I’m a 25 year-old male whose father and cousins have/had schizophrenia. I recently moved to Oregon, where marijuana is a legal drug, so I partake recreationally (3-4 times a week). I just started smoking marijuana when I was 24, and really didn’t make it a regular thing until I was 25. I’ve always had a slight fear of having schizophrenia, as I’ve studied mental illness since it’s been a very big part of my life. Recently, however, I feel those feelings have been slightly amplified due to the correlative nature between schizophrenia and marijuana usage displayed in medical and psychological studies. I’ve noticed myself becoming paranoid when under the influence (a common thing, I know). That paranoia usually subsides after I rest, along with the influence of the drug. That being said, I’ve been having some thoughts of being able to change the world. These thoughts occur heavily when I’m high, but also sometimes happen when I’m sober (only much less intense),
and usually come in the form of being able to educate people about empathy and kindness (since I’m a teacher and an actor). I’ve also had moments where I try to empathize with people in order to understand what they’re thinking, and maybe even try to “read their thoughts” in order to better connect with them. Do I truly believe I can? No. But I do think I can come close to identify how their feeling in order to better help them with their problems. I can, somewhat frequently, also have quick mood changes into anger depending on circumstances; they usually happen when I’m driving or when I have a lot of stress in my life.

A little background: my mother also has manic-depressive disorder. I grew up in a very broken household, but came out very well from it: I received 25 scholarships and got paid to go to college. After college, I traveled the country for over two years teaching kids theatre. And I am fairly successful after having moved to a big city despite having little to no support other than the foundation I’ve built for myself. I’ve written multiple pieces about mental illness (I have degrees in English and theatre), and I try to be cognizant of my behaviors in order to make sure that I am a productive member of society and don’t dwindle into what my parents did.

A. Just because marijuana is legal for recreational purposes doesn’t mean you should partake in it. Alcohol is also legal, but if you drank three or four times a week it could be disastrous for your physical and mental health. It’s a bad idea.

Marijuana is a drug that continues to be categorized by the federal government as a schedule I drug. Schedule I drugs are considered dangerous. As you have read in the medical literature, marijuana is also linked to psychosis. That fact is based on scientific studies. Those studies also note that having a family history of schizophrenia can increase the possibility of offspring developing the disease. Given your family history, that is not a fact you should ignore.

Your main question is should you be concerned about having unusual experiences while under the influence of marijuana? The answer is yes. Your concerns are valid and should prompt you to stop using drugs immediately.

Marijuana alters one’s brain chemistry and can cause irreparable damage. Not everyone who uses marijuana will experience problems, but it increases the risk of negative outcomes. Anecdotally, I receive many letters from people who smoke marijuana and develop side effects that never seem to go away. Derealization and paranoia are quite common. It would be wise to quit while you are ahead.

It’s also important to address the fact that you should not need drugs to be happy. Psychologically healthy people, don’t need to get high to feel good. You might consider counseling to explore why you feel the need to use drugs. Maybe you use marijuana to decrease stress but there are certainly many other healthy ways to relax that do not involve risking your mental health.

Counseling could help you address your drug problem. If you are using it for stress reduction, you might try meditation instead. A growing number of studies have demonstrated its significantly positive physiological and psychological benefits. I hope I’ve helped. Please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle