Utah Lawmaker Files Bill To Explore Therapeutic Use of Psychedelics

A Utah lawmaker has introduced a bill to explore the potential of psychedelic drugs to treat serious mental health conditions including depression, anxiety and PTSD. The legislation, House Bill 167, was introduced on Tuesday by Utah state Representative Brady Brammer, who noted that the measure “doesn’t legalize anything.”

“It asks our Huntsman Mental Health Institute and other experts in the field to review the science that’s out there, the research that’s out there, and make any recommendations that they have if they feel psychedelics can be safely administered through a prescription basis and under what circumstances,” Brammer said in a television news interview.

If passed, HB 167 would direct the state’s Health and Human Services Department to create a Mental Illness Psychotherapy Drug Task Force. The group would “study and make recommendations on drugs that may assist in treating mental illness,” according to the text of the legislation. The legislation specifies the makeup of the task force, which would include mental health professionals, researchers and patients.

Although the bill does not specifically mention psychedelics or any particular drug, the task force would be authorized to “provide evidence-based recommendations on any psychotherapy drug that the task force determines may enhance psychotherapy when treating a mental illness.” The legislation would empower the task force to study the research into psychedelic drugs, which has shown the potential to treat serious mental health conditions.

“We need effective tools to treat mental illness,” Brammer said in a statement to local media. “If psychedelics can be helpful and safely administered, we need them in our toolbox.”

Cannabis Activists Support Utah Psychedelics Bill

Brammer’s bill is supported by groups that campaigned for Proposition 2, the 2018 ballot initiative that legalized medical marijuana in Utah. Kylee Shumway, the medical director for the Utah Patients Coalition, said that psychedelics may be able to help residents of the state who are struggling with mental illness.

“We have higher rates of depression and anxiety than a lot of other states and even for people that are looking for help, there’s not enough psychiatrists; there’s not enough mental health professionals to help them,” said Shumway. “And a lot of the medications aren’t working.”

Research into psychedelics including psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine has shown that the drugs have potential therapeutic benefits, particularly for serious mental health conditions such as depression, addiction and anxiety. Research published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry in 2020 found that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy was an effective and quick-acting treatment for a group of 24 participants with major depressive disorder. A separate study published in 2016 determined that psilocybin treatment produced substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer.

“It’s very promising,” Shumway exclaimed. “There are some huge studies that have just been finished recently on psilocybin that put it head to head against SSRIs which are antidepressants and psilocybin performed better across the board.”

“Utah has some of the finest researchers in the areas of psychiatry and neurosciences at Huntsman Mental Health Institute,” said Brammer. “This bill seeks to leverage that expertise, along with other experts grappling with mental illness, to review the research results, and if appropriate, make recommendations on how to safely administer these therapeutics under the care of qualified physicians.”

Steve Urquhart, a former Republican Utah state senator, also supports Brammer’s bill to explore the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs.

“Psychedelics changed my life,” he told local media. “It changed the way I see myself, the way I regard myself, and that allows me to see others and love others a lot more.”

Urquhart is the founder of The Divine Assembly, a Utah church that promotes religious and responsible use of psilocybin. 

“I’ve always been a bit of an activist at heart, and I decided I wanted to form a church where people can have these freedoms to worship with psychedelics,” Urquhart said. “I tell people, don’t get too lost on psychedelics; The Divine Assembly is about connection, and psychedelics can help with that.”

Urquhart believes that state lawmakers are likely to appreciate the cautious approach HB 167 takes to explore the benefits of psychedelics and may eventually support the legislation.

“Remember, this is Utah. Of course, we’re likely to take a slower approach to something like this,” he noted. “But on things like this, when the process runs, when it works, Utah can kind of come up with some magic. I’m optimistic about this.”

Brammer introduced HB 167 in the Utah House of Representatives on January 18. The bill has been referred to the House Rules Committee for consideration.

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Could CBD Help Patients With Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s disease, commonly known as (AD), is an age-related neurodegenerative disorder. It’s the most common cause of dementia, a term for memory loss. People with AD are roughly around the age of 65 and according to recent data, increase every five to six years. Although there isn’t a cure for Alzheimer’s, medical experts are continuing to […]

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Weed Plus: The Healing Mystique of Magic Mushrooms

The winter sun was beating down through the open windows of my older sister’s Porsche as we cruised down Pico Boulevard toward the beach, bumper to bumper with other cars in the westward traffic of a warm Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles.

