Anecdotally, your son is not the first person with schizophrenia who might have benefited from cannabis use, but it’s a risky symptom management strategy. Its positive benefits seem to be short-lived. You’ve stated that he has needed to increase his usage of nicotine and marijuana in order to achieve the same positive effects.
Studies have shown that cannabis can induce psychosis, more so among men than women. One recent study showed that the male study participants both used cannabis more than women (2:1) and experienced psychosis related to their cannabis use at a higher rate than women (4:1). This makes cannabis use quite dangerous, particularly for males.
One of the main problems with cannabis is when it is bought on the street. Unregulated products can contain toxins, poisons and other unsafe ingredients. Attitudes about cannabis for treating illnesses are changing in this country but we are far from it being a regulated product or a recommended treatment for schizophrenia. The federal government continues to classify marijuana as a schedule 1 drug, the most dangerous class of drugs, with potentially severe psychological or physical consequences.
It’s very common for people with schizophrenia to smoke cigarettes. Some research suggests that nicotine can have a positive effect on some symptoms. These include improvement in cognitive deficits (i.e. attention and memory) and offsetting some of the side effects of antipsychotic medication. Though there seems to be a positive correlation between tobacco smoking and symptom control among people with schizophrenia in some studies, other studies have found no relationship. The research continues to evolve.
There are obvious downsides to smoking. The biggest among them is that smoking causes lung cancer which can cause death.
As people with schizophrenia age, generally there is a reduction of symptoms. However, his usage of marijuana might negate that potential outcome.
Your son’s illegal drug use increases his risk for future psychotic episodes. Ideally, it would be best if he refrained from using illegal drugs and his care was supervised by mental health professionals who are vested in his progress. They could evaluate his situation, determine the best course of action, monitor his symptoms, and make changes as necessary. If you have additional questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. Please take care.
Dr. Kristina Randle