Researchers are eager to discover the myriad health benefits that cannabidiol (CBD) may offer. So far, limited research suggests it may help with pain, anxiety, and epilepsy.
But there’s still a lot unknown about CBD, including whether it may help treat other conditions, like schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia is a severe mental health condition that affects a person’s sense of reality. It can cause symptoms, like delusions, hallucinations, and disorganized thinking or speaking.
More than 20 million people live with schizophrenia worldwide, but more than 69 percent don’t receive appropriate care. Some people also don’t want to or are unable to take antipsychotics (which have significant side effects) typically prescribed for the mental health condition, leading some to wonder about alternatives.
Can CBD help treat schizophrenia? Read on to find out.
What does the research say about CBD and schizophrenia?
There’s some human research on CBD and schizophrenia, but there isn’t enough evidence to conclude that CBD should be used for schizophrenia. Here’s what we know so far.
Cognition, negative symptoms, and positive symptoms
A 2021 review noted that observational studies have found that cannabis use in people with schizophrenia is associated with worse symptoms and outcomes. However, cannabis can contain over 100 cannabinoids, and it typically has much more tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) than CBD.
THC is responsible for the “high” effect of cannabis. To compare each cannabinoid’s effect on schizophrenia, the review looked at 11 studies on CBD and THC — both separately and together.
The review found mixed results from both cannabinoids on cognition, negative symptoms, and positive symptoms. It concluded that research doesn’t support recommending CBD or THC for the treatment of schizophrenia.
However, another 2021 study found that, when it comes to cognition, CBD may be useful. In the study, 42 people with schizophrenia were treated with either CBD or amisulpride, an antipsychotic medication.
Both treatments improved cognition, but CBD had fewer side effects. It’s important to keep in mind that this was a small study consisting mostly of young men.
Psychosis is a loss of connection with reality that sometimes occurs in people with schizophrenia.
A 2021 review of research on CBD and psychosis found that, in two of three clinical trials, CBD was associated with some improvement of psychotic symptoms. However, the trials were small, with only 36 people included in the smallest and 88 people in the largest.
The review noted that large-scale clinical trials are needed to confirm the effectiveness of CBD for psychosis, especially for people experiencing psychosis for the first time.
Is CBD safe to use for schizophrenia?
If you have schizophrenia and take any medications, it’s crucial to talk with your doctor before trying CBD. Some medications may interact with CBD, slowing the rate at which your body breaks down your medication. This can cause dangerous or unwanted side effects.
Medications that may interact with CBD include those with grapefruit warnings, like:
- lurasidone (Latuda)
- ziprasidone (Geodon)
- quetiapine (Seroquel)
Research also suggests that THC may worsen psychosis. If you have schizophrenia and want to use CBD, you may want to consider an isolate or broad-spectrum product that’s THC-free.
Furthermore, it’s important to be aware that CBD can cause side effects, though they’re usually mild. These include:
- changes in weight or appetite
Can CBD cause schizophrenia?
While there’s no research suggesting that CBD causes schizophrenia, some research suggests that exposure to THC in your teens may target signaling pathways associated with schizophrenia.
There’s also an association between THC use and schizophrenia development in those who have a genetic predisposition to schizophrenia. However, there isn’t causation from this data, as it might be that those predisposed to schizophrenia may be more inclined to use THC.
That doesn’t mean that using THC early on will cause schizophrenia. Experts don’t know exactly what causes schizophrenia, but it’s likely a combination of biological, genetic, and environmental factors.
Can CBD make schizophrenia symptoms worse?
Available research doesn’t suggest that CBD makes schizophrenia symptoms worse.
However, THC may have a negative effect on schizophrenia symptoms. According to a 2021 review of 124 studies, frequent use of products containing THC has the potential to cause adverse effects, including psychosis — whether or not you have a preexisting mental health condition.
Additionally, people with schizophrenia or people who are predisposed to schizophrenia may be at an increased risk of negative effects from THC.
Many CBD products contain small amounts of THC (up to 0.3 percent for federally legal products). Even though this is a small percentage, the total amount of THC you ingest will depend on the potency of the CBD product and the dosage you take.
