Marijuana compound could be used to treat psychosis in young people
A compound found in marijuana could soon be tested on young Australians to prevent and treat psychosis after European research suggested it could treat schizophrenia with fewer side effects than other drugs.
As state and federal governments face increasing calls for the legalisation of medicinal cannabis, leading psychiatrist and mental health advocate Patrick McGorry said one part of the drug was showing promise as an anti-psychotic medicine.
The director of Orygen Youth Health Research Centre said while tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in cannabis was widely thought to be dangerous and increase the risk of psychosis in about 10 per cent to 20 per cent of people, another component – cannabidiol (CBD) – appeared to relieve psychosis, depression and anxiety.
He said his team was hoping to trial pharmaceutical CBD in young people showing signs of early psychosis to see how it compared to other antipsychotic medications, which often cause undesirable side effects.
“There’s been a lot more concern in recent times about antipsychotic medication. Obviously it’s really effective, but the longer term side effects are worrying people, especially weight gain and metabolic problems, so the ethical climate has changed a bit,” Professor McGorry said.
“People are willing to try more experimental treatments that have got some promise and cannabidiol is definitely one of those.”
Professor McGorry said he planned to apply for funding to start a trial soon and expected no major ethical hurdles.
In 2009, German researchers published a double-blind, controlled study of 42 patients with acute paranoid schizophrenia in the journal European Psychiatry. It showed that CBD worked just as well as the antipsychotic drug, amisulpride, at reducing psychotic symptoms over four weeks and caused “significantly less side effects”.
Professor McGorry said the research suggested there were good and bad parts of cannabis, which should not be confused. He said he and his colleagues regularly advised young people not to use cannabis because of the risks it posed to their health. If a trial of CBD was set up, it would only involve that component of the drug in a pharmaceutical form.
“We’re definitely not saying smoke dope to treat psychosis,” he said.
Director of the University of NSW’s National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre Jan Copeland said CBD was a “very interesting part of the complex cannabis chemistry” that does not get people stoned, but rather appears to balance the effects of THC, which makes some people anxious.
She said there was a small, but growing number of studies suggesting CBD relieved psychosis, anxiety and insomnia, and that her team was trialling it in about 10 people withdrawing from cannabis use to see if it helped them through the process.
But Professor Copeland said people should not try to source CBD in street-based cannabis because tests on seized portions of the drug in NSW showed it contained virtually no CBD.
“It has high levels of THC, around 15 per cent now, but almost no CBD … so it’s definitely not the same thing as smoking cannabis,” she said.
Professor Copeland said she supported more studies of CBD for people with early-stage psychosis and hoped it would lead to more treatments for people who want to withdraw from street cannabis use.
“There are no evidence-based treatments for that group at the moment and there is a very substantial proportion of those people who present with psychosis and schizophrenia,” she said.
The story Marijuana compound could be used to treat psychosis in young people first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.