How and Why Cannabis Can Lead to Induced Psychosis

A strong association between chronic, high-potency cannabis usage and psychosis has become increasingly prevalent. Clinical providers in outpatient therapy offices, treatment centers, and psychiatric hospitals have observed a marked increase in acute and chronic psychosis cases due to increased usage and availability of more potent strains of cannabis.

While cannabis-induced psychosis is possible, it is less common with individuals who occasionally use less potent formulations. Most individuals can use marijuana/cannabis without severe adverse effects. As with any substance, moderation and informed decision-making are crucial to maintaining mental well-being.

Key points to know

  • Cannabis is the most commonly, recreationally used drug in the U.S.
  • Cannabis-induced psychotic symptoms are rare.
  • Experiencing psychosis with marijuana/cannabis use is more likely in people who already struggle with some type of psychiatric disorder.
  • Marijuana use may contribute to the onset of schizophrenia in young people already susceptible to the psychotic condition.
  • Heavy use of marijuana by someone with a psychotic condition, like schizophrenia, can worsen symptoms.
  • The higher the potency of marijuana/cannabis, based on the concentration of the main psychoactive compound, THC, the more likely it is to trigger psychotic symptoms.

Psychosis can be chronic, causing symptoms that persist or return after periods of absence. With cannabis-induced psychosis, the symptoms are often acute rather than chronic; they appear suddenly and sometimes temporary. 

Cannabis-induced Psychosis Research 

Studies connect marijuana use with schizophrenia, which is characterized by hallucinations, delusions, disorganized thinking and speaking, and other psychotic symptoms. However, these studies don’t explain whether the drug contributes to schizophrenia, or if people with schizophrenia are more likely to use marijuana. People living with many types of mental illness are at greater risk for substance misuse, and those struggling with psychosis may use marijuana to self-medicate and self-sooth.

Current research shows that if a person already has a chronic psychotic condition, such as schizophrenia, marijuana can trigger an episode of acute psychosis. Research also shows that people with certain genes that predispose them to schizophrenia are more likely to develop the condition if they use cannabis. 

The negative effects marijuana/cannabis may have on someone predisposed to a psychotic condition will likely occur during adolescence and young adulthood. Psychotic conditions pertaining to cannabis use are most likely to develop, while the brain is still developing before the age of 25. 

The signs of cannabis-induced psychosis include:

  • Paranoia and suspicion of others
  • Disorganized thoughts and speech
  • Hostility and aggression
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Unusual behaviors or movements
  • Catatonia

Treatment for marijuana-induced psychosis

For individuals with a predisposition to mental health issues, it’s important to be cautious about drug use. They should also seek professional advice if needed. Treatment for cannabis-induced psychosis typically involves providing a supportive and safe environment for the individual, and may include medications to manage symptoms. Abstaining from marijuana use is essential to prevent further episodes and potential long-term mental health issues.

If you need professional treatment support, please contact Awakenings Treatment Center. We have convenient, flexible outpatient services that help our clients build the healthy, fulfilling lives they deserve. 

Please listen to my guest episode on the Broken Brain Podcast with fellow psychotherapist and host Dwight Hurst. The episode dives deeper into marijuana psychosis. I also urge you to follow/subscribe to the Broken Brain Podcast. You can listen on most platforms, including Apple, Audible and Spotify.

About Shari Corbitt

Dr. Shari Corbitt is a distinguished clinical psychologist with an enduring commitment to enhancing the mental well-being of individuals and communities. Holding a Doctorate in Psychology (Psy.D), she has amassed a wealth of experience and expertise, making her a trusted authority in the field of mental health. As a licensed clinical psychologist, Dr. Corbitt has provided compassionate and evidence-based therapy to countless clients. Her areas of specialization range from cannabis-induced psychosis and mood disorders to anxiety, and chronic pain, as it relates to PTSD and trauma, as well as stress-related conditions. She is widely recognized for her empathetic approach, creating a safe and supportive space for clients to embark on their healing journeys. Dr. Corbitt founded Awakenings Treatment Center to provide cutting-edge treatment for individuals suffering from substance abuse disorders, as well as related emotional difficulties. Optimal wellness is the goal for every client. She lives in gratitude each day for her own recovery, which she enjoys one day at a time.