Rise in Cannabis Strength May Not Affect Rates of Schizophrenia, New Study Suggests

Article by Musa Sami, Independent

Rise in Cannabis Strength May Not Affect Rates of Schizophrenia, New Study Suggests. Regular use of the drug has appeared to double the risk of developing psychotic problems, but researchers should avoid scaremongering / Shutterstock Smoking cannabis has been linked with schizophrenia and 94 per cent seized in Britain in 2016 was of the high-potency variety. So why are there not more diagnoses?

Most people who smoke pot enjoy it, but a smaller proportion experience psychotic-like symptoms, such as feeling suspicious or paranoid. The question that polarises researchers is whether smoking cannabis is associated with a risk of developing psychotic problems, such as schizophrenia, in the long term.

Of course, cannabis use is common, while schizophrenia is relatively rare, affecting less than 1 per cent of the population. Even if cannabis use were to double the risk, over 98 per cent of cannabis users would not develop schizophrenia. Researchers have to tread carefully in evaluating the evidence and avoiding scaremongering.

Although several studies suggest that cannabis users have a higher risk of developing schizophrenia, one key point remains hotly contested. Since the 1960s, cannabis potency and rates of use have risen in many Western countries with high-potency strains now dominating the market.

If cannabis were a cause of psychosis, we would expect that, as this increased, rates of schizophrenia would increase alongside it. But this has not happened.

Still not settled

Although this topic was debated by two eminent British psychiatrists, David Nutt and Robin Murray, in The Guardian and by others in the journal Nature, it remains contested whether a cause-and-effect relationship between smoking cannabis and schizophrenia truly exists.

Perhaps we lack sufficient records of schizophrenia cases to show a robust correlation. It has also been argued that not all effects follow causes. For example, although obesity in the West is increasing and is a known cause of heart disease, the risk of suffering fatal heart disease is going down. The reason for this is a third factor: treatments for heart disease have improved and are saving more lives. If cannabis potency is increasing and rates of schizophrenia are not, a similar third factor may explain this.

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