Marijuana Friend or Foe?

Marijuana Friend or Foe?

Does Marijuana Lead to Psychosis?

Studies attempt to prove link between cannabis and schizophrenia

My home state of Florida seems to be following merrily along the bandwagon supporting the proposed approval of marijuana for medicinal use along with other states like California and Colorado.  The arguments for and against the idea are based on a myriad of political, economic and scientific underpinnings.  The scientific establishment and professionals within the substance abuse industry seem confounded as to how this view persists despite a preponderance of evidence to the contrary.  One explanation for this enduring viewpoint can be cognitive dissonance on the part of people adamant in their stance on this hotly contested lightning-rod topic.  The attempt of this article is to glean through the mountains of data available on the subject and come to a consensus on the possible links of long-term marijuana use and symptoms of psychosis and schizophrenia exhibited in later adulthood.

A review on the hot-button issue was recently published in the highly revered journal, Biological Psychiatry. The article mentions 10 different research studies into the long-term consequences of habitual marijuana use and onset of psychosis later in life.  The studies, however, lacked the necessary controls in their experiments and tackled the issue from disparate angles, which make it difficult to come to any definitive conclusion on the matter.  The majority of the studies demonstrated a significant link between marijuana use and adult onset of psychosis.  Lumping all of the studies together there was found a 40 percent increased risk for psychosis as opposed to non-cannabis smokers.  The risk goes up when factoring into account the frequency and duration of use.  

Yet the real question posed is whether or not marijuana displays a direct cause, or merely a tenuous correlation to cognitive dysfunction later in life.  However, the authors also point out other inconsistencies with the studies downplaying the actual risk, namely the fact that the impaired subjects are unlikely to participate in them for the long-term.  

There are also some other factors to take into consideration when it comes to marijuana showing a causal link to psychosis.

  • Acute intoxication of cannabis displaying symptoms of fleeting psychosis
  • The increased risk of psychosis in marijuana users who carry specific genetic predispositions
  • Positive correlation with marijuana potency and increased risk for schizophrenia
  • The data skewed towards younger demographics indicating a stronger link of psychosis and the underdeveloped adolescent brain

The takeaway from all of this the authors of the study contend is a strong body of empirical evidence to bolster the view that frequent cannabis use increases the prospect of psychological disorders.

Despite what the overwhelming preponderance of data suggests the figures need to be analyzed in their proper framework.  If the rate of schizophrenia in the general population is about 1%, then these metrics indicate that the risk of psychosis, at least among more casual users, is on the lower end of the spectrum at 1.5%.  However with the rapid growing segment of new cannabis users entering the market daily, these numbers translate into many thousands of individuals with what can be quite debilitating psychotic symptoms at a time when mental health and substance abuse treatment centers are at capacity.

As the dialogue of this story continues to unfold, it will be imperative for the parties involved in this divisive issue to steer clear of ad hominem attacks devoid of logic and the facts.  States like Washington and Colorado are starting to reveal data that would reframe this story within the larger context.  It is important to remember that we are still in the early stages of this progressive movement.  It will still, likely, take some more time before the real picture begins to materialize from the smokescreens.  



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