“That smells good,” she hollered to the guys in the next car over, pot smoke filling the space between lanes. They motioned to pass a joint through the open windows, my two best pals and I giggling in the back seat. I was 18 and by this point familiar with the terrain of a cannabis high, but I wanted to keep my head clear for later — for what my sister described as “weed plus.”

I’d spent my first semester of college smoking weed out of a hookah with friends, my nights ablaze, as one does in Berkeley. In the daytime, I’d burrow into a pile of books about psychedelic counterculture for an upcoming research paper. I had become obsessed with Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, and as if I’d read the guidebook to Paris before a trip, I decided that all my academic probing into psychedelics better culminate in lived experience. So, I bought a half ounce of shrooms and headed to Venice Beach with a few friends for our first time “tripping.” My older sister — a dedicated stoner and a cannabis attorney 14 years my senior — along with a family friend, who was a medical marijuana doctor and a seasoned psychonaut, were there to guide us in case things got too weird.

Unlike acid (which I still hadn’t tried at that point), mushrooms felt like the next level up from cannabis — that is, “weed plus” in the words of my sister. The psychedelic experience, or “trip,” would be longer than a regular weed high, but shorter than 12 hours of LSD. After that first time tripping, I soon learned that, for me, mushrooms and cannabis bring on similar visuals of swirling floral patterns and paisleys in a pink Technicolor palette.

My first time taking mushrooms was easily one of the best, most significant days of my life: playful, exploratory, spiritual. I felt like I was reborn, discovering the world and its wonders for the first time. The shrooms had turned down the volume on the anxiety that defined my day-to-day and turned up the volume on my appreciation for life. For the first time, the phrase “be here now” meant something to me on an embodied level — but like Ram Dass, who ventured to India after coming up and down on countless psychedelic trips during his tenure as a psychiatry professor at Harvard in the 1960s, I too wondered why it seemed I needed mushrooms to feel the way I did. I asked myself, “Would I be able to get there on my own one day?”

Psych 101

It’s a common adage that one can accomplish the same degree of healing in a single psychedelic trip that might otherwise require years of therapy. By the same token, in the psychedelic community it’s often said that “the journey is the medicine.” In other words, such as in the case of mushrooms, it’s not just the psilocybin, the main psychoactive compound, that spurs a neurological reset — it’s the experience of the trip itself. This can come with insights, challenges and joys that consequently foster lessons and memories that nourish the soul and last a lifetime. Science can only attempt to describe this alternative headspace.

Many well-known research institutions such as Johns Hopkins and UCLA are exploring how psilocybin is being used for mental health treatments and can occasion a “mystical experience,” defined by “scale scores” of seven criteria. What scientists are finding is that the degree to which a patient undergoes a mystical experience often correlates to the degree of healing they experience for whatever condition they are treating, be it anxiety, depression, or something else.

“When you optimally screen, facilitate and integrate these [psychedelic] experiences, you can almost reliably facilitate a mystical level kind of encounter, which may be predictive of positive therapeutic outcomes,” said Dr. Charles Grob, psychedelic researcher and UCLA professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

To put it bluntly, the promise of psychedelic therapy is forcing researchers to grapple with notions of God or mysticism that have otherwise been absent from Western science and medicine. Indigenous cultures, on the other hand, are well-known for structured spiritual-medicinal approaches and traditions that incorporate psychedelic plant medicine, such as ayahuasca, magic mushrooms or peyote.

Grob notes that clinicians have much to learn from indigenous practices, which “were entirely dependent on a harmonious relationship with the world of nature for shelter, for food, for continuity, and for societal groups.”

He goes on to say that the psychedelic experience may be symbolic of a death and rebirth ritual. That could be thanks to the experience of “ego death” — a psychedelic-induced dampening of the brain’s default mode network (DMN), where the ego resides. Ego death, or “ego dissolution,” can act as a reset for the DMN, helping to rewire thought patterns that were otherwise constrained by the ego, and facilitating an increase in personality traits like openness or empathy.

In breaking out of old thought patterns, a person who experiences ego death may also obtain a degree of healing from habits that previously kept them in a loop, particularly in addiction. Turning down the volume on the ego can also help engender a sense of oneness with the surrounding world, people or nature.

