New studies show that cannabis use can increase the risk for psychiatric disorders
Researchers in New Zealand report that people who consume cannabis by the age of 15 are three times more likely to develop psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia. This research was supported by further studies showing that heavy cannabis use increases the risk of psychosis by up to 700%. Moreover, a younger person who uses cannabis is at a higher the risk for schizophrenia.
Risk of schizophrenia due to cannabis. Source
The use of cannabis in earlier years also increases the risk of many other psychotic disorders.
THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) induces paranoia
Among the study’s participates who received THC, around 50% dealt with paranoid thoughts as compared with 30% who receive the placebo. The researchers found that as the THC compound left the bloodstream, it led to reduced feelings of paranoia.
It was found that in some participants, THC also induced anxiety, worry, bad moods, negative thoughts about themselves, and an altered mental state. The researchers also found that these negative reactions to using cannabis may be a possible cause for paranoid feelings in cannabis users.
Short-term effects of cannabis
When someone smokes cannabis, THC passes from the lungs into the bloodstream. The blood carries this compound to the brain and throughout the body. This process happens quickly, while the body absorbs THC more slowly when it is ingested by mouth in the form of a food or drink. In that case, consumers start feeling the effects of cannabis after 30 minutes to one hour.
THC acts on particular brain cells receptors that react to natural chemicals that are similar to THC. These natural chemicals are crucial for brain development and function. Cannabis over-activates different parts of our brain that contain the highest number of these specific receptors, which causes the ‘high’ associated with the drug.
These short-term cannabis effects can include altered senses, mood swings, impaired body movement, delusions, psychosis, and hallucinations.
Long-term effects of cannabis
Cannabis also affects brain development. When marijuana is consumed during the teenage years, the drug may impair memory, cognitive ability, and even the physical development of the brain. Researchers are yet to find out how long the effects of cannabis can last and whether those observable changes are temporary or permanent.
A recent study of twins who consumed cannabis showed a major decline in the level of their general knowledge and verbal ability between their preteen years and early adulthood. However, researchers could not find a predictable difference between twins when one of them used cannabis, and the other didn’t. This study suggests that the decline in the cognitive function of cannabis consumers may be caused by something other than cannabis, such as genetics factors.
NIDA’s Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study is currently tracking a large sample of young people living in the U.S.A from late childhood to early adulthood. The study aims to find out how cannabis and other substances affect adolescent brain development, and to what extent.
How do people ingest cannabis?
Inhalation is the most common form of cannabis ingestion. The majority of cannabis users choose to smoke it, although vaporising is becoming more popular. Vaping devices use a liquid extract derived from the cannabis plant, which is turned into a vapour by the device instead of smoke. Cannabis can also be consumed in edibles, such as cookies, bear gummies, cakes, candy, and even to their drinks.
Not everyone who smokes cannabis will have issues, and many who do experience side effects will only have them on a temporary basis. That being said, while many pro-cannabis supporters describe the plant as completely harmless, the research shows that may not be entirely accurate.
While some negative effects can come from cannabis use, especially for young people, the research so far seems to lean in favour of regulation, rather than an outright ban. Clearly, an age limit is appropriate to protect developing brains from these side effects, and education so that those people in a vulnerable mental state can be made aware of the risks of using cannabis. It is undeniable that cannabis use isn’t completely without any drawbacks, but the many positive attributes of the plant mean it shouldn’t be entirely disregarded yet.