Redeemed Mental Health


Mental Health in Specific Populations

The Link Between Cannabis Use and Schizophrenia

The Link Between Cannabis Use and SchizophreniaCannabis is one of the most frequently used drugs in the United States, with an estimated 18.7% of the U.S. population using at least occasionally. That’s more than 52.5 million people. Cannabis and marijuana are more and more often accepted as a relatively safe drug for medical and recreational use. Yet, heavy use is also more and more often linked to behavioral health disorders like schizophrenia and paranoia. Schizophrenia is a complex mental health disorder linked to genetics, but research shows that cannabis use could trigger dormant schizophrenia. For that reason, it’s important that you be aware of the risks and how they might affect you or your loved one before using.

This doesn’t mean that cannabis can immediately trigger schizophrenia the first time you use. Instead, the relationship is likely complex, related to heavy use, and heavily dependent on genetics. For many people, cannabis only increases the risk of receiving a cannabis diagnosis. That does mean that understanding the risks will contribute to your ability to use safely.

How does Cannabis Contribute to Schizophrenia

Cannabis is widely regarded as increasing vulnerability to schizophrenia. Often, that means the individual had an underlying but dormant schizophrenic disorder. It’s not yet known if cannabis can cause schizophrenia in a person without genetic inclination for the disorder, but it is thought that the answer is no. This means that genetics play a very large role in cannabis contributing to schizophrenia.

  • Increased Risk of Psychosis – Most people are aware that if you smoke too much cannabis, you get paranoid. Even if you’ve never smoked, everyone has seen the friend being paranoid. Even that mild psychosis can contribute to schizophrenia. In fact, paranoia is one of the first symptoms of schizophrenia, with one study of over 15,600 participants showing that people who experience paranoia when smoking cannabis are at an increased risk of developing schizophrenia than those that don’t experience paranoia when smoking cannabis.
  • Poor Coping Mechanisms – People who smoke cannabis often do so to self-medicate and to alleviate existing symptoms and mental health problems. That can be using cannabis to relax. It can also mean using cannabis to treat early symptoms of schizophrenia instead of getting help for them.
  • Genetic Triggers – Some research shows that people with certain gene expressions will have an increased likelihood of a schizophrenia diagnosis after smoking cannabis. These currently include AKT1 C/C and COMT gene expressions, both of which increase the psychotomimetic effects of cannabis. Essentially, persons with those genes experience more psychosis than individuals without those gene expressions, which can mean a higher risk of schizophrenia – or that those genes are linked to underlying schizophrenia already being there.

Cannabis Increases Your Likelihood of a Schizophrenia Diagnosis

Schizophrenia DiagnosisToday, it’s estimated that some 0.5-1% of the population has schizophrenia and that more than 3% of the population are vulnerable to schizophrenia. This means that 3% or more of the population carry all of the risk factors for schizophrenia, or what is otherwise known as “Dormant” schizophrenia.

However, studies that take individuals with high risks based on genetics show that individuals who smoke cannabis and have genetic risks are 40% more likely to receive a diagnosis than those that do not. Of course, that could also be related to a mix of factors such as:

  • Persons experiencing schizophrenia symptoms are more likely to self-medicate
  • Individuals with schizophrenia are more likely to take risks (e.g., drugs)
  • People who smoke cannabis are more likely to be from low-income homes and unable to receive proper mental health treatment

While it’s likely to be a combination of everything, multiple studies show that individuals who smoke cannabis are typically diagnosed with schizophrenia as early as 2.8 years sooner than family members with the same background and risks who do not smoke cannabis.

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What are Known Risk Factors?

man holding a cannabis rollThere are plenty of risk factors that can contribute to your likelihood of a schizophrenia diagnosis related to cannabis usage. The following include some of the most common:

