Researchers at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience conducted a new medical trial that found that cannabis compound cannabidiol or CBD can ease symptoms associated with psychosis. These symptoms include hearing voices, hallucinations, paranoia, and delusions, depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, suspiciousness, very little sleep or way too much sleep, withdrawal from family and friends, and disorganized speech.
Psychosis is a mental health condition that is characterized by an impaired sense of reality, hallucinated visions or voices, or by delusions where a person as strong yet unfounded beliefs.
The British study, which is considered to be the first clinical trial that explores the effects of CBD, involved more than 80 patients from the U.K., Poland, and Romania, who were either given CBD or placebo on top of their usual medication for a period of six weeks. The researchers assessed how bad the patients’ symptoms were before the treatment and after. Their overall mental state was also evaluated by a psychiatrist.
Results of the treatment showed that patients who were given CBD possess lower levels of psychotic symptoms compared to those who were given placebo. According to the study, which was published in American Journal of Psychiatry, the patients were also more likely to be have been evaluated by their psychiatrist as “improved.”
The CBD-treated patients also shows signs of better cognitive performance, but this was not significant statistically.
While the improvements observed were modest, patients still had to use their antipsychotic medication in order to clearly show that CBD can offer added benefits above conventional treatment.
According to the study’s lead researcher, Professor Philip McGuire, using CBD in treating psychosis was also not associated with significant side effects. He added that this finding was important because concerns about side effects make patients reluctant about taking any anti-psychotic medication.
McGuire pointed out that how CBD works in this case is still unclear, but the substance surely acts differently from other anti-psychotic medication. This means that CBD may represent a whole new class of treatment.
Traditional anti-psychosis medication
For over six decades, anti-psychotic drugs have been used as first-line treatment. However, they have also been linked to serious side effects, including heart attack. Their effectiveness has also been questioned.
McGuire explained that conventional drugs act by blocking the biological receptors for dopamine. This mood-altering chemical, however, is not the only neurotransmitter adversely altered in psychosis. In fact, in some patients, dopamine even functions normally.
According to McGuire, there is a need for new classes of treatment targeting different neurotransmitter systems – not just dopamine. He said that larger trials are also needed in order to confirm the findings of their study in other patient groups.