For the first time, brain scans show how a compound found in cannabis plants could help those suffering psychotic disorders. It does this by quieting abnormal activity in the brain, a massively contributing trigger among many patients. Just one dose of cannabidiol, or CBD, lowered strange patterns of behaviour in neurons, specifically those linked to delusions, hallucinations, and other psychosis issues.
The effective impact of this molecule has increased hopes worldwide of therapies containing pure CBD extract, or at least new classes of drugs made from it. It appears particularly good at treating young folks who develop symptoms but react badly to existing treatments or do not respond to them at all. Today, the most common therapies for psychosis work by manipulating dopamine, a crucial brain chemical.
However, since discovery of these dopamine-manipulator drugs back in the 1950s, nobody has developed any new drugs for this condition. Sagnik Bhattacharyya, leader of the research team at King’s College London responsible for this new study, had this to say, “These results will clearly pave the way for developing a novel class of antipsychotic treatments.”
Effects of Cannabis in Psychosis
In every cannabis plant, there are well over 100 active compounds. They are cannabinoids, the most potent and famous of which is tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive compound that makers users “high.” For at least 20 years, THC-rich marijuana dominated the marketplace across the world, most notably in Britain. These are strains with around 15 percent THC or more.
However, although potent weed is a main suspect in causing some mental health issues in those that use it frequently, it is now clear that CBD is the compound with the strongest, completely opposite, antipsychotic properties. There is too little CBD in street weed to prove beneficial, but the scientific community has been wondering if pure CBD extract could both help sufferers and protect against it.
According to Bhattacharyya, “We knew from previous studies that CBD had antipsychotic effects, but we did not know how it worked.” To learn, researchers gathered 33 people already seeking help for infrequent or mild symptoms of psychosis, such as paranoia attacks and hearing voices. The team conducted a controlled study. Sixteen participants received a single CBD dose, 17 got a placebo.
Health Benefits of Cannabis in Psychosis
Then, using a specialized machine to scan the brain, called magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, they analyzed the brains of all participants. Inside the scanner, they had to answer questions, such as if word pairings like “cries” and “baby” had a relation or not, and later, whether they could remember the word that united a pair when asked by researchers.
When comparing the brain scans of the different control groups against those of age- and sex-matched healthy people, they found that in all distinct brain areas that involve psychosis, there were notably abnormal activity patterns. However, in those that took that single dose of CBD, there was less of this unusual brain behavior, making their scans the most similar to the healthy groups.
Of the findings, Bhattacharyya warned, “This was just a single dose of CBD and that is not going to treat or cure psychosis. But it does show us that CBD at least has an effect on abnormal brain activity that is consistent with it being an antipsychotic.” Now, researchers at The King’s College are launching their first ever large-scale trial to investigate the full effects of cannabis in psychosis patients.
The trial will study whether pure; medical-grade CBD would be an effective therapy for anyone at high risk of succumbing to psychosis. The teams, which will start recruiting participants early in next year, have the support of both the National Institute for Health Research and the Medical Research Council. That is some prestigious backing.
“If the trial shows it has efficacy, then the next step will be to get through the regulatory hurdles of using CBD in the clinic to treat patients,” Bhattacharyya explained. “One should not get the impression that it is okay to start prescribing CBD tomorrow.” More research is necessary, but one fact is certain, CBD has a definite role to play in both treating and preventing psychosis.