“The ego is looking after us,” Grob says. “There’s good reason to be compassionate toward the ego: It’s trying to do its best, but it’s not useful, and it overshoots in what it does and disconnects us. What psychedelics do is turn down the defenses.”

The ego’s defenses can manifest in addictions, such as eating disorders, compulsions and obsessions. “They’re all a maladaptive defense response to adversity,” says Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, Head of the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London.

Through psychedelic therapy, Grob says, we can engineer a context in which it’s safe to let the ego go off duty and allow us to be vulnerable in a caring, nurturing environment. “It’s about going backwards to go forward,” he said. “Being vulnerable to be stronger, more flexible, more capacious.”

Safe Travels

Finding the right setting for a psychedelic experience is up to the beholder; it could be in a therapist’s office, a spiritual ceremony, with friends at a music concert, or decidedly alone in the woods. Once that ideal setting is found, one can relax and focus his or her mindset on whatever kind of healing or intention they set out to explore with the help of psychedelic medicine.

Even back in the ’60s, Grob says, pioneer researchers “found that those who had a mystical level experience had improved quality of life.” 

With psilocybin in particular, he said, “the replicability and degree to which the trip might happen, and the depth is more apparent”— than perhaps with other psychedelics such as LSD — because the six to eight-hour trip is “easier to control” than something that could otherwise be twice as long.

Despite the growing amount of research, psychedelic scientists have yet to fully comprehend how substances such as psilocybin work in the brain. Psilocybin definitely stimulates the serotonin 2A receptor in the brain and can occasion ego death by dampening the default mode network. Even so, the compound remains a mystery.

That said, there’s mounting evidence that psilocybin — much like cannabis — can facilitate healing from a variety of mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, addiction, and eating disorders, among others. It can also increase the personality trait of openness, allowing the afflicted to become more amenable to new patterns and solutions, and enhancing general well-being for those who are otherwise already well.

While people who use cannabis medicinally can get a great deal of relief from chronic pain or mood disturbance, Grob says it’s more of a lifestyle drug. “The effects of cannabis are dwarfed in comparison with the potential that psilocybin or LSD might have in evoking a powerful altered state of consciousness that allows individuals to see themselves and the world around them and their lives in a novel manner,” he said.

In other words, psilocybin offers more bang for your buck if you compare it to regular cannabis use.

#TBT

Around the peak of that Venice Beach mushroom trip so long ago, my friends and I decided to venture out of our apartment and head to the ocean. As the sun set and temps started to cool, the winds picked up. 

“I’m shivering, but it’s not me,” I said through chattering teeth. I looked down at my hand with curiosity, flipping my palm over and under, upside and down, as if it was someone else’s hand.

I plopped down on the shore, near the sunset drum circle that takes place every Sunday. It smelled like weed, but I wondered how many others were also on shrooms. I remembered what my sister had said about psilocybin feeling like “weed plus,” but this was so much better. So. Much. Better.

“There’s no competition,” Grob said, when comparing psilocybin and cannabis. “The psilocybin experience has the potential of facilitating a life-changing kind of event.” Precisely how I felt about one of the best, most significant days of my life.

A huge smile crept across my face, and I was feeling more in touch with my essence than ever before. “Ohh, be here now,” I giggled, referencing the phrase and title of Ram Dass’ famous book which my parents had introduced me to as a child. “I get it,” I thought.

It was the first time I felt that sacred sense of time and space, of being in the moment — in my body — without feeling an attachment to the chronological series of events that took me here. I just was, feeling a sense of “is-ness.” I was simply being, and my nervous system, with all its anxieties and temporal attachments, was for once at rest.

My memory of that mind-bending Venice Beach experience remains vivid. The spiritual nourishment and sense of mystique from that day are still with me, infusing my life with the magic of those mushrooms. “These are like waking dreams,” Grob said. “Sometimes it’s important to just sit back and look objectively at the scene playing in front of you, and how that relates to your life.”

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Australia Rejects Psychedelics for Therapeutic Use

Australia’s medical regulator on Wednesday rejected a bid to approve psychedelics for therapeutic use, saying the risks of the drugs outweigh the potential mental health benefits. In a final decision from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), the agency declined to approve an application to amend Australia’s poison standards by reclassifying psilocybin and MDMA as Schedule 8 controlled substances instead of their current status as prohibited substances under Schedule 9.

