Marijuana and Psychosis

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With the continued legalization of marijuana, more and more companies are coming up with better ways to “enhance” their product to make more money. With these enhancements comes a much stronger and potent product of marijuana than there has ever been. This increased potency has been shown to cause what is called psychosis, or psychotic break. When marijuana use triggers psychosis, there may be several different symptoms, all characterized by a break with reality. Common marijuana psychosis symptoms are paranoid delusions, suspiciousness, and a sense of grandiosity. Other potential symptoms include hallucinations, dissociation or a feeling of detachment and unreality, disorganized and disturbed thoughts, inappropriate emotional responses, and unusual changes in behavior. In most cases symptoms resolve once drug use is stopped.

Psychotic symptoms are all characterized by a loss of touch with reality. While most people who use marijuana will never experience this, use of cannabis can trigger an episode of psychosis. It can cause symptoms like hallucinations, delusions, disordered thoughts, unusual behaviors and emotional responses, paranoia, suspicion, and others.

When cannabis triggers psychosis the episode is usually acute (comes on quickly) and resolves soon after the psychoactive substances in the drug have left the body. In some cases, though, there may be an underlying mental illness that made it more likely the drug would cause psychotic symptoms. In either case it is important to seek help from a mental health professional, for immediate treatment, for mental health screening, for substance abuse treatment, and, if necessary, for ongoing treatment for a mental illness or psychotic condition.

Psychosis Defined

Psychosis is not a mental illness; rather, it is a set of symptoms often caused by mental illness and that make a person feel detached from reality in some way. Schizophrenia is one of the most common types of psychotic conditions, but there are many other mental illnesses that may trigger psychosis. For example, the manic phase of bipolar disorder can cause psychosis, as can severe episodes of major depression and even postpartum depression.

Psychotic symptoms are characterized by a break from reality, regardless of their cause. Two of the most common symptoms of psychosis are hallucinations and delusions. Hallucinations occur when you hear, see, feel, or in other ways sense something that isn’t real. Delusions means to have continued false beliefs, even when there is evidence to contradict those beliefs. Psychosis can also cause chaotic thoughts, changes in emotional affect, feelings of detachment, and a sense that things or people aren’t real.

Cannabis-Induced Psychosis

While psychosis is most often associated with other mental illnesses, it can also be triggered by substances. Marijuana may trigger an episode of psychosis, although this reaction is not very common. In most cases when it does occur, the psychosis is acute. Some people may need emergency treatment due to the symptoms being very distressing. Treatment usually involves a calm environment and antipsychotic medication.

While cannabis-induced psychosis is usually acute, for some people the psychotic episode may be more chronic. This is more likely in a person who has an underlying mental illness. There is a connection between marijuana use and psychotic conditions like schizophrenia. It is not known if marijuana use contributes to the development of schizophrenia, but evidence does suggest that it can trigger episodes in someone who has schizophrenia or it may cause the onset of the illness in someone predisposed to it. It is also well known that someone with a mental illness is more likely to use marijuana, probably as a way to self-medicate.

Marijuana Psychosis Symptoms

Cannabis-induced psychosis can be diagnosed using the criteria listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The manual states that the condition causes psychotic symptoms either during use of marijuana, during withdrawal from it, or within one month after using it. The symptoms must be severe enough to cause impairment in a person’s ability to function, and they cannot be better explained by another mental illness, like schizophrenia. Symptoms that cannabis-induced psychosis causes include:

  • Delusions. Delusions are beliefs that are false. A person who is delusional continues to have these beliefs even without any evidence they are true and even when there is clear evidence that they are false. With marijuana-induced psychosis, paranoia and suspicion of other people are common delusions. Another common delusion is one of grandiosity, that a person can do more or is capable of more than they really are.
  • Hallucinations. Psychosis also often causes hallucinations, which are sensations that a person believes are real but don’t actually exist. These can be auditory, such as hearing voices, or they can be visual, causing images and scenes that aren’t really there. Hallucinations may also involve other senses, including touch and smell.
  • Dissociation. Dissociation is a sense that one is not connected to the real world in some way. One type, depersonalization, makes a person feel they’re outside of their own body. De-realization occurs when a person believes the things and people around them aren’t real.
  • Disorganized thoughts. Disordered and chaotic thought processes as well as persistent and disturbing thoughts are common characteristics of psychosis. It can become very difficult to think clearly or to focus on anything during a psychotic episode. To an observer, this psychosis symptom makes it seem as if a person is speaking nonsense. Speech can be garbled or jump around to so many different things that it is difficult to understand what they are saying.
  • Affect and behavioral changes. Affect, or the experience of emotions, can be disturbed by psychosis. This can cause a person to react, behave, or express emotions in ways that seem inappropriate. The changes can be exaggerated, such as when a person becomes highly agitated, angry, or irritable. Psychosis can also cause affect to be less than it should. It can cause a person to be flat or unemotional and, in extreme cases, even catatonic.

Can Weed Psychosis Symptoms Be Dangerous?

By far, most people who experience weed psychosis symptoms are not dangerous. There is, however, always a possibility that someone who has lost touch with reality will exhibit behaviors that pose a risk to themselves or to those around them. Delusional thinking, for instance, may cause someone to firmly believe that their best friend is out to get them, and they may feel they need to protect themselves. Paranoia is one of the more common delusions triggered by marijuana use.

Another possibility is that a person may have delusions of grandiosity that lead them to engage in behaviors that are very risky and dangerous. This might include reckless driving, jumping from a height, or any other activity they would normally not attempt. In this way, psychosis can potentially cause harm to the person experiencing it. It is important to get help if someone has these symptoms and it seems as if they might cause harm or do something dangerous.

Getting Help for Marijuana Addiction

Contrary to what many believe, marijuana is not only a gateway drug, but it can be highly addictive. It can cause an interruption in life up to and including psychosis. If you or a loved one is in need of treatment for marijuana addiction, please call us today at San Diego Sober Living. We are here to help!

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