By Harm Reduction Educators Steff Pinch and Marissa Martins
According to the 2017 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey, 19% of all students grade 7-12 have used cannabis. Cannabis is the most widely used illicit drug by Canadian youth and, according to a 2013 UNICEF report, Canadian youth have the highest percentage of cannabis use in the world. With legalization on the horizon, how strong is the link between adolescent cannabis use and psychosis?
Since the 1900’s, there have been concerns about youth using cannabis leading to irrational behavior (ie “reefer madness”). Many recent studies have shown there may be a reason to believe that there is a correlation between cannabis use and psychosis for youth who already have a genetic or environmental predisposition. These factors may include early childhood trauma, having a family member who is living with schizophrenia or a family history of psychotic disorders. However, correlation does not equal causation.
There are many complicated variables at play that have left the research largely inconclusive as to the nature of the relationship between cannabis and psychosis. For example, we know that the onset age for many psychotic disorders happens during the teen years – the connection could be that youth are more likely to experiment with drugs like cannabis in adolescence as well. Or perhaps, youth who start to experience symptoms of psychosis or other mental illnesses are more likely to use cannabis to cope with the onset. There has yet to be a conclusive study that actually shows cannabis causes mental health complications. However there has been a lot of fear mongering.
A 2015 report on cannabis and adolescence from the Centre for Substance Abuse Canada summarizes this issue:
“So does drug use induce mental illness? Or does mental illness increase risk for drug use? While there is clearly a strong relationship between mental illness and cannabis use, the direction and causal nature of that relationship is not well understood and is likely different for each type of disorder.”
Check out this video for more info on cannabis and psychosis: