Cannabis extract helps reset brain function in psychosis

Cannabis extract helps reset brain function in psychosis
Red/yellow areas show activity in the caudate, a brain area affected in people with psychosis. Credit: King's College London

Research from King's College London has found that a single dose of the cannabis extract cannabidiol can help reduce brain function abnormalities seen in people with psychosis. Results from a new MRC-funded trial, published in JAMA Psychiatry, provide the first evidence of how cannabidiol acts in the brain to reduce psychotic symptoms.

Cannabidiol, also referred to as CBD, is a non-intoxicating compound found in cannabis. A purified form of has recently been licensed in the USA as a for rare childhood epilepsies, and a 2017 King's College London trial has demonstrated cannabidiol has anti-psychotic properties.

However, exactly how cannabidiol may work in the brain to alleviate has remained a mystery.

"The mainstay of current treatment for people with psychosis are drugs that were first discovered in the 1950s and unfortunately do not work for everyone," says Dr. Sagnik Bhattacharyya, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN). "Our results have started unravelling the brain mechanisms of a new drug that works in a completely different way to traditional anti-psychotics."

The researchers studied a group of 33 who had not yet been diagnosed with psychosis but who were experiencing distressing psychotic symptoms, along with 19 healthy controls. A single dose of cannabidiol was given to 16 participants while the other 17 received a placebo.

All participants were studied in an MRI scanner while performing a memory task which engages three regions of the brain known to be involved in psychosis.

As expected, the brain activity in the participants at risk of psychosis was abnormal compared to the healthy participants. However, among those who had cannabidiol, the abnormal brain activity was less severe than for those who received a placebo, suggesting cannabidiol can help re-adjust to normal levels.

The influence of cannabidiol on these three regions could underlie its therapeutic effects on .

Intriguingly, previous research from King's College London shows cannabidiol appears to work in opposition to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC); the ingredient in cannabis responsible for getting users high which has been strongly linked to the development of psychosis. THC can be thought of as mimicking some of the effects of psychosis, while cannabidiol has broadly opposite neurological and behavioural effects.

Dr. Bhattacharyya and colleagues at IoPPN are now launching the first large scale, multi-centre trial to investigate whether cannabidiol can be used to treat young people at high risk of developing psychosis. The trial is supported by a £1.85 million grant from an NIHR and MRC partnership.

Some estimates suggest that in England alone, over 15,000 people present with early symptoms of psychosis every year. Despite symptoms that can be extremely severe, there are currently no treatments that can be offered to patients at high risk of psychosis because current anti-psychotic drugs can have serious side-effects.

"There is an urgent need for a safe treatment for young people at risk of psychosis," says Dr. Bhattacharyya. "One of the main advantages of cannabidiol is that it is safe and seems to be very well tolerated, making it in some ways an ideal treatment. If successful, this trial will provide definitive proof of cannabidiol's role as an antipsychotic treatment and pave the way for use in the clinic."

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An ingredient in cannabis may be useful for treating psychosis – new study

More information: JAMA Psychiatry (2018). DOI: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.2309
Journal information: JAMA Psychiatry

Citation: Cannabis extract helps reset brain function in psychosis (2018, August 29) retrieved 17 September 2019 from
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Aug 29, 2018
To the extent of decreasing abnormal behavior in the brain by simply deadening all activity in the brain, this is not necessarily a benefit. Note that the article doesn't indicate how well normal functioning parts of the individuals' brains behaved under the effect of the drug! Basically, a lobotomy could "help" if that was wanted to was to end misbehaving of certain parts of the brain, but no attention was paid to proper behaving of some or all of the brain.
Note, also, the title states specifically that the extract "helps reset brain function in psychosis", but, in fact, the "researchers" only tested those "who had not yet been diagnosed with psychosis"! The title can lead cursory readers and those only looking for something that seems to say what they want, that marijuana will cure psychosis.

Aug 29, 2018
JP- You have no idea what you are talking about. You are making ridiculously false equivalences by comparing a single molecule to a lobotomy, and have in other comments compared marijuana to opioids. You have this idea that everyone should live their lives according to your strictures and oppose anything that undermines your narrow concept of what it is to be human. My daughter has epilepsy and CBD is far more effective and less dangerous than any other anti-seizure med out there. Please take your narrow-mindedness somewhere else.

Aug 29, 2018
He thinks cannabidiol is THC.

Aug 29, 2018
He thinks cannabidiol is THC.

Not even THC does what he claims CBD is doing.

Aug 29, 2018
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Aug 29, 2018
To the extent of decreasing abnormal behavior in the brain by simply deadening all activity in the brain, this is not necessarily a benefit.

What a surprise, the person who thinks that sinus infections are caused by a lack of faith in God has no idea what he/she is talking about.

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