By Spencer Grey
The legacy of Reefer Madness continues to permeate our culture and policies, despite its obvious idiocy. With the expansion of marijuana legalization, more people have more questions than ever before about cannabis, its properties, and its effects. Of course, there are multiple sources with their own angles on the situation, and their own reasons for pushing a particular agenda. One of the more popular falsehoods anti-pot advocates like to hammer is that weed will make you crazy. Some of these haters have wised up a little and begun to use terms that sound more sciency, and that’s how we’ve ended up with the concept of “cannabis psychosis”.
The term cannabis psychosis is a misnomer. Sticking two words together and saying them with authority does not a true condition make. When someone refers to cannabis psychosis, what they’re really describing is a psychotic episode potentially triggered by pot. A more appropriate term would be "cannabis induced psychosis".
So, what’s the difference? Imagine that you’ve got asthma. Breathing easy isn’t always a guarantee, and sometimes unexpected stimuli trigger an asthma attack. One day you breathe in some dandelion spores and suffer an intense attack. Your doctors call it… Dandelion asthma. This is stupid, because obviously the dandelion didn’t GIVE you asthma, it simply triggered it. The situation is much the same with cannabis psychosis, although psychosis triggers are much fewer and far between than those for asthma.
Essentially, cannabis induced psychosis is just a term for a psychotic episode likely to have been triggered by marijuana use. Many studies have concluded that there’s a link between schizophrenia (which often presents with psychotic symptoms) and cannabis use. However, those who are more predisposed to schizophrenia are more predisposed to use cannabis as a way to self medicate, rather than cannabis having any causal role in the condition’s development. Cannabis may be a key, but it did not make the lock.
Cannabis induced psychosis is just the same as regular psychosis, with the same symptoms:
Someone having an episode of cannabis induced psychosis may experience distortions of sight, sound, and other senses. They may also experience severe paranoia, and insist strange events are occurring when they are not. These episodes can range from “just a bad trip” to situations where people get hurt.
Psychosis can be triggered by a pre-existing mental health condition. The most commonly linked are schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, but severe anxiety and depression can play a role as well. And while cannabis use can trigger psychosis in a very few people, one of its components shows promise in actually improving symptoms of mental illness and preventing episodes of psychosis.
In one study, schizophrenic patients with cannabidiol, a cannabis compound that’s gaining traction among the health-conscious. The study participants displayed “significant clinical improvement”, with less negative side-effects than the traditional antipsychotic medication amisulpride.
In other words, cannabis and its relationship to psychosis and mental health conditions is significantly more complicated than anyone would like to admit.