CBD may reverse symptoms in patients diagnosed with psychosis, a new British study discovered. Its findings contradict popular claims that cannabis causes or worsens psychotic symptoms in otherwise healthy people.
The study, conducted by researchers at King’s College London (full disclosure: I was published through this same university in 2012), used a “double-blind, randomized, [placebo]-controlled, repeated-measures, within-subject cross-over design,” meaning it went through some of the most stringent procedures for any scientific study. Researchers employed fMRI to scan the brains of 13 patients diagnosed with psychosis after giving them either 600mg CBD or a placebo, with scans spaced one week apart. The patients’ brain scans were compared against 19 otherwise healthy controls.
Here’s what the researchers discovered: While performing memory tasks, patients with psychotic symptoms showed different brain activity, compared to healthy subjects, in the prefrontal and mediotemporal regions of the brain. But when the patients received CBD, a non-intoxicating compound found in cannabis, their brain activity in those two regions looked more like those in healthy subjects.
OK, what does all of this psychological gobbledygook mean? The prefrontal cortex is the part of our “higher” brain that separates our brain functions from the rest of the known animal kingdom. The prefrontal cortex regulates our speech, social behaviors, ability to plan and set goals, personal expression, and — perhaps most important — our will to live. That last function is especially interesting, since we know that our endocannabinoid system also regulates our will to live.
As for the mediotemporal lobe, this brain area regulates our memory formation and storage. So, this latest study not only suggests that CBD could treat psychosis, it also gave us some insight into what causes psychosis, namely a dysregulation between our higher mental processes and our ability to properly access memories.
“Our study provides important insight into which areas of the brain CBD targets,” said Dr. Sagnik Bhattacharyya, a psychiatrist, professor, and clinical researcher at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, in a press release. “It is the first time research has scanned the brains of people with a diagnosis of psychosis who have taken CBD and, although the sample is small, the results are compelling in that they demonstrate that CBD influences those very areas of the brain that have been shown to have unusual activity in people with psychosis.”
Previous (and flawed) studies have shown a correlation between psychosis and cannabis use, though these studies rarely, if ever, demonstrate causation. In other words, those studies often sensationalized by the press only show that people with psychotic symptoms consume cannabis at higher rates than average, which may be due to CBD-rich weed strains alleviating their symptoms. But that does also suggest that THC-rich strains may exacerbate psychosis in some patients, too.
Of course, the science regarding weed’s effects on our brains is still in its infancy. If you live with mental illness, always consult your doctor before trying cannabis products.