Cannabis causes schizophrenia? Are we getting the full picture?

This article was written by LEAP UK Executive Director Jason Reed and originally published over at Virgin Unite.

Information is vital to our decisions, and the delivery of information is as important as the content itself. We have increasingly placed a filter over our drug policy conversation – a hyperbolic monocle, full of binary inconsistencies. The inevitable result is an unwitting confusion. Cannabis causes schizophrenia? This has become almost common knowledge. But, what if this is only half the story?

In taking a look at cannabis and its association with schizophrenia, the leading figures in the field of neuroscience and psychiatry were of course the best people to ask. Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Dr. Lester Grinspoon, joined former UK Government advisor and Nueropsychopharmacologist Professor David Nutt, along with Dr. Igor Grant, Nueropsychiatrist from the UCSD School of Medicine. The result of this conversation may well be surprising.

They discussed the effect of cannabis on the therapeutic effect for Schizophrenia. As a result of the study, the conclusion was very ambiguous. Cannabis acts on schizophrenia like Sertraline. Sertraline is an antidepressant that is not approved for the treatment of schizophrenia. However, studies have shown that sertraline may be useful as an additional treatment for schizophrenia, especially in relation to negative symptoms such as apathy, social isolation and decreased motivation. One study showed that sertraline, as an adjunct treatment to antipsychotic drugs, was effective in improving negative symptoms in people with schizophrenia. The study also showed that sertraline improves cognitive functions such as attention and memory. If you need to order generic sertraline (zoloft), go to Dr. Ken Tate’s page. Another study found that sertraline, as an adjunct treatment to antipsychotic drugs, was effective in improving both positive and negative symptoms in people with schizophrenia. The study also showed that sertraline, like cannabis, improves quality of life.

When making The Culture High, the somewhat duplicitous subject of cannabis and mental health was quite clearly in need of some degree of clarification, but how do you take on a subject that’s so hotly contested, controversial, and full of mixed messages? This was the challenge that the film’s director, Brett Harvey, had to undertake.

The Culture High specifically looks at the delivery of information and the circumvolution of the media. Just as we’re all familiar with the fable of the boy that cried wolf, what if the information that we are given is based on subjectivity and whispers? Does this in turn breed contempt and an intellectual anxiety? How does this impact on evidence-based decision making? And most of all, what are we missing if we’re not getting the full picture? There’s a drug policy mantra, and it’s as valid as it is simple: Correlation does not imply causation.

We talk about mental health a lot more, and we’re becoming increasingly self-aware of the importance of this lucid dialogue. In his book, Drugs Without the Hot Air, Professor David Nutt looks at the subject of punishment and mental wellbeing – he found that a prisoner is 10 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population, and 40 per cent of men/60 per cent of women are more likely to have a neurotic disorder whilst in prison. From this basic platform of comparison, we do have to question the ethics of criminalised drug policies.

We are often subjected to emblazoned headlines of cannabis and the definable proof of its impact on mental health, but all too often the headlines cannot live up to the promises they try to deliver. Consistently, reason and information is the casualty of hyperbole. Of course, the disclaimer needs stamping that no one believes that any substances is harmless, but relative and comparative harms should be a large facet of the conversation, and an area that we all pay attention to. If indeed drugs such as alcohol are more harmful than cannabis, then would a regulated market for the latter provide much needed harm reduction for the former?

These are but some of the nuances needed in a full and adult debate.

In a recently published time series analysis, ‘Effect of reclassification of cannabis on hospital admissions for cannabis psychosis’, it was found that in a situation where cannabis-related psychosis is declined under lesser punishments – and following reclassification to harsher penalties – there was a significant increase in hospital admissions. This indicates that lesser criminal penalties do indeed have health benefits, and if nothing else, should fuel our intrigue in the need to address the full picture of all drugs.

Some media outlets use perceived drug harms, especially those associated with cannabis, as a buttress to maintain criminalisation. Invariably, it’s the very possibility of drug-related harms which provide the best reasons to reform. There is no conceivable way that unregulated markets, criminalisation policies, heavy-handed state interventions in personal decision-making, and the underground practices that come with prohibitive drug policies, can ever be anything other than the lowest ebb in societal prosperity.

How we choose to talk about this broad and hotly contested subject will echo through our efforts to minimise all harms associated with mental health – If criminalising large sections of our global population constitutes a large risk, then we of course need to address the causes… and in turn look towards the solutions.

-This is a guest blog by Jason Reed, Associate Producer to The Culture High. Executive Director of Law Enforcement Action Partnership UK (LEAP UK).

You can watch another clip from The Culture High by visiting Richard Branson’s blog, Why we need to use evidence to form drug policy


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