The Connection between Marijuana and Psychosis

The Connection between Marijuana and Psychosis

The debate over the possible medical uses of cannabis versus the possible damage incurred by increased availability has spurred many conversations over the last decade. Researchers have examined marijuana as a potential “gateway drug” that initiates users into experimentation with more potent drugs like heroin and cocaine. Studies have also addressed whether cognitive functions are affected by cannabis use.

Recently, a study by a team from the University of New South Wales School of Psychiatry and Sydney’s Prince of Wales Hospital examined whether cannabis use might have an association with the development of psychotic illnesses. They looked at the effects occurring during critical years of brain development that might indicate a long-term problem, with possible life-long psychosis.

The analysis of over 20,000 patients revealed that cannabis use is associated with a development of psychotic illness at an earlier age, with psychosis developing up to 2.7 years sooner with marijuana use.

The study, led by Dr. Matthew Large and colleagues, including experts from St. Vincent’s Hospital and The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, was published in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.

The study’s results are an important finding, partly because marijuana is so widely used. In Australia, approximately one-third of the population report using marijuana at some time (2007 National Drug Household Survey).

While other studies have been used to show a connection between substance use and psychosis, the research did not separate the association between cannabis, alcohol and other substances with psychosis. This is the first study to isolate cannabis use and psychosis to determine association.

The research conducted by Dr. Large and his team suggests that cannabis use may be associated with psychosis through contact between genetic and environmental factors that are disordered or by interrupting proper brain development.

Although substance use is highly associated with other mental disorders, the research suggests that stopping or reducing the use of cannabis may delay the onset of psychosis. Those who have a history of cannabis use may benefit from stopping use before the end of late adolescence in order to limit the long-term damage caused by marijuana use.

The findings of the study indicate that individuals using cannabis during adolescence may be at a higher risk for developing a psychotic disorder. Parents who suspect that their teen may be experimenting with marijuana have new motivation for getting their child help.

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