Marijuana-Induced Psychosis on the Rise in Young Adults

The rising rates in use of marijuana and other THC products among young adults, especially young adult males, is also feeding a dangerous rise in psychosis and a higher risk of schizophrenia due to cannabis use disorder. Whie there is an ongoing debate about how safe or harmful tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC), the major psychoactive component in cannabis, can be, there is little debate that marijuana and other THC products are more potent than in years past, and the delivery system or ways in which individuals are ingesting THC are making it all the more concerning. Additionally, this high potency is seeing skyrocketing rates of young adults dealing with psychosis and there is evidence to suggest young adults using cannabis are at extremely high risk of developing schizophrenia due to drug use.

High-Potency Cannabis is a Factor

While the high potency of cannabis, and the delivery systems that include vapes, edibles, and concentrated products like dabs, wax, and shatter that have THC levels as high as 98%, bring on immediate physical symptoms such as hyperemesis, it is the mental health of young adults using these products that is of the largest concern. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), the amount and potency of the marijuana used, age, and genetics all play a part and can impact an individual’s chances of psychosis, but there is little question that young adults are at the highest risk.

Therefore, according to researchers and healthcare professionals, the rise in marijuana and cannabis use directly correlates to the rising numbers of psychosis and schizophrenia occurring in young adults nationwide. Although marijuana is often perceived as relatively harmless and a recreational drug that doesn’t cause major consequences or addiction, there is overwhelming evidence to suggest a complex relationship between the use of marijuana, psychosis, and declining rates of mental health in young adults. Ironically, many young adults turn to cannabis and marijuana to treat mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and suicidality, which are often the same exact symptoms research suggests can be caused by these drugs. Unfortunately, like alcohol, there are many individuals that do use marijuana recreationally and report now problems, consequences, or symptoms, and therefore many young adults using these drugs find out too late that they are of the many that do suffer psychosis and ongoing mental health concerns.

Rising Rates of Marijuana and Cannabis Use

The growing acceptance and legalization of marijuana for both medicinal and recreational purposes have contributed to an increase in its use among young adults throughout America. As marijuana becomes more accessible and socially acceptable, many individuals perceive it as relatively harmless, a benign substance that can be enjoyed recreationally to relieve stress or be used as a coping mechanism. This perception, coupled with the belief that it carries fewer risks than other drugs, has contributed to its widespread use.

In the United States, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health has reported increasing rates of marijuana use and products containing cannabis use the young adult population. The 2020 survey revealed that 46.7% of young adults ages 18-25 had used marijuana or a product containing THC in the past year. This marks a significant rise in comparison to previous years. In a global content, similar trends have been observed, with countries such as Canada, Uruguay, and several European nations legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana.

Correlation with Psychosis

Research has shown a link between marijuana and an increased risk of developing psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia, especially in young adults. Psychosis is characterized by a disconnection from reality, leading to hallucinations, delusions, and impaired cognitive functioning. While clearly not every person that partakes in marijuana or cannabis use will develop psychosis, there is growing evidence to suggest that heavy and frequent marijuana use, particularly during adolescence and young adulthood, may increase the risk.

The primary psychoactive compound in marijuana, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is known to affect the brain’s endocannabinoid system, which plays a crucial role in regulating mood, cognition, and perceptions. The overstimulation of this brain system, as can occur with high-potency strains of THC, may lead to disturbances in neural pathways and, in some cases, trigger psychotic episodes. Additionally, cannabis use can exacerbate the symptoms of pre-existing psychotic disorders or increase the risk of their onsite in susceptible individuals. So, if someone that already is dealing with psychotic issues or ongoing mental health conditions, or someone that is predisposed to issues such as schizophrenia, used marijuana with a high potency, there is a high likely hood of dangerous mental health issues occurring or worsening.

Studies exploring this correlation have produced mixed findings, as the relationship between marijuana use and psychosis is complex and multifaceted. While some research suggests a casual link, other studies emphasize that various genetic, environmental, and individual factors also play a role. More research is needed to determine the precise mechanisms underlying the relationship.

However, over the course of the last several years, there has been a rise of marijuana-induced psychosis. And of those individuals, nearly 20% attending the emergency room for marijuana-induced psychosis were diagnosed with schizophrenia spectrum disorder. Additionally, new research shows that individuals who visited the emergency room or an emergency department for substance-induced psychosis has a 160% greater risk of developing a schizophrenia spectrum disorder (SSD) compared with the general population.

Preventative Measures and Awareness

Given the potential correlation between marijuana use and psychosis, it is crucial to promote awareness and preventative measures, especially taking great lengths to reach and educate young adults and their parents. Public health campaigns should aim to educate young adults about the risks associated with heavy and frequent marijuana and cannabis use, particularly during the formulative years of adolescence. This includes informing them about the potential risks to their mental health, emphasizing the importance of moderation, and discouraging the use of high-potency THC products.

Healthcare professionals also play a vital role in identifying and providing support for individuals at risk of or experiencing psychotic symptoms associated with marijuana use. Early interventions and treatment can make a significant difference in the prognosis for those affected.

There is no question that the increase in accessibility and use of marijuana and other high-potency THC products are having a harmful impact on the young adult population in America. It is vital to recognize that these drugs are not the same marijuana in years past, that they are much higher in potency and therefore more dangerous and carry with the use of them greater risk. Therapy, counseling, psychiatry, and addiction treatment options are always available, but young adults and their family members must stay vigilant in making sure to seek help as soon an issue with marijuana, addiction, or mental health is recognized and identified.

If you or someone you know needs help for addiction or co-occurring disorder issues, please give us a call. Maryland Addiction Recovery Center offers the most comprehensive dual-diagnosis addiction treatment in the Mid-Atlantic area. If we aren’t the best fit for you or your loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Please give us a call at (866) 929-4318 or email our team at [email protected]. For more information on all of our drug addiction, alcohol addiction, and co-occurring disorder services and recovery resources, please visit our website at www.marylandaddictionrecovery.com.