As more states rush to legalize marijuana use for both medical and recreational purposes, it has created the public perception that pot isn’t dangerous. While it’s true that marijuana use is less risky than harder drugs like heroin and meth, that doesn’t mean it is entirely safe to smoke, vape or ingest it. Indeed, a growing body of scientific research, such as this recent study, has uncovered an association between frequent marijuana use and the chances of having a psychotic episode.
What Is a Psychotic Episode?
Psychosis is a medical term that indicates a break with reality. Someone in the grip of a psychotic episode may experience visual or auditory hallucinations, delusions and beliefs that are inconsistent with real-world phenomena.
Psychosis can be incredibly frightening to experience. In their terror and bewilderment, someone experiencing a psychotic break can lash out and hurt themselves or others. Psychosis is not an illness in and of itself, but rather a symptom of other mental disorders such as schizophrenia.
What Does Research Tell Us?
Several past studies have uncovered a connection between frequent pot use and a correspondingly higher risk of psychosis. One March 2019 study published in The Lancet Psychiatry shows daily use of marijuana, especially high-potency strains, increases the odds of having a psychotic episode.
The study authors defined high-potency cannabis to be products with more than 10 percent tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the compound in the marijuana plant that creates the characteristic psychoactive effects of the drug. The discovery that there’s a higher risk of consuming high-THC cannabis products is especially worrying, because these products are more common on the market now.
Psychosis is a complex disorder that can arise due to several factors, including genetics and the environment. Though we need more research to ascertain the reasons for the link between cannabis and psychosis, two leading hypotheses have emerged from what we know so far about the association.
- Cannabis can trigger psychotic episodes.
- People who use cannabis may do so to minimize their symptoms of psychosis.
If you are one of the many people who regularly use cannabis or cannabis-infused products like tinctures or edible gummies for medicinal or recreational reasons, the available research should interest you. If you don’t know the amount of THC in the strains you have been using, but have reasons to suspect it is above 10 percent, you need to know what to look for and how to get treatment for a psychotic disorder.
Symptoms of Psychosis
Determining the onset of a psychotic break can be difficult, but these signs strongly point to an episode of psychosis:
- Believing, hearing or seeing things others don’t
- Powerful and inappropriate emotions or a complete lack of emotions
- Loss of interest in interacting with family or friends
- Suicidal thoughts
- Difficulty concentrating
If you or someone you care about has deteriorating mental health, a psychological evaluation performed by a mental health professional can provide an accurate diagnosis and take the appropriate next steps to get the help you need.
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