Can CBD be used to treat schizophrenia?
According to a clinical trial which took place in Germany in 2012, yes it can.
The University of Cologne studied 39 schizophrenia patients who had been hospitalized by the condition. Half the patients were given an established antipsychotic medication, and the other half were given cannabidiol.
It was set up as a double-blind trial, meaning neither the patients nor researchers knew which patient was getting which drug.
The published findings showed that both groups encountered significant, comparable improvements to their conditions. The only noticeable difference between the groups was this: the patients given CBD showed far fewer side effects.
Professor Daniele Piomelli, who was co-author of the study, said this of the findings: “The results were amazing. Not only was CBD as effective as standard antipsychotics, but it was also essentially free of the typical side effects seen with antipsychotic drugs.”
Side effects common from schizophrenia medications are wide ranging: weight gain, depression, loss of energy and motivation, muscle spasms, even an increased risk of diabetes. In this trial the patients receiving the established medication experienced some side effects – notably muscle spasms and weight gain – where as the patients given CBD suffered no side effects.
While more research needs to be done to understand the mechanism by which CBD appears to treat schizophrenia, Professor Piomelli believes that the key is anandamide. Anandamide is the body’s own naturally producing cannabinoid. It was discovered some years ago that schizophrenia patients have levels of anandamide which are far higher than the rest of the population. This initially led scientists to assume that anandamide was causing or exacerbating the psychotic symptoms. Anandamide was bracketed with THC – as a substance that triggers and worsens schizophrenia.
However this assumption was found to be incorrect. In fact, anandamide had the opposite function: it reduced the psychotic symptons. Piomelli explains: “What you get is not a positive correlation, but a negative one. The higher the levels of anandamide, the lower the symptoms.”
Anandamide is, therefore, an anti-psychotic drug produced by the body itself. So for those suffering with schizophrenia, more anandamide is produced by the body to fight the symptoms of the illness.
Piomelli goes on to explain that: “It looks like anandamide is a signaling molecule that has evolved to help us cope with stress. In the brain, everything it does seems to be related to ways of relieving stress. It can relieve anxiety and reduce the stress response.”
While it might be assumed that CBD – being related to anandamide – attaches itself to the same receptors in our body, research has shown that not to be the case. CBD does not bind to the receptors but instead protects the anandamide from being destroyed. It acts as a kind of firewall that stops anandamide from breaking down, and enables anandamide to bind to the receptors in greater amounts – and, as a consequence, the body gets more of the natural antipsychotic effects.
This mechanism of action separates CBD from other antipsychotic drugs, but also from THC.
THC & Schizophrenia
For, while CBD does not bind to the cannabinoid receptors in our body, THC does. And while this may sound like good news for schizophrenia sufferers, it is actually very bad news. Binding to the same receptors as anandamide has been shown to have a detrimental effect on anandamide’s effectiveness. While further research is necessary to determine exactly why this is the case, scientists have suggested that THC increases tolerance levels for anandamide in the body, meaning the body would need to produce more anandamide to achieve the same effectiveness.
CBD For Schizophrenia: Conclusion
It is clear that much more scientific research must be undertaken, with larger trials and perhaps other cannabinoids also researched. We need to know whether an entourage effect of particular cannabinoids would enhance the effectiveness of CBD, or whether other cannabinoids would bind with the anandamide receptors and cause harm to patients. What we do know is that CBD is a very promising line of treatment for psychosis; and it is a treatment that has shown no serious side effects and is at least as effective as the latest antipsychotic medications – and at potentially a fraction of the price.
What must also be said – when it comes to those already diagnosed with schizophrenia – is that THC should be avoided at all costs. While claims that cannabis causes schizophrenia appear to be erroneous, THC can certainly trigger psychotic episodes in people pre-disposed, and so if you or a loved one suffer from schizophrenia (or any other mental illness) it would be wise to stay away from THC.
Fortunately we are entering a time when CBD-rich strains of cannabis are being grown in growing quantities, and when CBD products are being sold across the internet. This quickly shifting landscape offers schizophrenia patients real hope for the future: hope that a natural and safe substance – CBD – can treat their condition without side effects, and without breaking the bank.
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