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Medical Marijuana in the Treatment of Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia, a chronic mental illness, typically requires long-term treatment with potent antipsychotic medications. For about one-third of patients diagnosed with schizophrenia, conventional antipsychotics fail to adequately control of their symptoms. However, current research supports cannabidiol (CBD), a compound found in the cannabis plant, as an effective alternative in relieving many of the negative symptoms of this mysterious disorder. CBD further eliminates the often-serious side effects caused by conventional medications.

Can CBD oil help in the treatment of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia?

Classified as a severe mental health condition, schizophrenia appears to arise from imbalances in the brain’s pathways, and symptoms fall into three distinct groups, although not everyone experiences them all, or even in the same manner.

  • Positive symptoms of schizophrenia include psychotic behaviors that most dramatically define the illness, including hallucinations, delusions, and distorted thinking patterns. Excited body movements or inappropriate gestures, can also be a positive symptom.
  • Negative symptoms reflect inappropriateness in responses that everyone has and arise out of disruptions or distortions in normal behaviors and emotions.
  • The “flat” effect is characterized by a reduced expression of emotion, or lack of joy in daily life. People with schizophrenia may not speak often or have difficulty starting or carrying through with activities. Cognitive symptoms include problems with understanding information and making decisions, memory, or paying attention.

Treatment focuses on managing symptoms, usually through medications such as Thorazine, Haldol, or Risperdal, with most people required to continue taking them indefinitely. These drugs tend to result in severe side effects including seizures and suicidal thoughts.

Research on the medical potential of the more than 80 compounds found in the cannabis (better known as marijuana) plant in recent years has concentrated heavily on CBD. Unlike THC, the compound responsible for marijuana’s famous “high,” CBD is a non-psychotic cannabinoid that may combat inflammation, lessen anxiety, reduce pain, and protect neurological functioning. Researchers in Australia have found new evidence that CBD may assist with the cognitive and negative symptoms of schizophrenia.

Using a rodent model of schizophrenia, researchers at the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute have identified that CBD can restore memory, recognition, and even deficits in social behavior caused by schizophrenia. Traditional antipsychotic drugs typically fail to address these aspects of the condition. The Illawarra researchers further discovered that CBD caused no severe, adverse side effects.

Scientists and health professionals have long recognized that for many people with schizophrenia, smoking marijuana can worsen symptoms. The presence of THC, the compound responsible for the “high” of smoking pot, sometimes triggers psychotic episodes. However, CBD appears to have the opposite effect, calming psychosis and helping to avoid new episodes.

New evidence continues to support CBD’s potential for helping people with schizophrenia. Currently, research relies on animal models and small-scale study groups. Even so, it’s clear that this new research on CBD’s effect on memory and cognition is paving the way for a new era of less harmful and more effective medications to control the negative symptoms of schizophrenia.


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