Schizophrenia - a mental disorder characterised by symptoms like hallucinations, anxiety, delirium, disjointed thinking, reduced attention, depression and social withdrawal - is thought to affect almost 1% of the world’s population.
According to the World Health Organisation, this meant that in 2014 more than 26 million people globally suffered from the disorder - putting schizophrenia on the list of the 20 most important causes of disability worldwide.
Antipsychotic drugs are frequently used to treat the condition, but although highly effective these medications also often present patients with severe side effects.
In the 1990s, researchers discovered the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a complex network of communication receptors in the body, and began to investigate the potential of cannabinoids as an adjunct therapy for a range of diseases and disorders - including schizophrenia.
Now this may seem strange as in the past cannabis has been popularly associated with psychosis, quite often in the context of discouraging young users of marijuana. And indeed cannabis has been linked to psychotic episodes following use during the brain’s adolescent developmental stages.
But as a growing amount of studies are beginning to show, CBD can have quite the opposite effect.
In a 2015 randomised control trial, 88 patients were divided into 2 groups, with one receiving a dose of 1000mg of CBD a day alongside their existing antipsychotic medication, while the other group received a placebo.
After 6 weeks of treatment, the group that received the CBD showed lower levels of psychotic symptoms, and were also "more likely to have been rated as improved and as not severely unwell by the treating clinician."
There was also no noted difference between the two groups in terms of adverse side effects.
This is significant as the excitement around CBD's potential as an antipsychotic is largely due to the fact that it has fewer side effects than those of conventional antipsychotic medications - particularly in terms of motor control and co-ordination.
In another randomised trial in 2012, 42 outpatients from the Department of Psychiatry & Psychotherapy at the University of Cologne in France were treated with either CBD or amisulpride, a very strong antipsychotic medication.
Both treatment options were found to be safe and effective at improving symptoms, but unlike the severe hormonal problems, weight gain, anxiety and insomnia with which amisulpride has been associated, CBD "displayed a markedly superior side-effect profile."
The researchers also noted that treatment with CBD resulted in a significant increase in levels of anandamide, otherwise known as the "bliss molecule" that we have spoken about previously.
Anandamide is a natural cannabinoid, working in the same way as the ones we get from cannabis by feeding our ECS to maintain a state of biological balance. It also works in the same way as cannabis in that the less it is broken down, the stronger its pain relieving and mood enhancing properties are felt.
CBD is understood to inhibit the breakdown of anandamide in the body, thus increasing its ability to naturally improve mood. And this is what researchers believe is behind its apparent antipsychotic effects, which "potentially represent a completely new mechanism in the treatment of schizophrenia."
So - preliminary findings are promising. But, as with most medical research around CBD, more long term studies need to be carried out to give conclusive evidence of its viable success as a treatment option.
However, it is encouraging to know that - thus far - the research shows great potential for CBD to be the redeeming cannabinoid that will ultimately help flip the switch on existing perceptions of cannabis and psychosis, especially in the context of schizophrenia.
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