Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Compound in Marijuana May Help Treat Schizophrenia

New research suggests that a compound found in Marijuana may help treat schizophrenia.  Cannabidiol (CBD), found in the Cannabis plant may have anti-psychotic properties.  This compound is different from the main ingredient in marijuana, THC, which can produce psychotic reactions and increase the severity of schizophrenia symptoms.  

The symptoms of schizophrenia include Positive, Negative and Cognitive Symptoms.  Positive symptoms which are excesses in behavior or perceptions include hallucinations and delusions, while negative symptoms are deficits of behavior or perceptions such apathy, lethargy and the lack of motivation.  Cognitive symptoms involve the inability to fully understand information or use it productively, which includes problems with decision making,  the inability to sustain attention and the ability to keep information in memory and use it immediately.  Cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia are important because they are most closely related to the ability to function normally in everyday life.  

Despite a great deal of research intended to permit the development of pro-cognitive drugs for schizophrenia, no cognitive enhancer is currently available. While some present research suggesting that recently developed atypical anti-psychotics benefit cognitive deficits, this finding has remained controversial.  Many believe the effect of atypical anti-psychotics on cognitive symptoms is due primarily to their effect on negative symptoms.  Some studies have shown that both the typical and atypical anti-psychotics actually induce cognitive deficits in both healthy individuals and those with schizophrenia.  

Now researchers have determined that use of CBD, may help decrease the cognitive symptoms found in individuals with schizophrenia which are often left after treatment with anti-psychotics alleviate the positive and some of the negative symptoms. Researchers at the University of Cologne in Germany, examined 39 patients diagnosed with Schizophrenia (Leweke, Mueller, Lange & Rohleder, 2016).  Nineteen received an anti-psychotic medication while the rest were treated with CBD.   Results indicated that both groups improved across all categories of symptoms and that the two groups did not differ on strength of the effects.  The benefit of CBD was particularly evident in the absence of most side effects that result from anti-psychotic medication (read abstract).

Anti-psychotic medications have long been known to cause serious side effects which sometimes are irreversible.  These include movement disorders and reduced motivation and pleasure. The newest generation of anti-psychotic medication often leads to  significant weight gain and an increased risk of developing  diabetes.  While not usually life threatening these side effects frequently prove to be  long major obstacles to treatment compliance.

Researchers have warned that simply smoking or otherwise ingesting marijuana will not decrease psychotic symptoms and may make them worse.  This is in due to the predominance of THC relative to CBD found in the whole plant.  This means that psychotic symptoms may be worsened by use of the entire plant.   


Leweke, F. M., Mueller, J. K., Lange, B., & Rohleder, C. (2016). Therapeutic potential of cannabinoids in psychosis. Biological psychiatry, 79(7), 604-612.

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