The percentage of people in the United States who are abusing and/or dependent on Cannabis is about 4%, primarily among 18 to 29 year olds. In fact, almost half of high school seniors have come in contact with cannabis. Cannabis use peaked in the U.S. in 1979, with current consumption being relatively constant since 1997. Studies show that 37% of Americans of age 12 and older have tried cannabis at one time or another. Today, experts are debating whether cannabis-induced psychosis is a real phenomenon or not. Those opposing this idea believe that cannabis abuse has nothing to do with someone experiencing psychotic episodes, that these are predetermined. However, there is abundant evidence supporting the idea that marijuana use is related to psychosis.
Symptoms associated with cannabis-induced psychosis would be the sudden onset of emotional instability, confused and/or disorientation, hallucinations, amnesia, paranoia, and depersonalization. The argument for cannabis-induced psychosis is strengthened by certain cases that have been reported showing that these symptoms began after patients ingested large quantities of cannabis; symptoms were present in a group of patients that had no previous history of psychosis, either personally or within the family; a faster onset of symptoms the stronger the potency of cannabis; and the remission of symptoms once there was an enforced period of cannabis abstinence.
Past literature examined the relationship of those who reported cannabis abuse by the time they turned 18 years of age and their receiving a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Those studies showed that the risk of being diagnosed schizophrenic was 2.4 times as high among people who’d tried using cannabis by the time they were 18, as compared to those that hadn’t. The study also showed a dose-response association between being diagnosed schizophrenic and how many times the subject had used cannabis by the time they turned 18.
When compared to patients who’d never used cannabis, the risk of being diagnosed schizophrenic was 1.5 times higher for patients who’d smoked cannabis on 1 to 10 occasions, and 2.3 times higher for patients who’d used cannabis more than 10 times. For patients who’d already had a psychotic disorder, the effects of cannabis had a negative impact on the course of their illness as indicated by more often and earlier relapses, being hospitalized more frequently, and worsened psychosocial functioning. Approximately 15% of those using cannabis reported that they’d experienced symptoms of psychosis.
A number of cross sectional studies have been done that suggest that symptoms of psychosis do emerge in people who had never been psychotic in the past. The data from these studies imply that in patients who do develop schizophrenia, cannabis users present their symptoms earlier, have more symptoms of psychosis, respond less well to medication, and have worse outcomes than schizophrenic patients who do not use cannabis.
Since California legalized the medical use of marijuana in 1996, there are now 29 states that have passed legislation legalizing marijuana use for medical purposes. Americans are still concerned about whether marijuana should be legalized for recreational purposes and what the consequences would be of widespread abuse of this drug. It would be wise to know what affect marijuana use has on mental health, especially among adolescents because the true cost of widespread marijuana use on society could be catastrophic.
In 2001, more than 110,000 emergency room visits in the U.S. reported marijuana use as being a contributing factor. Studies have shown that young people who use cannabis have lower scores on academic assessment tests as compared to their peers who don’t use drugs. This is even after scores have been adjusted for other substance use. Additionally, marijuana use is more common in high school dropouts and is linked to unemployment.
Studies have shown that adolescents who use marijuana have an increase risk of being diagnosed with early-onset schizophrenia if they’re already vulnerable. More recent studies show that cannabis abuse in teenagers increases their risk of being diagnosed with a psychotic illness when they reach adulthood, even when adjusted for other drug use and prodromal symptoms. The risk goes up the earlier the use and with the amount of marijuana being used. Another study examined 169 patients diagnosed with a psychotic disorder, which included schizophrenia, and 77 had been diagnosed with cannabis use disorder (CUD), and 92% of them began using cannabis prior to having their initial psychotic episode.
When examining patients who’d used just cannabis vs. patients who’d used no drugs, the study found that those in the marijuana use group scored higher on the Positive & Negative Syndrome Scale, suggesting they had more severe psychotic symptoms. In about 49% of patients studied, their cannabis use began prior to their onset of prodromal symptoms, however in 15.6% of patients studied, their prodromal period started at the same time as their cannabis use. Patients suffering from just cannabis use disorder, who had been using no other substances, scored significantly higher on positive symptoms subscales as compared to patients with no substance use disorder.
Cannabis use can have serious psychological effects. If you or someone you love is having trouble cutting back or is showing signs of a serious mental illness, seek help now!