Research indicates that people with a family history of psychotic disorders should exercise caution when it comes to cannabinoid use. Published systematic reviews such as a paper titled “Cannabis and Psychosis: Are We any Closer to Understanding the Relationship?” summarize experimental studies that echo iterations of a concerning conclusion: when psychotic symptoms predating the onset of cannabis use are controlled for, individuals who are genetically predisposed to psychosis are more likely to experience a psychotic outcome following exposure to cannabis. Specifically, the psychosis outcomes identified are those of schizophrenia, a chronic mental disorder that is characterized by symptoms of delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech/behavior/thinking and/or the absence of emotional expressions.
In addition to finding that the use of cannabinoids can trigger schizophrenic symptoms in those who are genetically predisposed, researchers have also found that cannabinoids can exacerbate symptoms in people already diagnosed with psychosis.
While the neurological mechanisms supporting these findings are not entirely understood, a popular theory is based on the understanding that schizophrenia is caused by abnormal brain structural development. Cannabinoids are known to interfere with brain development processes. Increasing evidence also suggests that two factors increase the risk of developing a psychotic factor: early and heavy cannabis exposure. Essentially, individuals at greatest risk for cannabis-induced psychosis are those who began frequent cannabinoid use at an early age.
Researchers investigating the associations between schizophrenia and cannabis emphasize that more experimental research studies are necessary to determine a causal relationship between cannabis use and schizophrenia. All the same, they assert the need for awareness campaigns to inform young people about the risk of psychosis associated with cannabis use.