Under the decision, psychedelic drugs will not be available for use as therapeutic drugs to treat serious mental health conditions, a practice that is gaining acceptance by many therapists. Studies have shown the drugs have the potential to treat depression, anxiety and addiction

But the TGA noted that much of the research to date has been conducted in strictly controlled environments, potentially limiting the practical therapeutic value of psychedelics. The agency also cited a fear that legalizing the drugs for therapeutic use would lead to misuse of the drugs in non-clinical applications.

“The benefit is very limited because psilocybin studies indicate only potential therapeutic value in circumstances where the treatment was provided to subjects within the setting of a clinical trial,” the TGA wrote in its December 15 final decision. 

“In relation to the risks, I am satisfied that psilocybin poses a high danger for both acute and long-term effects if abused or misused by way of access outside of strictly controlled medical and scientific research settings,” the author of the agency’s decision wrote. “Given this increased risk to individuals of acute and long-term effects, a high level of control across the supply chain commensurate with Schedule 9 is warranted.”

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists did not support the application to reclassify psilocybin and MDMA, according to the TGA’s statement. The Australian Medical Association also weighed in, calling for more research using larger, high-quality studies to determine the safety and effectiveness of using the drugs therapeutically.

Decision a ‘Step Backward’ for Australia

Dr. John Huber, the founder and CEO of psychedelic therapy consultation platform Tripsitter Clinic, says that “Australia’s decision to reject the use of MDMA and psilocybin mushrooms for clinical use is a step backward.” 

“The declaration that there is not enough research limits Australia’s ability to conduct any research on the benefits of psychedelic therapy,” Huber wrote in an email to High Times. “This form of thinking suppresses progress and portrays 1960s ideologies. The pandemic greatly impacted people’s mental health, and political leaders need to get up to speed and expand access to mental health services in this time of need.”

The CEO of Hawaii-based psychedelic medicines startup Ei.Ventures, David Nikzad, noted that the decision by the TGA is inconsistent with recent psychedelic reform efforts. Canada has taken steps to make psilocybin available to therapists for clinical use, and the legality of magic mushrooms in Jamaica has led to the rise of psychedelic retreats in the Caribbean nation.

Additionally, Oregon has legalized psilocybin for supervised mental health treatment and several U.S. municipalities including Oregon, Detroit, Seattle, Oakland and Denver have passed measures to decriminalize some psychedelic drugs and entheogenic plants and fungi.

“We find this very disappointing and counter to the larger trend of psychedelics being decriminalized or approved for medical use in numerous jurisdictions globally,” Nikzad said. “We hope that Australia comes around once the studies underway give further credence to earlier work that shows the effectiveness of psilocybin use for positive mental health outcomes in clinical settings.”

“It’s really a shame that this outdated thinking is stifling advancement in the important arena of psychedelics and mental health when these natural products could help so many people with depression, anxiety and other mental health issues,” he added.

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Is trauma a cause for termination of a cannabis employee?

Trauma goes silent when a worker is fired, and yet, steps to improve mental health might cause that employee to face termination. Services, including cannabis stores, run like clockwork, but the gears ticking behind the face are human. Does this mean a worker who has become unpolished and worn from an exogenous force warrants the […]

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Mental health is reset by psychedelic therapy — Tripping the switch

A secret once kept in nuanced circles of degenerates and free spirits has recently gained mainstream appeal, fitting in with wider professional crowds. As it turns out, psychedelic therapy can reset mental health — a good trip can flip the switch. A story circulates that Apple Inc. founder, Steve Jobs, learned how to poke at […]

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How Can Psychology Improve the Effects of Cannabis?

We are in the age of self-help, the era of improvement and being the best you can be and it can get a little tiring. It’s hard not to sometimes shrug at the suggestion that psychology can help improve our experiences and the way we interact with the world, but we’re here to hopefully change that view.

Psychology has a reach so far that all aspects of our lives have been dissected and studied by men in white lab coats holding clipboards. A surprising amount of research has also been done into how to improve day to day experiences, such as eating, drinking and relaxing to get the most out of them. Of course the experience that I’m going to investigate in this article is cannabis and psychology. Could it be possible that Psychology and the findings from the science could be used to improve the effects of cannabis on the brain and in general?

