Drug Use

Exploring the Connection Between Cannabis and Psychosis

Since the legalization of recreationally used cannabis, there are more marijuana users now than ever before (an estimated 48 million Americans, 18% of the population, reported using it as of 2019). What many marijuana users thought of as a harmless, leisurely habit is causing concern — creating less-than-desirable effects from anxiety issues to panic attacks to even longer-term psychotic disorders.

What is Cannabis-Induced Psychosis?

First, let’s be clear, the relationship between cannabis and psychosis is complex, and the effects of marijuana are different for everybody. However, cannabis-induced psychosis does happen and can include the following symptoms until the THC metabolizes:

  • Experiencing anxiety or panic attacks
  • Persecutory delusions
  • Emotional ups and downs
  • Paranoia or depersonalization (feeling like you’re outside of your body)

While the exact mechanism of cannabinoids causing psychotic symptoms is unclear, it is determined that dopamine, GABA and glutamate neurotransmission are involved in creating changes in the brain, causing these feelings. The dosage amount, duration of exposure, and the user’s age and genetic history are all important factors that could lead some individuals to experience psychosis while others are completely fine.

Signs & Symptoms of Cannabis-Induced Psychosis

Psychosis is not a condition itself, but it’s a set of symptoms that can be a part of a psychotic condition caused by a trigger. Cannabis-induced psychosis is when symptoms of psychosis are triggered by the use of marijuana, specifically. Understand that it is less common than other substances (such as hallucinogens), but in some cases, it can cause alarming effects.

Short-Term Symptoms

Most symptoms are experienced in the moment and continue until the THC in cannabis is completely metabolized. These include:

  • Delusions: You believe something that is otherwise not true, for example, that you can play the piano even if you’ve never played it before.

  • Hallucinations: Some users hear sounds, voices, feelings, images and other sensations that aren’t there. This is significantly increased when combined with other substances, such as hallucinogens.

  • Disorganized Thoughts: Cannabis can cause you to have jumbled, dark, disturbing and untrue thoughts that can go in any direction. Other people might struggle to understand you when your thoughts are so disorganized.

  • Dissociation/Depersonalization: Many cannabis users feel “out of body” when they’re high as if they’re floating above or around their body, or they perceive things outside of them as not real.

  • Anxiety/Panic Attacks: Body- and mind-based anxiety symptoms and even panic attacks can ensue through the use of marijuana. Paranoia and feeling “out of control” are common side effects, causing feelings of unease in the user.

Long-Term Effects

Those with a family history of schizophrenia or users aged 25 and younger can see more long-term negative effects of cannabis. Episodes of psychosis can ensue and be increased in probability due to cannabis (although studies come up short on whether cannabis is the culprit, or if those dealing with psychosis simply reach for cannabis more often).

Those with psychosis in the family and young people under 25 should avoid cannabis use, as it is addictive and can lead to mental impairment that can cause life-threatening issues.

Potential Risk Factors

There is a higher risk of psychosis in certain groups of people, including:

  • Young people under the age of 25, when the brain is still developing.

  • Those with mental health disorders in the family or those with a history of mental illness.
  • Those with schizophrenia or those who have schizophrenia in the family.

THC, the psychoactive component in cannabis, is the driving factor that causes mental shifts and symptoms while under the influence. THC resins, flowers, gummies and other cannabis products with a higher THC content will contribute to a higher likelihood of psychotic episodes during the high, as well as the dependency the person has of the substance. Even though marijuana has been touted as “the healthy alternative to alcohol,” its effects are still being studied. It can be especially dangerous for underage individuals whose brains are still developing.

What’s more, THC content has significantly increased in cannabis products throughout the years, going from about 2% THC content in the 1970s to 4% in the 1990s to now 17-30% as an average since 2020, with that number rising. Some cannabis products such as dabs, oils and edibles are readily available and have up to 90% THC content. This terrifying number will significantly increase psychotic episodes in people who consume it. This increases the number of ER visits, hospitalizations, legal issues and homelessness cases due to the alarmingly high THC content that greatly increases cannabis’ effects.

Treatment Options for Marijuana-Induced Psychosis

Individuals with a history of mental illness (or in their family) are at an increased risk for marijuana-induced psychosis. It’s important to get help when you notice a loved one struggling, especially those struggling with cannabis use disorder. Treatment options for marijuana-induced psychosis include:

  • Psychological interventions: This can be facilitated by an addiction specialist, therapist, or other mental health authority who is well-versed in addiction and substance use disorder.

  • Medication: Some prescription anti-psychotic medication may be prescribed depending on the person and severity of the issue.

  • Evidence-based treatments: Marijuana-induced psychotic issues can be resolved in days, months, or a year depending on severity. It’s important to understand which treatments would best suit you or your loved one dealing with a marijuana dependence.

Typically, a combination of several approaches is what will help those who are having issues with cannabis. It’s best to remain open and receptive to treatment options when finding a path to let go of cannabis.

How Caron Can Help

It can be incredibly difficult to deal with addiction, whether it’s you or someone you love. At Caron, we’ve helped thousands of people struggling with addiction get the help they need for alcohol use disorder, drug dependency, mental health disorders and more. We provide accessible, evidence-based treatments to help with addiction and recovery support. Explore our facilities and programs on the East Coast and get the help you need today.

FAQs About Cannabis-Induced Psychosis

Depending on the method of how cannabis is ingested (smoking vs. consuming), how much cannabis is consumed, and what the THC concentration is, cannabis-induced psychosis can last anywhere from 2 to 10 hours (this is during a “high”). However, longer-term psychotic issues can last longer if the high triggers a psychotic episode.

Rest assured that psychosis triggered by marijuana is rare, but it can happen. There are still many studies being done, however, people who use marijuana frequently can still experience anxiety and delusions, even on a micro level.

Psychosis by itself is not curable, but it is treatable. Because cannabis use is still being thoroughly studied, we can apply the same principles (for now): there are many ways to treat cannabis-induced psychosis, through psychological interventions, medication, evidence-based treatment and therapy. If cannabis is used at a very young age, some damage cannot be undone, but there is help out there to guide the person to stop using.

Continue Learning About Exploring the Connection Between Cannabis and Psychosis

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