Research on cannabis use in patients with schizophrenia, a complex mental disorder, have found that it may help alleviate symptoms. But what about people who do not have the condition? A new study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry has found that, in non-psychotic individuals, marijuana may cause users to have similar brain activity as people with schizophrenia. The research suggests that regular cannabis use may push otherwise non-psychotic individuals down the path of schizophrenia.
The study examined 26 people who fell into two groups. All of the participants had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, but some were classified as having used marijuana before their diagnoses, while others had never used cannabis.
The researchers, all from Norway, conducted functional magnetic resonance imaging scans (fMRI) scans of all the participants, while asking them to perform difficult cognitive tasks, chosen in order to determine participants' level of "verbal processing, cognitive control, and attention".
For example, different syllables were fed into the left and right ears at the same time. Researchers asked participants to say which syllable they heard in a specified ear. The task is difficult for any person, but is especially difficult for patients with schizophrenia.
The study found that, in patients with schizophrenia who had a previous history of cannabis use, they had greater amounts of brain activity when they took these tests. Researchers believe that schizophrenia patients who have previously used cannabis have a higher cognitive ability than those who had not used marijuana in the past. So, while cannabis users do not have the signs of psychosis that non-cannabis users demonstrate before developing schizophrenia, their usage of marijuana may lead to a cognitive breakdown that may lead to schizophrenia. The cognitive weakness that cannabis use may imitate is the greatest risk factor for schizophrenia.
Though incidences of schizophrenia have been recorded for decades, doctors still remain uncertain about the causes of the condition. The United States National Library of Medicine says that schizophrenia makes it difficult to distinguish between what is real and what is not or to think clearly. There is no cure for the mental illness, but medications can help with the symptoms. However, many antipsychotic medications come with side effects, like weight gain and tremors.