In this article, I’ll be looking at how we can use our senses (Sound, taste, sight), sociality and context to get the most out of the drug we love, both recreationally and medically. Our brain, and its ability to be influenced by its surroundings, is fascinating and we will be looking at how we can affect it through internal and external changes.

Both psychology and cannabis are hot topics of discussion lately, because both are holistic approaches to ailments that affect millions of people across the globe. It only makes sense at this point that we combine the two for ultimate healing results. Make sure to subscribe to The Medical Cannabis Weekly Newsletter for more articles like this one and exclusive deals on flowers, vapes, edibles, and other legal products.


Cannabis and the Brain

Before we look at how to improve the effects of cannabis, we must first discuss how it affects the brain. Cannabis works on the brain and body by interacting with the endocannabinoid system (ECS). This is an intricate system of neurons in the brain that seems to control the release of multiple neurotransmitters. It was discovered in the 1990s and seems to be linked to many processes in the brain and body, including appetite, learning and memory and sleep.

Both CBD and THC, two cannabinoids found in Cannabis, activate the ECS and seem to produce the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is linked to reward and pleasure in the brain. This is the neurotransmitter that creates the euphoric high associated with Cannabis. If we can find ways to increase the production of this neurotransmitter Dopamine or find ways to affect the interaction of cannabinoids on the ECS, then perhaps this will have a wholly positive effect on the experience of getting high.

Get the Snacks Out: Food and the ECS

It has long been known that food tastes better after smoking cannabis, in fact studies on rats have shown that cannabinoids increase the senses of smell and taste, but there is also new emergent research suggesting that some foods can actually increase the effect of these same cannabinoids. According to a fascinating list created by NMJ Health, Mangoes, Chocolate and black Tea all have properties that increase the effect of Cannabis for recreational and medical purposes. Mangoes contain natural chemicals that actively help cannabinoids interact with the body’s ECS mentioned above.

By eating Mangoes before inhaling or injecting marijuana products you increase the levels of these chemicals (terpenes) that allow for this interaction. This means that the effects of the cannabis will set in a lot quicker, that they’ll be stronger and that the effects will last longer.  With Chocolate, it appears that the cannabinoids in cannabis that produce the euphoric effects are naturally occurring. Studies have even shown that a chemical in chocolate called

Anandamide binds to cannabinoid receptors mimicking and heightening the effect of Cannabis. Not only is this research incredible as it shows that chocolate can increase the overall effects of cannabis, but the practical applications for the use of medical marijuana and dosing cannot be overstated. Black tea and broccoli also seem to improve the experience of Cannabis. Black tea by producing longer and more sustained feelings of peace and relaxation. It is clear to see from this rather eclectic set of foods and the research behind them that we can change the effects of Cannabis through changing what we eat. 

Set the Mood: Music and Dopamine

Another avenue for increasing the experience that cannabis can offer through psychology and psychological research is to look at the effect sound and music has on a high. Music has long been associated with feelings of pleasure and relaxation, but recent research has shown that listening to music that gives you chills actually produces the neurotransmitter dopamine (a neurotransmitter linked to cannabis and the ECS. It seems then that listening to music you enjoy and instrumental music (the study found) leads to an increased amount of dopamine. This combined with the high levels of dopamine released when using cannabis can only result in a more pleasurable experience, again highlighting another way that psychology and the environment around you can influence your experience of cannabis.

Watch Those Lights: Sight, Colour, Taste and Experience 

This next paragraph may come as the most surprising to readers. Vision may be one of the most powerful senses when it comes to changing our experiences of the world. Being in a room with a certain colour scheme or using particular lights can influence our mental states and how we feel. To create a more calm and relaxed experience while using cannabis, a recent study has shown that blue lighting is best. The same study also showed that red light and yellow light increases heart rate, so perhaps should be avoided unless you want to induce a potential panic attack.

 There are ways that we can use our vision to influence our experiences of things like taste and smell too. Studies by Charles Spence, an Oxford researcher have shown that the colour of crockery used when eating actually changes the subjective experience of flavour. Red dishes increased perceptions of sweetness in some popcorn and blue seemed to increase perceptions of saltiness. What this means is that a particular coloured skin or vape could actually alter the taste of the cannabis inhaled. If you prefer a sweeter experience, perhaps using a red vape might do this for you. Again, this research highlights how we can use psychology to generally increase our cannabis experience. 

