What Is Marijuana Psychosis?

Reefer Madness Movie PosterMarijuana is a substance that has been widely condemned for over a century. Though it’s been cultivated and used by cultures worldwide since the beginning of recorded history, cannabis is still misunderstood by the general public. A great example of this misunderstanding is the term “marijuana psychosis,” a misleading title for a rare phenomenon. Let’s take a look at where this term comes from, and what it really means.

Origins of Marijuana Psychosis

To get a good idea of what people mean when they mention the condition, we have to look at what marijuana psychosis is not. For that, you should be familiar with a widely distributed and still-famous anti-pot propaganda film Reefer Madness. In this rollercoaster of a film, a sequence of disastrous events follows a couple who smoke some marijuana with friends.

Some of the undesirable symptoms depicted are extreme paranoia, blackouts, and wild delusions that lead to murder. The way the film is set up, these are all symptoms that can and should be expected of anyone that dares to pick up a joint; and that’s where the idea of “marijuana psychosis” originated, even though it’s highly inaccurate.

Is There a Link Between Marijuana and Long-Term Psychosis?

While the extreme and immediate effects shown in Reefer Madness are not common at all, it turns out that variations of them do exist and have been studied in real life. The thing is, there have been multiple studies that do in fact link marijuana use to the psychotic disorder schizophrenia. That being said, the exact nature of the link is yet to be pinned down.

Schoziphrenia Patient Looking in Cracked Mirror
Photo by: Photographee.eu/Shutterstock
For example, some scientists have suggested that the link exists because people who already have schizophrenia are more likely to use cannabis simply because they are attempting to self-medicate their symptoms. This certainly passes the common-sense sniff test, and at least one study has already shown that people living with schizophrenia are more likely to use drugs of all varieties.

Due to the conflicting studies, it’s just not possible to link marijuana use to long-term psychosis in any meaningful way, much as there have been no definitive studies showing marijuana to be good or bad for you.

So What Is It?

After looking at the evidence, it becomes clear that “marijuana psychosis” is not a true condition, but a small collection of temporary side effects that stem from the use of the substance. While the vast majority of pot smokers will never experience these symptoms, marijuana can trigger them in users that are predisposed to mental illness.

  1. Paranoia: This is the most well-known negative side effect of marijuana use, but it jumps to another level when occurring during a psychotic episode and may result in the sufferer harming themselves.
  2. Delusions: Normally, cannabis users are easily able to tell fact from fiction when high. Those in a psychotic state, however, may not be able to identify reality and could cause harm to themselves or others.
  3. Mood Destabilization: Cannabis is known to affect users’ moods, but it generally initiates the body’s reward circuitry, rather than causing the rapid mood swings associated with psychotic episodes.
  4. Cognitive Impairment: Someone experiencing a psychotic episode may have trouble thinking straight and performing regular tasks involving motor function.

Again, these symptoms are all simply the byproduct of a psychotic episode, not at all a representation of most people’s experience with cannabis. “Marijuana psychosis” is not a real condition, but simply a misleading scare-tactic term for the symptoms experienced by very few users, who have a predisposition to a psychotic condition in the first place.

For most of us, cannabis functions normally with our endocannabinoid systems to produce predictable effects, so unless you’ve got a family history of psychotic disorders, you shouldn’t lose much sleep over this misnomer.

Article by: Spencer Grey