’ in a more liberal environment.

    The prohibition of cannabis especially, as well as the larger global war of drugs generally, is not about any harm done to either the individual or society but about control — control the populous, control the illicit drug trade, and control the flow of profits from the illicit drug trade. The illicit drug trade keeps prices high. The Federal crack-down on cannabis, including medical cannabis, props up the illicit drug cartels including the ones run by the government itself.

    Former CA Governor Schwartzeneger stated that ‘marijuana is not a drug, it’s a plant’. It’s not just a harmless plant — it’s a plant that has never killed anyone ever. The greatest harm done by cannabis isn’t it’s effects upon smoking or consumption but by the draconian Federal laws against it and the prospect of criminal prosecution.

  3. Anonymous on

    LoL, where can we get some seeds of that super potent ganja that makes you hallucinate, seriously, who are they kidding, I have never had that type of bud and I’ve been smoking for a while, I don’t believe their definition of “hallucination” is based on objective analysis, more government propaganda.

  4. bhonze on

    Must have been some good shit to here voices and shit!