Marijuana as Treatment for Schizophrenia
Could pot help those struggling with schizophrenia?
Marijuana use, abuse and legalization is a hot topic these days. The conversation often centers around legalizing the drug for recreational use, but this drug may have a variety of medicinal benefits. Pot is being studied as a way to treat some unlikely ailments.
According to a preliminary clinical trial a compound found in marijuana can treat schizophrenia as effectively as antipsychotic medications but with far fewer side effects.
The research, led by Markus Leweke of Germany’s University of Cologne, studied 39 people with schizophrenia who were hospitalized for a psychotic episode. Of that group 19 patients were treated with amisulpride, an antipsychotic medication not approved in the US but comparable to other medications that are.
The remaining patients were given cannabidiol (CBD), a substance found in marijuana that is thought to be responsible for some of its anxiety-reducing effects. The main ingredient in marijuana, THC, can produce psychotic reactions and may worsen schizophrenia, but CBD has antipsychotic effects according to previous research in both animals and humans.
Both the patients and the researchers were kept in the dark regarding who received which drug. At the end of the four-week trial both groups showed significant clinical improvement in their schizophrenic symptoms, and there was no difference between those getting CBD or amisulpride.
“The results were amazing,” says Daniele Piomelli, professor of pharmacology at the University of California-Irvine and a co-author of the study. “Not only was [CBD] as effective as standard antipsychotics, but it was also essentially free of the typical side effects seen with antipsychotic drugs.” Antipsychotic medications can potentially cause devastating and sometimes permanent movement disorders; they can also reduce users’ motivation and pleasure. The new generation of antipsychotic drugs also often leads to weight gain and can increase diabetes risk. These side effects have long been a major obstacle to treatment.
The results suggest that CBD may be at least as effective as existing drugs for the treatment of schizophrenia without the severe side effects that make patients reluctant to take medication. However there are hurdles to overcome. There may be some political pushback to approving the distribution a substance that comes from an illegal drug, and extracting the CBD is costly. CBD is a natural compound, so it can’t be patented the way new drugs are, and this makes pharmaceutical companies uninterested, because they can’t turn a big profit. A synthetic version of CBD, already in development, could circumvent some of these issues.
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By Wendy Lee Nentwig