Additionally, since over-the-counter CBD products aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be safe, it’s possible that a CBD product may contain more THC than advertised. That’s why it’s important to research products before you buy, and only buy from reputable brands.
How can you find a quality CBD product?
If you’re interested in trying out CBD, make sure to talk with your doctor first. If they give you the OK, you’ll need to do some research to find a quality product. Here are a few things to look out for.
Certificate of analysis
Only shop from brands that provide an easily accessible certificate of analysis (COA) for each product. Make sure the COA is up-to-date and provided by a third- party lab.
Scan the COA to check whether the amount of THC and CBD the lab found matches what’s on the label. Reputable brands will also test for contaminants, like heavy metals, molds, and pesticides.
Read through customer reviews to get a sense of what other people think about a brand’s products.
Ideally, you’ll look at reviews on third-party review sites, like Better Business Bureau or Trustpilot. You can also check the brand’s own site, but keep in mind that some brands only show positive reviews.
Brands should clearly mark the type of CBD used in each product they sell. You should see one of the following on the label:
- Full-spectrum. This type of CBD contains all compounds found in cannabis, including other cannabinoids, like cannabigerol, cannabinol, and THC. If it’s a federally legal product, it’ll have less than 0.3 percent THC. It will also contain terpenes and flavonoids.
- Broad-spectrum. This is essentially the same as full-spectrum CBD, but without the THC.
- Isolate. This is CBD only, with no other compounds.
If you have schizophrenia, it’s a good idea to stick with isolates and broad- spectrum products. Though these may contain trace amounts of THC, they’re as close to THC-free as you’ll find.
Look up the brand you’re considering in the FDA’s warning letter database to see if they received a recent warning letter. The FDA sends these to companies making untrue claims about CBD products.
A quick Google search will also often reveal obvious red flags, like lawsuits.
Check the label and scan the ingredient list to see if a product contains anything you’re allergic to, or that might interact with any medication you’re taking. Keep in mind that CBD interacts with some medications and supplements.
How do you use CBD?
How you use CBD depends on its form.
- Oils and tinctures. You use oils by placing them under your tongue with the included dropper. This allows the oil to make it into your bloodstream quickly. You can also add these products to food and drink or mix them with skin care products.
- Capsules. These are pre-dosed and can be taken like any other pill.
- Edibles. Gummies and other types of candy-like CBD products are great for pill-averse folks. But it can take some time to feel their effects, so make sure to wait before taking more.
- Topicals. These include things like creams, lotions, and balms. You apply them directly onto the skin. They’re useful for targeting specific forms of pain like joint pain.
If you’re new to CBD, start with the smallest dose you can find. It might also be a good idea to get your doctor’s advice about dosage.
With ingestible CBD products, always wait several hours before taking more. The effects from the initial dose can take hours to kick in.
What are some treatment options for schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a complex mental health condition. While typical treatments may require trial and error, they’re currently backed by more research than CBD.
Treatment for schizophrenia may include:
- antipsychotic medication
- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- behavioral skills training
- cognitive remediation interventions
- recovery treatment programs
- assertive community treatment
When to see a doctor
It’s time to see a doctor if you experience the following early-onset symptoms of schizophrenia:
- unusual thinking patterns
- disorganized speech
- lack of interest in usual activities
- social withdrawal
- trouble focusing or remembering things
- difficulty making decisions
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, people typically start to show symptoms in their late teens to early thirties. Often, a person receives a diagnosis only after their first episode of psychosis.
If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia, you can find additional support through organizations, like National Alliance on Mental Illness. You may also want to look into a support group.
Schizophrenia is a complex mental health condition that can be challenging to live with. Finding a treatment option that works for you can also be tough.
You may be curious about alternative treatments like CBD. However, there’s not enough research to say whether taking CBD is entirely safe or effective for people with schizophrenia.
If you’re set on trying out CBD, talk with your doctor first.
Is CBD legal?The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the legal definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act. This made some hemp-derived CBD products with less than 0.3 percent THC federally legal. However, CBD products containing more than 0.3 percent THC still fall under the legal definition of marijuana, making them federally illegal but legal under some state laws. Be sure to check state laws, especially when traveling. Also, keep in mind that the FDA has not approved nonprescription CBD products, and some products may be inaccurately labeled.
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