The Dangers of High-Strength Cannabis and Its Link to Mental Health Disorders

By iMedix
Updated 2024-04-10 13:54:37 | Published 2024-04-10 13:38:47
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The dangers associated with high-strength cannabis

Anders Gilliand's descent into a harrowing reality began at 17. Kristin Gilliand, his mother, recalls his belief in supernatural beings directing his actions. Anders, who had used marijuana since 14, was later diagnosed with schizophrenia, exhibiting classic symptoms like delusions and disorganized speech. Despite initial treatment with anti-psychotics, he turned to heroin to silence the voices in his head, tragically resulting in a fatal overdose at 22. His mother, a Vanderbilt University neuroscientist, speculates that his cannabis use may have precipitated his schizophrenia, a suspicion supported by family history.

Anders' case mirrors a growing trend among young adults, particularly males, where heavy marijuana usage is linked to psychiatric disorders like depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Studies from Denmark and the UK highlight the role of THC, marijuana's psychoactive compound, in triggering these conditions in genetically predisposed individuals. THC concentrations in cannabis have surged over the decades, intensifying these risks.

Dr. Christian Thurstone, a child psychiatrist and addiction specialist at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, notes an uptick in cannabis-induced psychosis among teenagers. The potency of cannabis products is directly correlated with the likelihood of adverse effects, states Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. A 2020 European study supports this, showing a higher risk of hallucinations and delusions with stronger cannabis.

Research indicates that nearly half of those with cannabis-induced psychosis might develop schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. The risk of psychosis, Thurstone emphasizes, escalates with the quantity of marijuana consumption, particularly during adolescence.

Another concern is the potential for developing cannabis use disorder, a type of addiction to marijuana, especially with frequent exposure to high-strength variants. Thurstone warns of marijuana's addictive nature, both psychologically and physically, leading to increased tolerance.

About one in ten cannabis users become addicted, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The mechanism linking high THC levels to psychosis involves overactivation of brain receptors, leading to impaired cognition and memory. The relationship between cannabis and psychosis remains partially understood, with ongoing research into the brain's processing of reality versus internal thoughts.

The surge in THC levels is partly due to consumer demand for stronger effects, as observed by Patrick Johnson, assistant store manager at Frost Exotic dispensary in Colorado. Mahmoud ElSohly, a University of Mississippi professor and cannabis researcher, corroborates this trend, indicating an average potency rise from 3% to 15% between 1995 and 2021.

Determining safe doses of cannabis remains challenging, especially for inhaled products, says Ziva Cooper from UCLA. This is contrasted with more consistent dosing in cannabis edibles. Volkow remains cautiously optimistic that THC levels won't exceed a certain threshold, where high doses may lead to adverse reactions like agitation or paranoia.

In summary, the increasing potency of cannabis raises serious concerns about its impact on mental health, especially among young adults. As THC levels in cannabis products continue to climb, understanding and addressing these risks becomes increasingly crucial.

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