Mental Health Awareness Week: The Link Between Cannabis and Psychosis

14th May 2021

Every year, the month of May is dedicated to Mental Health Awareness Week – an event that has been occurring annually for 21 years. To honour the importance of mental health awareness, we have decided to spend each day from the 10th of May to the 16th of May, looking at the evidence of how cannabis and CBD may help or hinder our mental health. 

In honour of this event, we have spent the week trying to understand how cannabis and cannabinoids can impact our mental health, for good or bad. While we have already discussed the potential benefits of cannabis in indications of anxiety, depression, PTSD, and insomnia, we are now taking a look at the link between cannabis and psychosis.

What is Psychosis?

The term ‘psychosis’ is a general term to describe experiencing reality in a different way to others. This can include experiencing hallucinations and delusions, such as hearing voices or believing that people are trying to harm you.

Although psychosis can sometimes be a symptom of a mental condition or illness such as Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, or Schizoaffective Disorder, however, this is not always the case.

You may experience psychotic symptoms or episodes which can be a one-off experience, caused by a brain injury, part of a neurological condition, a side effect of medication or drug use or drug/alcohol withdrawal.

According to the government’s Psychosis Data Report, estimated the prevalence of psychotic disorders in England at around 0.7% of the population of adults aged 16 and over. It is still unknown exactly what causes psychosis, however, there is evidence that episodes can be triggered by a range of factors.

The Link Between Cannabis and Psychosis

As previously stated, there is evidence that drug and alcohol abuse can be a trigger of psychotic experiences or episodes. A number of studies have also recognised an association between cannabis use and psychosis – particularly in individuals that are already prone to psychosis due to other factors including mental illness, stress, homelessness, and grief, for example.

A report conducted by DrugScience aimed to understand in more detail this apparent link between cannabis and mental illness, including psychosis. This review found that “the association between cannabis use and psychosis is influenced by several vulnerability factors, including genetics (Morgan et al 2016; Di Forti et al, 2012) and environmental factors (Gage et al, 2016) as well as the frequency and type of cannabis used.”

Furthermore, the age of onset cannabis use is believed to also play an important role in the potential development of psychotic symptoms, “with first use before the age of 16 being associated with the greatest risk.

The debate continues to rage on, however, around whether psychosis is more common in cannabis users, or whether people who are more prone to psychosis are more likely to use the drug. Research has also suggested that CBD – the second-most prevalent cannabinoid produced by the cannabis plant – could potentially reduce the harms and addiction potential of whole-plant cannabis.

Nonetheless, despite the need for more research, the dialogue remains firmly focused on the link between heavy use of high potency cannabis and psychosis. For example, a recent report issued by the College of Psychiatrists Ireland claimed that cannabis use is the “gravest threat to the mental health of young people in Ireland today”.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2021

May 10th-16th represents Mental Health Awareness Week here in the UK – an event dedicated to raising awareness and presenting “an opportunity for the whole of the UK to focus on achieving good mental health.”

The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week – ‘Nature’ – reflects on the importance of our connection to nature and how this can play an important role in our mental health. For more information, visit the Mental Health Foundation website.

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