Scientists are studying CBD oil for schizophrenia and dozens of other health conditions. Here’s what to know if you have schizophrenia and are thinking of trying CBD. Clinical research shows CBD is as effective as antipsychotic meds with fewer side effects.
Does CBD Oil Help With Schizophrenia?
Many people say CBD helps them manage health issues like pain, anxiety, sleep trouble, and PTSD. CBD is short for cannabidiol, a natural compound in cannabis (also known as marijuana) and hemp plants. It has the same chemical makeup as cannabis but doesn’t cause a high.
In 2018, the FDA approved a form of CBD to treat seizures in children. Scientists are also studying CBD oil — the most concentrated form — for dozens of other health conditions, including schizophrenia.
What the Experts Say
Joseph Pierre, MD, a psychiatrist and professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, says CBD’s potential role in schizophrenia treatment starts with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound in cannabis that causes a high. THC can cause psychotic symptoms in some people, he says. And long-time cannabis users, especially those who start when they’re young, may be more likely to get a disorder like schizophrenia.
“Since CBD opposes some of the effects of THC in the brain, it makes sense it could be useful in treating psychotic disorders,” Pierre says. “There’s also some evidence that CBD has properties similar to antipsychotic drugs.”
But Pierre says people with schizophrenia shouldn’t try CBD on their own. The risks and benefits aren’t clear, and products sold without a prescription don’t always contain what they claim.
He also notes that the FDA doesn’t regulate CBD products.
“We have many FDA-approved medications from plant sources,” Pierre says. “For example, the heart medication digoxin is derived from the foxglove plant. But if someone needs digoxin, I wouldn’t recommend they go pick some foxglove, bake it into a brownie, and eat it.”
Peter Bongiorno, ND, a naturopath and acupuncturist in New York, recommends CBD for some people as part of an approach that includes lifestyle changes, balanced hormones, and lower levels of inflammation. He urges those who take other medicines or who have mental health conditions to “work with someone who has experience with CBD.”
What to Know About CBD and Schizophrenia
If you have schizophrenia but antipsychotic medications don’t work for you or have serious side effects, you might be tempted to give CBD oil a try. But there are some important things to keep in mind.
Because of its link to schizophrenia or psychotic episodes, THC is strictly off-limits if you have schizophrenia or if it runs in your family. So it’s crucial to know what you’re getting. That’s not easy, because the market is flooded with products. Many don’t contain what the label claims, and the terms may be confusing.
- Full-spectrum CBD oil comes from the whole hemp plant. It contains all the compounds called cannabinoids, including traces of THC (0.3% or less). It’s a small amount, but you should still skip this one.
- Broad-spectrum CBD oil doesn’t contain THC but has all the other cannabinoids. Bongiorno says they may help CBD work better.
- Pure CBD oil means 100% CBD. “Pure CBD products are supposed to only have CBD, but unfortunately, even those sold in dispensaries sometimes contain THC or don’t contain any CBD at all,” Pierre says.
- Hempseed oil is tricky. To avoid legal trouble, some manufacturers label CBD oil as hemp oil. Hempseed oil is made from hemp seeds and contains no CBD.
Do your research
Find out how the company grows, tests, and processes its CBD products.
- Check the certificate of analysis, or COA. This shows that each batch is tested by an independent lab. It should say exactly what’s in the product and what isn’t, like toxic metals and pesticides. You can find the CoA online, by email, or with the product. If not, steer clear.
- Ask about sources. The best CBD usually comes from organic plants grown on small farms in the U.S. and Canada.
How much to take
“If you’re going to use CBD for mental health, ask your practitioner for a high-quality version,” Bongiorno says. The amount you take can vary. “The studies tend to use pure CBD, which requires a higher dose. I use CBD with other cannabinoids at lower doses.”
CBD is normally very safe but can have side effects in some people. The most common are dry mouth, feeling dizzy or irritable, anxiety, diarrhea, and nausea. There’s a chance of liver damage at very high doses.
