Cannabis Use May Cause Early Onset Psychosis
It's been long known that marijuana use can cause certain symptoms of psychosis. Among the most commonly reported are paranoia, auditory and visual hallucinations. I regularly talk to patients with schizophrenia about the dangers of using marijuana for just this reason; patients have told me that marijuana has elicited the very symptoms we were working to treat. There are several recognized diagnoses involving cannabis use, including cannabis-induced psychotic disorder with either hallucinations or delusions, cannabis intoxication delirium, and cannabis-induced anxiety disorder.
A recent study showed that in addition to causing psychotic symptoms, use of cannabis can cause early onset psychosis. The findings of this study were published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry and included 131 patients aged 15 to 65 years who had a first episode of psychosis in a two- year period, and showed that 10% of the cases of psychosis were attributed to cannabis use. This finding was independent of the gender of the patient and the use of other drugs including alcohol and nicotine. The study also showed that there was a dose dependent relationship between cannabis use and early age of onset of the psychosis. The most prominent example of this is that patients in this study who were dependent on cannabis had psychosis 12 years earlier than those participants who were not cannabis users.
The authors of this study have concluded that cannabis is a dangerous drug. I have heard many reasons why people with schizophrenia use marijuana, including using it as a sleep aid and to relieve anxiety. Schizophrenia is a serious illness, and can cause a lot of distress and symptoms that aren't formally part of the diagnosis. It is not unusual for the untreated person to experience paranoia that is so intense that they feel too anxious to fall asleep. However, there are good medications and talk therapy strategies to help paranoia, insomnia, and anxiety. The desire to treat these symptoms may lead a person to want to self-medicate, but they are common to people with psychotic illnesses, and as such, most psychiatrists are skilled in treating them. The results of the study described above should hopefully encourage discussion between parents and children about the dangers of using marijuana. This should especially be true in families with a history of schizophrenia, as there is a known increase of risk of developing the disease if another close relative has it.