Changing up Your Environment 

One of the biggest factors that can reduce the enjoyment of cannabis is tolerance. A tolerance to a certain chemical just means that it takes more to achieve the same effect. From a neuro-chemical point of view, it just takes a greater amount of cannabinoids to activate the ECS. Tolerance arises due to frequent use of the drug. Can psychology be used to help us with tolerance? An incredible study actually seems to suggest it can, and the way one can overcome a tolerance seems to be through altering context.

Context just means the environments around you. It has long been studied in psychology as animals and humans seem to have powerful associations between context and memory. If you revise in a certain context (classroom) your results in a test done in that same context will be higher than if you alter it. Here’s where tolerance comes in: If you smoke cannabis in the same environment, your body associates that context with cannabis and will actually build up a tolerance that is context specific. In a fascinating review by Siegel et al the preparation and expectation of taking a drug can lead to the body preparing itself and therefore reducing the effects. When dogs were conditioned into taking adrenaline in a specific context, just placing the dog in that room was enough for their bodies to prepare to counter the high blood pressure, even without injecting anything.

The core study by Siegel was conducted on heroin users and it was found that the opposite is true as well. If a user of heroin takes the drug in a context they are not used to they are more likely to require medical treatment as it seems their tolerance is not there. The body was not prepared because it was not in the context associated with the drug. The very same principle of association and context can be applied to cannabis use. If you use the drug in the same context over and over again, the tolerance will be associated with that specific location, so to increase the effect, change up where you light up.

Being Around Others: Socialising and Dopamine 

A final way that cannabis can be improved is through being around others. It seems obvious to say, but being around others is good for the brain. It increases feelings of happiness and can relax us as well if we are around people we love, but it may be surprising to learn that socialising also increases dopamine levels, giving us a little high. This increase in dopamine is theorised to be a reward for being around others and evolutionary psychologists have argued that socialising and bonding with others is heavily linked to the reward areas of our brain and dopamine production. So perhaps combining socialising and cannabis will create a huge boost of dopamine and increase the euphoria of cannabis experiences.

Conclusion – Combining Cannabis and Psychology

I hope that from the list above you find even one thing to use to make your experiences of cannabis even better. I hope it’s also clear that any method can be useful but they are only suggestions and sometimes just sticking to what you know and enjoy is more than enough to have a great time. Cannabis is a fascinating drug and the mechanisms underlying it are still intriguing to psychologists. It affects so many areas of the brain that it isn’t surprising that the changes listed above can affect how it works. But what do you think?

Thank you for stopping by CBD TESTERS, your hub for all things cannabis-related. Remember to subscribe to The Medical Cannabis Weekly Newsletter for more articles like this one and exclusive deals on flowers, vapes, edibles, and other legal products. For the best Delta 8Delta 10THC-PTHC-OTHCVHHC and even Delta 9 products subscribe to the Delta 8 Weekly newsletter.

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Cannabis and Schizophrenia, Cure or Cause?

Growing up you may have heard about the guy in the neighbourhood who hears voices in his head. And you also know that his disease — schizophrenia (according to DARE, anyways) was probably the result of the innumerable joints he used to take as a youngster. Well, one section of medical scientists has dared to […]

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Does Cannabis Cause Psychosis: Coincidence or Causation

She had already had a history of major depression, but then the 20-year-old woman started cutting and electrocuting herself. At the psychiatric ward, looking for an explanation or a cause, doctors noticed that before she’d checked into a hospital, she’d already been in the ICU—for “vaping-related lung injury” after “recurrent, severe, and heavy THC use.”

And that, according to the presentation made by Michigan-based psychiatrist Chad Percifield, to the American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting, was enough to finger her cannabis consumption as a potential cause—and enough to warn other heavy cannabis users that they could be next to have a mental break.

“Research has previously shown that individuals who consume THC are three times as likely as those who do not to develop a psychotic disorder,” Percifield told the Midland Daily News. This was one in a series of media reports and scientific studies suggesting a link between cannabis use and psychosis, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association as well as The Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page—under the sub-headline “Port and psychosis link is real, researchers say.”

But is it? And how real—if you’re of sound mental health, will a couple of pulls from your vape pen push you over the line? And how should cannabis users and advocates react to news of cannabis coexisting with psychotic breaks, often dishonestly framed as a causal link and cause to re-evaluate or delay marijuana legalization plans?

