The science behind CBD as a treatment for schizophrenia
Considering that schizophrenia is one of the mental health disorders most associated with chronic cannabis use, it may come as a shock that a cannabis derivative is being hailed as a potential treatment for the condition? But cannabidiol (CBD), a compound that has no psychoactive effects, has shown promise as a schizophrenia medicine, and its potential is being explored, whether all of the experts are on-board or not.
Thankfully, we live in a different world to the 20th century as far as cannabis research goes. While there are still some obstacles to studying the plant, the medicinal value of cannabinoids like CBD is proving to be kryptonite for the scaremongers, and researchers are finally getting the opportunity to study the herb without hassle in the United States and elsewhere.
The truth is that cannabis is not one substance, but a plant made up of more than 400. At least 113 of those are cannabinoids, a rare classification of compounds that are mostly confined to the cannabis plant. CBD and THC are both cannabinoids, although their effects couldn’t be much different.
THC is psychoactive and has the ability to magnify thoughts and feelings in an altered state of mind. It’s the compound that made cannabis a part of rituals in the ancient world, and a recreational herb in more recent times. CBD edibles and e-liquids, on the other hand, do not influence the mind in such extraordinary ways, as it doesn’t make the necessary connection in the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
In a way, CBD oversees the ECS, and makes sure that it carries out its functions without trouble. The ECS regulates our appetite, mood, immune system response and a host of other mental and physical variables. It’s essential that all of these mini-mechanisms in the grander network operate smoothly, otherwise illnesses can occur.
Experts are wondering whether schizophrenia is one of those illnesses, by researching the link between the mental disorder and endocannabinoid dysregulation. Preliminary studies have found that schizophrenia patients experience endocannabinoid dysregulation in various sections of the brain, the cerebrospinal fluid (which is meant to protect the brain) and the blood.
That CBD treatment is having such an impressive impact against schizophrenia may well be explained by the disorder being caused by endocannabinoid issues. Remember, the endocannabinoid system was an unknown just 30 years ago and has therefore played little to no role in scientists’ understanding of many conditions.
How do schizophrenia patients benefit from CBD?
Epilepsy and schizophrenia are two conditions that are not all that different – drugs like Depakote have been used, with varying success, to treat both. In schizophrenia patients, the role of this drug is to balance mood. Therefore, the knowledge that CBD has been so effective in the battle against epilepsy should offer hope to schizophrenics that the cannabinoid can bring similar change.
CBD oil is a prominent anti-psychotic and has even been recommended as a way to manage anxiety caused by THC – CBD effectively has the power to reduce a high. Researchers have been studying the anti-psychotic properties of CBD for 30 years, and this extended period of study has yielded some intriguing findings.
First off, CBD has been shown to cause much fewer side effects than more conventional anti-psychotic treatments such as amisulpride (aka Solian). Both Solian and CBD exhibited anti-psychotic effects, but with this pharmaceutical drug potentially causing confusion, dizziness and unsteadiness, it’s far from a perfect solution.
Fascinatingly, CBD also exhibited anti-psychotic effects through its promotion of anandamide, an endocannabinoid that binds with cannabinoid receptors and has notable antidepressant qualities. The study comparing Solian with CBD determined that the latter was a more effective anti-psychotic because of the influence it has over anandamide.
The usefulness of CBD’s anti-inflammatory effects
CBD is a potent anti-inflammatory, and with research indicating that schizophrenics suffer from brain inflammation, this could be very useful. Research from the Imperial College of London which was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry revealed that patients diagnosed with schizophrenia experienced greater levels of activity in their microglial cells (immune cells in the brain).
These pro-inflammatory cells are helpful if the body is trying to manage an infection, but inflammation often goes into overdrive, ultimately creating more issues than it solves.
But immune system response is just one of many functions regulated by the ECS, meaning it can therefore be influenced by CBD – and that’s exactly what we see with CBD’s anti-inflammatory effects. Furthermore, CBD doesn’t cause any new problems for the body as many medicines do in the form of side effects. The reductive effect that CBD has on inflammation may give researchers a new weapon against schizophrenia.
It’s also thought that homeostasis helps to protect the body from schizophrenia and other disorders. As we know, CBD helps to promote homeostasis. The research into inflammation and schizophrenia is far from complete, but in recent years scientists have discovered that inflammation is more connected to mental illness than we realized – depression patients also suffer from brain inflammation.
How effective is CBD as a schizophrenia medication?
Research into CBD and schizophrenia is still a bit thin on the ground, but a company called GW Pharmaceuticals has conducted a study with a CBD-based treatment on schizophrenia patients. The research was high-quality, carried out under a clinical setting, randomized and double-blinded with the use of placebos so that the 88 participants could not tell whether they had received the CBD treatment or not. However, the patients continued to use their prescription medication for schizophrenia while doing the test, so we cannot tell the standalone effects of CBD treatment.
But despite that, CBD regularly outperformed the placebo, indicating that cannabinoid therapy alongside other forms of schizophrenia medicine could be a helpful combination. Participants found their schizophrenia symptoms reduced by 20 percent on average, and that the CBD had a positive effect on cognition. There were no reports of significant side effects, although 5 percent of participants suffered from nausea, headaches and diarrhea – whether this was caused by the CBD itself is not clear.
This preliminary study into CBD and schizophrenia by GW Pharmaceuticals should be encouraging to schizophrenics everywhere. And it’s possible that other non-psychoactive cannabinoids could be beneficial as well (i.e. CBG, CBC and CBN). As the research increases, perhaps multiple cannabinoids will be trialed as a treatment for the disorder.