Dr. Michael Schlitt, Neurosurgeon, Neurosurgery, Seattle

Marijuana and Schizophrenia

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Scientists have been studying the connection between schizophrenia and marijuana use for some time now.  According to a new study done by King’s College in London, increased marijuana use and schizophrenia may have some genes in common.  While still outlawed in most of the world, the legalization of medicinal and recreational marijuana has been a hotly debated topic, which makes research to investigate the health risks from its use that much more important.

Handful of Ganja

A handful of marijuana, which could be directly linked to schizophrenia.

The most common symptoms of schizophrenia include delusions and auditory hallucinations.  It’s still not yet clear what causes the disorder, but scientists believe that a combination of physical, genetic, psychological and environmental factors play a role in its development.  So far, researchers have identified a number of genes linked to schizophrenia, variants of which each slightly increase the risk of development.  For their study, lead author Robert Power and his colleagues analyzed a sample of just over 2,000 healthy individuals, roughly half of whom admitted to using marijuana.  From the number of gene variants linked to schizophrenia that each participant carried, the team assigned each participant a “genetic risk profile” and compared it to marijuana use.

The results of the study revealed that participants whose genetic risk profile predisposed them to schizophrenia were more likely to smoke marijuana, and use it more frequently, than those who didn’t carry schizophrenia risk genes.  Power notes that the findings do not necessarily rule out that marijuana use could directly increase the risk of schizophrenia, but rather suggest that there is most likely an association in the other direction, namely, that a predisposition to schizophrenia most likely increases use of marijuana.  The study, according to him, highlights the complexities of gene-environment interaction in the context of marijuana use and schizophrenia.  Back in December, Medical News Today reported that the use of marijuana is linked to schizophrenia-related brain changes in the thalamus.  This study found that the brain abnormalities persisted long after people stopped smoking.

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