Smoke, Then Break?

Psychosis is defined as a break from “reality” that usually manifests as hallucinations or delusions—hearing or seeing something that other people can’t see or hear, such as voices or sounds. Cannabis-induced psychosis is a disconnect from reality that occurs during cannabis use, or shortly thereafter.

According to researchers, this phenomenon is real. Jeffrey Chen, a physician and founder of the University of California, Los Angeles’s Cannabis Research Initiative wrote, “Cannabis-induced psychosis has emerged as one rare but serious side effect to consider.” However, he adds, while literature suggests a “strong link” between using cannabis and developing psychotic symptoms, “experts have yet to discover the exact nature of that link.”

Meaning, researchers aren’t sure if cannabis causes psychosis, or triggers or exacerbates underlying symptoms.

(Keep in mind that substance abuse generally coexists with mental-health problems. Victims of trauma tend to use alcohol and other drugs more heavily than the general population, but that doesn’t mean that the alcohol caused the behavioral health problems.)

And that’s the problem with most of the studies.

A prominent study that earned media in mid-July, suggested a link between cannabis and psychosis, and according to Michael Backes, a researcher and author of Cannabis Pharmacy: A Practical Guide to Medical Marijuana: it assumes that cannabis was causal when it could simply co-relate.

The Missing Link

In July, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a study out of Denmark that found the number of schizophrenia diagnoses “associated with cannabis use disorder” had increased from 2 percent in 1995 to 8 percent since 2010, as CNN wrote when reporting on the study. However, the study simply noticed the increase of sufferers of schizophrenia that also reported problematic cannabis use (something that people may have been less comfortable sharing with their doctors in the 1990s).

“In studies like this one, people seeking treatment for cannabis issues appear to have higher incidence of schizophrenia,” Backes told Cannabis Now. “But are the symptoms of schizophrenia driving some of these individuals toward cannabis in an attempt to self-treat their symptoms?”

“There is not enough evidence to support an assertion that cannabis is a cause,” he added.

In other words, cannabis users who developed psychosis or dependence problems may also have worn belts, or used money, or had poor diets, yet these aren’t fingered as the causal factors. And that same report on the study noted that “most cannabis users, even those who are dependent on it, never seek treatment and many people use it recreationally without developing problems.”

So, what, then, is the best way to understand cannabis and mental-health problems—and how should researchers, policymakers, and the public best understand the issue?

Debate of Substance

In Colorado, concerns over young people using too much high-potency THC oil helped trigger new legislation that requires people under 21 to visit two separate doctors before receiving a medical-cannabis recommendation. That new law also limits how much high-potency cannabis they can purchase.

This didn’t impress Joe Schrank. Schrank runs The Heavenly Center, a Los Angeles-based recovery clinic that allows its inpatients—there to recover from opioid addictions and alcohol addictions—to use cannabis.

If policymakers wanted “to do something about what harms young people,” they would “address alcohol,” Schrank said in a statement.

“Cannabis should be regulated, but alcohol kills 1800 young adults a year, cannabis kills zero,” he added. “We’re chasing the wrong thing.”

Schrank’s contrarian take is in part inspired by researchers like Percifield—who, in his interview with the Midland Daily News, made an increasingly typical assertion (that neither his findings at the APA nor other research supported).

As he observed, cannabis oil in vaporizer pens has more THC by volume than cannabis flower. Flower might have 15 to 20 percent; oil might have 50 to 70 percent or more. According to Percifield, “vaping solutions increase this risk [of a psychotic episode] more than sixfold due to the potency of the vaping solution, which on average contains 52% THC versus the 13% THC contained in the marijuana flower,” as he said in his Midland News interview.

Until the science develops on this issue, consumers of both news and cannabis should be aware how these findings can be distorted or framed to suit political ends. At the same time, dismissing cannabis’s potential to exacerbate mental health problems shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.

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How Cannabis Helps People Cope With Mental Health: A Study

There is a significant and long-standing debate over the effects of cannabis on mental health. Let’s look at some ways cannabis impacts mental health and mental illnesses. Anxiety Many children, young adults and adults suffer from anxiety. Anxiety causes panicking and intense stress-induced brain activity. Some of the symptoms that occur due to anxiety can […]

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