The potential link between childhood trauma and psychotic symptoms in young cannabis users

16th December 2021

A new study has found that there may be a link between childhood trauma and the development of psychotic symptoms in young cannabis users. The findings may represent a significant step in the conversation around cannabis and psychosis.

Researchers at the University of Queensland concluded that childhood trauma (abuse and neglect) is a significant risk factor for cannabis use disorder and psychotic-spectrum disorders.

The authors of the study found that cannabis use was more likely to be associated with Psychotic-like experiences (PLE in individuals with more severe childhood trauma.

Childhood trauma was also associated with greater cannabis use and PLE frequency.

UQ School of Psychology Honorary Fellow, Dr Molly Carlyle, said: “Our research found cannabis use was associated with more psychotic-like experiences, and this association was stronger for people with more experiences of childhood trauma.

“Similarly, people who experienced more childhood trauma were more likely to engage in more harmful cannabis use.

“They also experienced more dysphoria/paranoia when using cannabis, which was also linked to psychotic-like experiences.

“Any history of childhood trauma should be addressed as part of treatment services for cannabis use problems and psychotic disorders.”

The researchers analysed responses from 2630 young people about their use of the drug, history of childhood trauma, psychotic-like experiences and subjective effects such as euphoria, dysphoria or paranoia when using cannabis.

Professor Leanne Hides from UQ’s School of Psychology added: “Psychotic experiences can include symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations, which increase the risk of substance use, depressive or anxiety disorders and psychotic disorders.

“Participants were recruited from across Australia to examine the efficacy of the web-based early intervention program for psychosis and cannabis use.

“Access to effective web-based early interventions is increasingly important and could reduce risk in young people.”

On the other hand, as Canex reported a few weeks ago, another study found that more frequent use of therapeutic psychedelics significantly moderated the levels of complex trauma symptoms and internalised shame in individuals with past child abuse.

Researchers argued that psychedelics might alter the relationships between child maltreatment and self-concept, social cognition, and post-traumatic stress symptoms.

Study author CJ Healy, a PhD student at The New School for Social Research, said: “There’s an abundance of clinical studies of the therapeutic effects of psychedelics, but few studies have examined the therapeutic potential of psychedelic use in naturalistic (non-clinical) settings.

“Most of the people in the world who are healing themselves with psychedelics are taking them in naturalistic settings — in nature, with friends, at home, at a rave — and so I wanted to study empirically whether this naturalistic, therapeutic use of psychedelics is also showing benefits in terms of symptom reduction and improvements in self-concept, particularly among people with histories of complex trauma in childhood.”

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