Schizophrenia is a complicated psychiatric disorder that affects as many as 51 million people worldwide. Many people may have the disease without even knowing it because symptoms normally don’t develop until somewhere between the ages 16 and 25. The most common symptoms of schizophrenia are delusions, hallucinations, and chaotic behaviour and speech. Schizophrenia can have an extremely detrimental effect on people’s lives—it’s believed that one-third to one-half of homeless individuals suffer from schizophrenia.
Effective Treatments for Schizophrenia Are Lacking
There’s a lack of effective treatment options for people with schizophrenia. All of the options available require a constant administration of medication. Current treatments include a cocktail of antipsychotic medications, which are determined based on what symptoms are most prominent in the individual. There are many medications available to help with the hallucinations and delusions that come with having schizophrenia, but not many are able to help with the cognitive symptoms of the condition. Cannabis, however, may be able to help relieve some cognitive problems associated with schizophrenia.
CBD Relieves Many Symptoms of Schizophrenia
A recent rat modeled study published in the journal Nature found that cannabidiol (CBD) derived from cannabis may help with cognitive impairment related to schizophrenia. The research was conducted at the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI) in New South Wales, Australia.
In the study, rats were infected prenatally with polycytidilic acid. The acid helped replicate symptoms similar to those seen in psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia and produced a generation of mice with symptoms. Once born, the mice were treated using chronic CBD treatment and were tested on social interaction and cognitive function.
The symptomatic mice were given 10 mg of CBD for three weeks. Many factors were measured, including body weight, food and water intake. A battery of tests was conducted on the mice during and following their treatment with CBD. The tests were conducted as a means of looking at the effectiveness of CBD in helping counteract some of the cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia; they included T-maze tests, novel object recognition tests and social interaction tests.
The study's lead author, Ashleigh Osborne, said of the study’s results, “We found that CBD was able to restore recognition and working memory, as well as social behaviour to normal levels. These findings are interesting because they suggest that CBD may be able to treat some of the symptoms of schizophrenia that are seemingly resistant to existing medications. In addition, CBD treatment did not alter body weight or food intake, which are common side effects of antipsychotic drug treatment.”
The effects that CBD had on the mice could indicate a major breakthrough in the world of schizophrenia treatment. It appears to achieve something that no other medications have been able to do, including rebuilding cognitive potential and improving social interaction.
THC May Worsen Symptoms of Schizophrenia
Cannabis as a whole, however, may not be good for schizophrenia sufferers. Whereas early signs indicate that CBD may be extremely beneficial, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is believed to potentially worsen the symptom of schizophrenia. Even though THC can be very helpful for some medical conditions, it can adversely affect sufferers of schizophrenia.
The IHMRI researchers also conducted a review of studies on the therapeutic value of CBD before conducting the aforementioned rat-modeled study. "From this review, we found that CBD will not improve learning and memory in healthy brains, but may improve aspects of learning and memory in illnesses associated with cognitive impairment, including Alzheimer's disease, as well as neurological and neuro-inflammatory disorders,” said Dr. Katrina Green, one of the lead researchers.
The review highlighted that cannabis doesn’t have the same effects on healthy people vs. those suffering from certain illnesses. This may be because individuals with illnesses have clinical endocannabinoid deficiency—that is, deficient levels of cannabinoids made by the body. This deficiency may be alleviated with the use of cannabis as a means of bringing the body back into balance, or homeostasis. Conversely, people who don’t have endocannabinoid deficiency aren’t likely to experience any positive attributes from ingesting the phytocannabinoids found in cannabis, because their bodies are already in equilibrium.
More Research Required on CBD’s Effect on Cognitive Functions
More research is needed to look into why cannabinoids seem to be effective at targeting cognitive problems related to schizophrenia. Currently, there’s no definitive answer. The researchers of the IHMRI study hope to be able to conduct more studies and eventually a clinical trial to see if there may be similar effects on humans with schizophrenia as seen modeled in rats. This study provides yet another look at how cannabis could potentially help improve people’s quality of life.