Could cannabis be a cure for psychosis?

Cannabidiol, subject to an array of research in recent years, is widely known to have therapeutic benefits for dozens of ailments, including multiple sclerosis.

A cannabis compound could hold promise as a treatment for psychosis – despite the drug being considered a cause, ‘promising’ research suggests. And a new medical trial, led by Kings College London scientists, has now found it can ease symptoms of psychosis – such as hallucinations and hearing voices.

The British study, which involved 88 patients, offers sufferers hope of a drug that doesn’t trigger any serious side effects. However, the findings dispute the substantial body of evidence that links smoking cannabis to the mental health condition that drives some to suicide.

Cannabidiol, subject to an array of research in recent years, is widely considered to have therapeutic benefits for dozens of ailments, including multiple sclerosis. Campaigners have long been concerned that super-strength skunk, flooding the illegal market at a worrying rate, is actually fuelling rates of psychosis.

But these high potency strains, often purposely created by criminals, are abundant in tetrehydrocannabinol (THC) – responsible for marijuana’s high. Researchers believe CBD, which doesn’t cause a high, has quite the opposite effect – and has been touted as a cure for various conditions.

How was the study carried out?

Volunteers in the trial either received CBD or a placebo for six weeks on top of their traditional medication. Before and after treatment, researchers assessed how bad their symptoms were. A psychiatrist evaluated their overall mental state.

Patients treated with CBD had lower levels of psychotic symptoms than those who received a placebo, the scientists concluded. They were also more likely to have been rated as ‘improved’ by their psychiatrist, according to the study in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

How is CBD used and what its effects

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a natural element found in a cannabis plant. It is lesser known than THC and does not produce the same ‘high’ that people experience when they have recreational marijuana.

CBD is an antipsychotic:

This means that the drug helps manage psychosis such as hallucinations, delusions or paranoia. Antipsychotic drugs are used for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Effects on people taking it:

  • Reduces anxiety and paranoia
  • Boosts energy
  • Helps with pain and inflammation

How it helps medically:

Marijuana with CBD strains are used to help with chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, PTSD and epilepsy

Medical marijuana practitioners can diagnose a mixture of THC and CBD to the patient for treatment.

Professor Philip McGuire, lead researcher, found that treatment with CBD was not associated with any significant side effects.

He said this was important because ‘patients may be reluctant to take anti-psychotic medication because of concerns about side effects’.

‘Although it is still unclear exactly how CBD works, it acts in a different way to anti-psychotic medication, and thus could represent a new class of treatment.’

Dangerous side effects

Anti-psychosis drugs have been used as a first-line treatment for 60 years – but are worryingly linked to heart attacks. Figures estimate that around one per cent of the population suffer from psychosis, which can cause delusions, such as hearing voices, and lead to severe distress.

Ian Hamilton, a lecturer in mental health at York University, welcomed the findings, which he described as ‘timely’. He told MailOnline: ‘Traditional medicines are not tolerated well by patients as they have a range of side effects which can put people off taking them.’

Mr Hamilton suggested that the medicines using CBD could be effective at treating the symptoms of the condition.

Is there a risk of psychosis?

He was behind research in April that found the risk of developing psychosis as a result of smoking cannabis is much lower than first thought. A review of existing studies published on 4/20, an unofficial day to celebrate cannabis, found that cases are relatively rare.

Skunk, the potent form of the drug, is responsible for a quarter of new cases of psychotic mental illness, KCL researchers announced two years ago. They found skunk to be so powerful that users are three times more likely to suffer a psychotic episode than those who have never tried it.

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