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Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder that affects about 1% of Americans. Studies have shown that the body’s endocannabinoid system, which is impacted by cannabinoids found in cannabis, can elicit antipsychotic effects and can thereby may be helpful in reducing psychotic symptoms.
Overview of Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe mental illness that interferes with the ability to think clearly, regulate emotions and connect to others. The disabling brain disorder can develop at any age, but the average age of onset is late teens to early 20s for men and late 20s to early 30s for women.
Common symptoms associated with schizophrenia include hallucinations, delusions, negative symptoms (being emotionally flat and disconnected), and disorganized thinking or cognitive issues. It can cause people to hear voices that don’t exist or may make them to believe others are reading or controlling their minds and thoughts. A person with schizophrenia may not make sense when talking or may sit for long hours without talking or moving. For a diagnosis of schizophrenia, symptoms must be present for a minimum of six months.
While the exact cause of schizophrenia remains unknown, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, research suggests that genetics, environment, brain chemistry and substance abuse may play a role in the disease developing. The illness occurs in 1 percent of the general population, but 10 percent of people with a first-degree relative with have the disorder develop.
There is no cure for schizophrenia, but psychotherapy and self-management strategies can help manage its symptoms. Antipsychotic medications help reduce psychotic symptoms, like hallucinations and breaks with reality.
Findings: Effects of Cannabis on Schizophrenia
The findings around cannabis and schizophrenia are complex. While use of cannabis strains that are high in the psychoactive cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) have been found to be associated with an increased risk of developing psychotic disorders, there is evidence suggesting that other cannabis compounds may have therapeutic applications4.
This is because the 100-plus cannabinoids found in cannabis are able to interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system, a regulatory network tasked with keeping a wide array of functions in balance. These cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system through its cannabinoid receptors, stimulating the system and supporting it in its efforts to maintain homeostasis.
Evidence so far indicates that schizophrenia is associated with the presence of a dysregulation in the endocannabinoid system’s role in psychotic disorders like schizophrenia3. Studies indicate that aberrant cannabinoid signaling contributes to schizophrenia symptoms1. These findings suggest that compounds that modulate the endocannabinoid system in a particular way, which may include cannabis-derived compounds, could have antipsychotic effects2.
States That Have Approved Medical Marijuana for Schizophrenia
No states have approved medical marijuana for the treatment of schizophrenia. However, in Washington D.C., any condition can be approved for medical marijuana as long as a DC-licensed physician recommends the treatment. In addition, various other states will consider allowing medical marijuana to be used for the treatment of schizophrenia with the recommendation from a physician. These states include: California (any debilitating illness where the medical use of marijuana has been recommended by a physician), Connecticut (other medical conditions may be approved by the Department of Consumer Protection), Massachusetts (other conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s physician), Nevada (other conditions subject to approval), Oregon (other conditions subject to approval), Rhode Island (other conditions subject to approval), and Washington (any “terminal or debilitating condition”).
Recent Studies on Cannabis’ Effect on Schizophrenia
- Chase, K.A., Feiner, B., Rosen, C., Gavin, D.P., and Sharma, R.P. (2016, November 30). Characterization of peripheral cannabinoid receptor expression and clinical correlates in schizophrenia. Psychiatry Research, 245, 346-353. Retrieved from http://www.psy-journal.com/article/S0165-1781(16)30347-X/fulltext.
- Fakhoury, M. (2017, January). Role of the endocannabinoid system in the pathophysiology of schizophrenia. Molecular Neurobiology, 54(1), 768-778. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12035-016-9697-5.
- Rodriguez-Munoz, M., Sanchez-Blazquez, P., Callado, L.F., Meana, J.J., and Garzon-Nino, J. (2017). Schizophrenia and depression, two poles of endocannabinoid system deregulation. Translational Psychiatry, 7(12), 1291. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5802629/.
- Sarrazin, S., Louppe, F., Doukhan, R., & Schürhoff, F. (2015). A clinical comparison of schizophrenia with and without pre-onset cannabis use disorder: a retrospective cohort study using categorical and dimensional approaches. Annals of General Psychiatry, 14, 44. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4676097/.
- Schizophrenia. (n.d.) National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/schizophrenia/index.shtml#part_145430.
- Schizophrenia. (n.d.). National Alliance on Mental Illness. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Schizophrenia.
- Vicente-Sánchez, A., Sánchez-Blázquez, P., Rodríguez-Muñoz, M., and Garzón, J. (2013). HINT1 protein cooperates with cannabinoid 1 receptor to negatively regulate glutamate NMDA receptor activity. Molecular Brain, 6, 42. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3851374/.