  • Gender – Men are both more likely to smoke cannabis and more likely to receive a schizophrenia diagnosis
  • Age of Usage – If you begin using cannabis before the age of 25, it may increase the risks of schizophrenia at a later age. That’s linked to the fact that the brain is more plastic and in development under the age of 25, meaning that changes to dopamine and serotonin regulation by cannabis are more likely to become permanent functions of how the brain works. This also means that reducing risks means waiting to smoke until after the age of 25. However, young adults aged 18-35 make up the most statistically significant population of cannabis users.
  • Amount of Usage – The more you smoke, the more you are at risk of developing complications, including psychosis. For example, studies show that even smoking a single joint per week can develop schizophrenia at a later date – although causation and correlation are still in question. On the other hand, the people most likely to receive a diagnosis are those who qualify as heavy users, or who smoke on average once or more per day.
  • Genetics – Genetics are still the most important trigger in a schizophrenia diagnosis. For example, individuals with the gene expression AKT 1 C/C are 7 times more likely to receive a schizophrenia diagnosis after heavy cannabis usage than those without the gene expression, even with comparable cannabis consumption. However, if you have the AKT 1 C/C gene expression, you’re more likely than a non-C/C expression person to receive a schizophrenia diagnosis, even if you don’t smoke cannabis. So, the gene is a risk and cannabis is only a trigger. This is also true with other genes, most notably COMT, which regulates how neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin are reabsorbed back into the brain.

It’s widely agreed that cannabis and schizophrenia interact a great deal. However, if you have a family history of schizophrenia, it’s significantly more likely to be the case.

So, what are the Risks?

If you have a family history of schizophrenia, it’s normally better to avoid psychosis-inducing drugs altogether. While they won’t “cause” schizophrenia, they can trigger it, bringing formerly dormant symptoms to the surface. Multiple studies indicate that cannabis can play a role in activating schizophrenia, meaning that you will be more likely to develop symptoms and to need a diagnosis. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to assess your medical history for the risk of schizophrenia before smoking. However, it’s also important to keep in mind that schizophrenia increases your risk of drug use and using cannabis to cope with symptoms. If you’re using, it’s a good idea to stop and evaluate why and to seek support and treatment for those symptoms.

In almost every case, there is a complex interplay between risks, factors, and triggers. You won’t develop schizophrenia because you smoked once. However, cannabis can and does contribute to an increase in psychosis, even if it seems mild. If you start experiencing paranoia, it’s a good first warning sign and a good reason to stop smoking and look for treatment.

Of course, most drugs are relatively safe in moderation. Still, many of us are “high risk”, meaning we take on extra risks of complications, triggering underlying problems, and even addiction when we use them. If that is you, it’s better to avoid smoking or using altogether.

Take the first step towards reclaiming control of your life by seeking help for cannabis addiction today. Contact our addiction treatment team today, we are here to support you on your journey to recovery.

How Can I Rebound After Psychosis and Jail?

Rebound After Psychosis and JailPsychosis is a largely unacknowledged but extremely prevalent factor behind people committing violent crimes and going to jail. In fact, an estimated 3.6% of male and 3.9% of female prisoners have a psychosis diagnosis in prisons worldwide. Psychotic episodes from personality disorders, schizophrenia, or other psychotic disorders can wreak havoc on your life – not just because they make it harder to maintain routines and relationships but also because they can get you into very real trouble with the law.

How do you bounce back from that after having hit rock bottom? If you’re getting out of jail or prison after a psychotic episode, you probably want to take steps to protect yourself and your future. Ensuring you have the tools to stay healthy and in control is important. Of course, your treatment will typically depend on your diagnosis and what you’re facing. However, these tips will help you rebound after psychosis.

Talk to Your Doctor

Your first step should always be to talk to your doctor. That’s true whether or not you have a diagnosis. Here, you should:

  • Verify your diagnosis or attempt to get one
  • Get a prescription for anti-psychotics
  • Get a referral into a mental health treatment program so that your health insurance covers it

Nearly everyone with a psychosis diagnosis will require medication either permanently or intermittently throughout their lives. Most schizophrenia patients require medication for their entire lives. Data shows that about 30% of schizophrenia patients can manage without medication – after 10 years of treatment and learning to cope with symptoms.

This means that talking to your doctor and working out your prescription, if your prescription is still right for you, and how to combine it with therapy is an important first step. You likely need antipsychotics to benefit from mental health treatment. That will mean getting a prescription if you don’t already have one, waiting for it to take effect, and then moving into treatment that can work with you based on those symptoms.

