Canadian Health Charity Warns of Increase in Cannabis-Induced Mental Health Problems

The Schizophrenia Society of Canada says more and more people are seeking help for cannabis-induced psychosis.
Canadian Health Charity Warns of Increase in Cannabis-Induced Mental Health Problems

Over the past five years or so, Canadian healthcare workers have noticed an increase in so-called “cannabis-induced psychosis” among Canadians. According to data collected by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, 723 people across the country (excluding Ontario and Quebec) received hospital treatment for cannabis-induced psychosis in 2017. In 2012, that number was just 373. And now that cannabis is legal for adults across Canada, one health charity says it expects a dramatic uptick in cases of cannabis-induced psychosis.

For years, researchers have debated the cause-and-effect relationships between cannabis use and psychiatric health. Data is out there showing that chronic cannabis use, especially high-potency products, can cause acute adverse effects like bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia. But these reactions tend to occur in individuals who already have an inherited predisposition to mental illness. And just as the causes of mental illness can be as elusive as they are difficult to treat, the connections between cannabis use and mental health disorders are not well understood.

But chief executive of the Schizophrenia Society of Canada (SSC) Chris Summerville says the evidence is in how many people use his charity’s services for cannabis-related mental health problems. Summerville told CTVNews that he sees more and more young people seeking out services from mental health charities like SSC. Furthermore, Summerville told reporters that SSC expects to see more Canadians seeking mental health support now that cannabis is legal.

Clinical Uncertainties Cloud Debates About Cannabis and Psychosis

Despite the numerous reports and studies on the effects of cannabis use, large-scale, high-quality research is lacking. Federal prohibition has stymied significant strides in the United States. But Canadian researchers have had greater access to population data. And in general, the consensus among Canadian health professionals is that chronic cannabis use increases one’s risk of developing mental health problems. They just don’t know exactly how or why, which means the scientific community is of two minds about whether legal access to cannabis will cause more psychosis.

Indeed, the end of prohibition may simply be encouraging more cannabis consumers to openly seek mental health support and treatment. Research has demonstrated that those with bi-polar diagnoses most commonly abuse cannabis, for example. At the same time, it’s unclear exactly how mental healthcare workers make a determination that a particular disorder is cannabis-induced. According to the SSC, impaired thinking and lack of motivation, not just a break with reality, delusions or hallucinations, qualifies as psychosis. In other words, “cannabis-induced” is often a vague and not exactly clinical designation.

Nevertheless, rates of mental health problems and psychosis are on the rise. And it is important to understand how cannabis use can both contribute to and help to ameliorate those problems. But it is also important to make sure that legalized cannabis does not become a convenient scapegoat for a complex and imperfectly understood problem. Neither, however, should anyone brush off an interest in learning about cannabis’ health risks as just concern trolling.

Excessive, high-potency cannabis use can increase the risk of harm to developing brains and young people already at risk of mental health issues. Educating cannabis consumers, especially young adults about these risks is key to reducing the harm they can cause.

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