Drug Law

Can Marijuana Help Some Schizophrenics?

| by Marijuana Policy Project

From MPP Blog | By Bruce Mirken

The surprising finding that THC might help at least a small percentage
of schizophrenia patients for whom conventional treatments have failed was
reported in the June issue of the Journal of Clinical
Psychopharmacology
.

This is surprising because, as the British government’s Advisory
Council on the Misuse of Drugs reported last year, “there is
clear evidence that the use of cannabis may worsen the symptoms of schizophrenia
and lead to relapse.” The ACMD — a far more objective body than any
U.S. government outfit remotely connected to drug policy — did not consider
marijuana to be a significant cause of psychosis in otherwise healthy people;
its report reflects a broad consensus that marijuana (and specifically THC) can
worsen the prognosis of schizophrenics or those with a genetic vulnerability to
schizophrenia.

But doctors at the Rockland Psychiatric Center in Orangeburg, New York,
reviewing the records of one severely ill patient — a man who was “grossly
psychotic, assaultive, disorganized” and not responding to conventional
treatment — noticed that he had a history of “calm behavior when he was using
marijuana.” So as an experiment, they prescribed THC capsules (dronabinol, brand
name Marinol). “Remarkably,” they write, “he became calm, logical, nonviolent,
and cooperative within days and was discharged within weeks.”

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They then tried the same thing with five other patients with a similar
history — unresponsive to conventional treatments but showing some signs of
improvement when they smoked marijuana. Three of these “improved to a clinically
significant extent,” one showed no significant change, and one got somewhat
worse. That’s a remarkable level of success in chronically ill patients for whom
conventional antipsychotic drugs had failed, “in which success with any
intervention might be unlikely.”

The article goes on to lay out some possible explanations, but at this
point no one knows for sure why this small group of psychotic patients had an
anomalous and positive reaction to THC. What is clear is that the relationship
of cannabinoids to schizophrenia is more complex and variable than even many
experts — much less anti-marijuana propagandists – have
acknowledged.