Seek Out Mental Health Treatment

Attending psychosocial rehabilitation programs is one of the most important steps you can take in ensuring your recovery and rebound. In fact, primary treatment for psychosis is a personally tailored mix of talking therapy and medication. This means that you’ll need treatment to ensure that you have the tools to manage psychosis symptoms. Mental health treatment typically includes 30-90 days programs of in-house or outpatient treatment, where you’ll attend a clinic with group therapy, individual therapy, and counseling. There, you’ll learn how to manage symptoms, how to change behaviors to reduce symptoms, and how to build skills and coping mechanisms that improve your quality of life around your symptoms.

Depending on you, that can mean learning to accept symptoms and your psychosis and working to manage it. You might also need help building stress management, routines, and self-care skills. Many people also need help building social networks, managing relationships, and learning to ask others for help. Your treatment will typically depend on where you are and what you need. However, you can expect it to involve behavioral therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectal behavioral therapy. You’ll also get counseling and group therapy to help you deal with the problems that psychosis cause in your life, to deal with psychosis itself, and to recognize the symptoms of psychosis and react to them with enough time to get help.

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Look for Assisted Living

two women doing yoga in a shared homeAssisted living and supported living solutions are an ideal way to rebound from psychosis and jail. Here, you’ll stay in a shared home for several months, sometimes longer. There, you’ll have a routine, set meal times, people to check up on you, and accountability. If you stop going to treatment or stop taking care of yourself, people notice. If you stop spending time with the group or sharing meals, people notice. That forced accountability can be an important part of recovery because it forces you to adopt the routines and schedule of self-care that can help you to stay in recovery.

Of course, assisted living centers aren’t right for everyone and some people get the same out of an inpatient treatment program. However, it can be a valuable way to bridge the gap between no autonomy in prison and total autonomy out of prison by giving yourself accountability and someone to help you with schedules and routines.

Long-term Support and Aftercare

If you’re living with psychosis, it’s a permanent part of your life (although you may have drug-induced psychosis like marijuana psychosis, in which case it may be temporary). However, that normally means you’ll have to look for long-term aftercare and support. That means having people who will notice if you start to slip, having people to check up on you, and ensuring that you maintain your routines. For many, a simple self-help group with weekly meetings will be more than enough for therapy maintenance. However, you’ll want to discuss your options with your therapist based on your progress.

In addition, it’s generally a good idea to have more rather than less support. If you have a probation officer checking up on you, that’s good. If you have a social worker doing so, even better. If you have recurring visits with your therapist to check in on your mental health, even after your treatment is over, even better. Ensuring you have long-term support, options to go back into treatment, and people to help you stay on top of your mental health is important for your long-term recovery.

Tracking Signs of Relapse

For many people, preventing relapse and recidivism is about tracking early warning signs of relapse. For most people with psychosis those symptoms include:

  • Irritability or nervousness
  • Reduced concentration and focus
  • Requiring time alone or more than usual
  • Sensitivity to stimulus (noise, light, touch)
  • Reduced quality of sleep
  • Nightmares
  • Unusual thought experiences

Depending on your specific diagnosis, that can vary a great deal. Therefore, you should sit down with your therapist to build a list and to learn how to recognize them in yourself.

Long-Term Care

woman sleeping on a shared homeLong-term care means investing your health for the long-term that means investing in self-care and ongoing support. This means:

  • Taking care of yourself with good sleep, eating, and exercise habits
  • Having a good routine
  • Learning communication and problem-solving skills
  • Having social support
  • Having meaningful things to do with your time
  • Getting ongoing treatment

Many people do prefer to get help with this, especially in the first few years after diagnosis. However, that should often be in the form of professional support and not simply relying on family to help you. This means assisted living, visiting social workers, social care, and even at-home nursing and care. What works for you will vary depending on your situation, but it is an important thing to consider.

Getting Help

If you’re moving back into your life after a psychosis breakdown and incarceration, it’s important to reach out and get help. That almost always starts with your doctor, where you can talk about what your options are, review your diagnosis and prescription, and get a referral into mental health treatment. From there, you can get mental health treatment to ensure you have the tools to manage your disorder long-term, so you can recover, and so you can learn to recognize and act when your mental health starts to go downhill. Good luck rebounding!

Redeemed Mental Health is a mental health & dual diagnosis treatment center offering PHPIOP, and individual levels of care. Contact us today to begin your journey of recovery!