Is there a link between marijuana use and mental illness?
Parents, teachers and other authority figures are quick to warn teens of the dangers of marijuana use, but of all the side effects cited, mental illness rarely gets a mention. Should it?
Research conducted in the past decade has looked at just that, focusing on whether marijuana use actually causes other mental illnesses. The strongest evidence to date suggests a link between cannabis use and psychosis. For example, a series of large prospective studies that followed a group of people over time showed a relationship between marijuana use and later development of psychosis. Marijuana use also worsens the course of illness in patients with schizophrenia and can produce a brief psychotic reaction in some users that fades as the drug wears off.
Factors that play a role include the amount of the drug used, the age at first use and genetic vulnerability. One study found an increased risk of psychosis among adults who had used marijuana in adolescence and also carried a specific variant of the gene for catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT), an enzyme that degrades neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine.
Other lesser links were observed between marijuana use and schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts among adolescents and personality disturbances. One of the most frequently cited, albeit still controversial, is an amotivational syndrome, defined as a diminished or absent drive to engage in typically rewarding activities.
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