CBD can affect how your body handles other medicines. This means you may have higher or lower amounts in your blood than you should. Penn State University researchers found 60 drugs that interact with CBD or cannabis. Be extra careful if you take blood thinners, heart medicine, or drugs that weaken your immune system after transplant surgery. Pierre says that even some psychiatric medicines, including antipsychotics, could interact with CBD. You should ask your doctor if CBD is safe to use.
Gallup.com: “14% of Americans Say They Use CBD Products.”
Joseph Pierre, MD, acting chief of Community Care Systems at the VA West Los Angeles Healthcare Center and clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, UCLA.
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Cannabis (Marijuana) and Cannabinoids: What You Need to Know.”
Kendra Mark, founder 2Rise Naturals.
Peter Bongiorno, ND, naturopath and acupuncturist, InnerSource Natural Health and Acupuncture, New York City and Long Island.
Epidiolex.com: “Epidiolex: A treatment innovation.”
Journal of Clinical Medicine Research: “Dosage, Efficacy and Safety of Cannabidiol Administration in Adults: A Systematic Review of Human Trials.”
Pennsylvania State University, College of Medicine, Department of Pharmacology: “NTI Meds to be Closely Monitored when Co-administered with Cannabinoids.”
CBD for Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that affects a person’s ability to think, feel, and behave clearly. It can cause psychotic episodes, and treatment is usually lifelong and involves antipsychotic medications with toxic side effects.
In 2012, researchers published a study in Translational Psychiatry showing that a CBD isolate can treat schizophrenia as effectively as antipsychotic pharmaceuticals — and with far fewer side effects. 1
In this study, researchers led by Markus Leweke, MD , of the University of Cologne in Germany recruited 39 people with schizophrenia who were hospitalized for a psychotic episode. Nineteen of the study participants received an antipsychotic medication called amisulpride, while the other 20 were given CBD . After four weeks, both groups significantly improved. There was no difference in psychiatric symptoms between those getting CBD or amisulpride. But those taking CBD had fewer undesirable side effects, such as weight gain and movement disorders, compared to those taking amisulpride. The authors concluded, “These results suggest that cannabidiol is as effective at improving psychotic symptoms as the standard antipsychotic amisulpride.”
CBD appears to provide antipsychotic relief by raising the levels of anandamide, an endogenous cannabinoid compound that acts on the same brain receptors as THC . Curiously, in an earlier study, Daniele Piomelli, director of the Center for the Study of Cannabis at the University of California in Irvine, discovered that people with schizophrenia had anandamide levels that were on average twice as high as mentally healthy people without the disorder. 2 Some scientists speculated that perhaps people with schizophrenia were essentially too high on elevated levels of their own endocannabinoids! But in reality, it seems that the brain actually increases anandamide levels to buffer stress and ease the symptoms of psychosis. The preponderance of evidence suggests that the higher the anandamide levels are in people with schizophrenia, the less severe their symptoms.
Atypical brain scans
More recently, in 2020, researchers from Kings College in London used fMRI scans to monitor the brain activity of 13 people with psychosis while they performed a memory test after taking CBD or a placebo and compared it to 16 people without psychosis performing the same test. Those taking placebo had different brain activity in the prefrontal and mediotemporal brain areas associated with memory than the people without psychosis. When participants who had psychosis took one dose of CBD , their brain activity becomes more like their counterparts without the disease.
CBD influences areas of the brain that have been shown to have unusual activity in people with psychosis.
“Our study provides important insight into which areas of the brain CBD targets. It is the first time research has scanned the brains of people with a diagnosis of psychosis who have taken CBD and, although the sample is small, the results are compelling in that they demonstrate that CBD influences those very areas of the brain that have been shown to have unusual activity in people with psychosis,” said the senior author on the study, Sagnik Bhattacharyya, MD , PhD. 3
Importantly, in terms of cannabis and safety, one of the biggest health concerns and stigmas about cannabis use has been the idea that it can cause psychosis in vulnerable individuals. This has never been proven. It’s worth noting that a 2012 meta-analysis published in Schizophrenia Bulletin showed that people diagnosed with schizophrenia who use cannabis function better cognitively than people with schizophrenia who do not use cannabis. 4
An excerpt from The Essential Guide to CBD by the editors of Reader’s Digest & Project CBD .
Copyright, Project CBD . May not be reprinted without permission.