Research from Western University concludes that a chemical found in cannabis can be helpful in schizophrenia therapy. Justine Renard, postdoctoral fellow in Western’s Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry who led the study, identifies the neural pathway whereby the marijuana-derived phytochemical cannabidiol (CBD) produces antipsychotic effects that are discovered to ease symptoms of schizophrenia-related psychosis. The study’s authors stated, “These findings have critical implications not only for understanding how specific phytochemical components of marijuana may differentially impact neuropsychiatric phenomena, but demonstrate a potential mechanism for the therapeutic effects of marijuana derivatives in the treatment of dopamine-related, psychiatric disorders.”

Cannabis contains two main chemicals responsible for producing its psychoactive properties: the more well-known tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and CBD. While THC serves to produce the drug’s psychoactive properties, CBD has been discovered to have an opposing, antipsychotic effect that makes it potentially ideal for use in treatment of psychoses such as schizophrenia. The link between marijuana and schizophrenia has been known for some time, as studies have shown that heavy cannabis use increases the risk of developing schizophrenia and that schizophrenics who use marijuana are more liable to have worsening symptoms and further progression of the illness. However, recent evidence including the work done at the Western University lab points to THC as the culprit rather than CBD.

Co-author Steven Laviolette stated, “CBD is acting in a way that is the exact opposite to what THC is doing. Within the same plant, you’ve got two different chemicals that are producing opposite effects in terms of psychiatric effects, molecular signaling and effects on the dopamine pathway.” Researchers injected rats with CBD to study its behavioural, chemical, and neuropathic effects and discovered that it serves to cut back dopamine sensitization, a response that has been linked to schizophrenia-related psychoses. This helps to explain exactly how CBD affects brain functioning. Laviolette stated, “One of the biggest problems in treating schizophrenia is that there hasn’t been an effective new treatment on the market in a very long time. The drugs on the market today have limited efficacy and horrible side-effects. There is a desperate need for safer alternative medications.”

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