Cannabis Use Increases Psychosis in Sexual Abuse Survivors

The development of psychosis can be the result of a traumatic childhood event. Sexual abuse is one factor that has been shown to increase the likelihood of psychosis. Emerging research is suggesting that cannabis use is another factor that significantly increases the risk for psychotic symptoms. However, there is little research devoted to examining how early sexual trauma and cannabis use influence each other and an individual’s risk for psychosis later in life. J. E. Houston of the Division of Psychology at Nottingham Trent University in the U.K. wanted to find out how these two distinct experiences would affect one’s chances of developing psychosis. Houston recently led a study that examined information from 7,403 individuals who participated in the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey of 2007. Specifically, Houston and a team of researchers looked at individuals who had experienced a sexual trauma or sexual abuse prior to the age of 16. Additionally, participants who used cannabis before age 16 were also identified.

For the study, the team asked questions that were related to sexual abuse to determine if the participants had been talked to in a sexually explicit way, touched, or forced to have nonconsensual sex prior to reaching the age of 16. They also identified which participants had used cannabis during their early teen years. The results of the analysis revealed that the participants who had experienced both cannabis use and sexual trauma before the age of 16 were almost 7 times more likely to develop psychosis later in life than individuals who had never used cannabis or been the victim of abuse. Those who had never used cannabis but were survivors of sexual abuse were six times more likely to exhibit psychotic symptoms than nonusing individuals with no history of abuse. The researchers believe that these findings are significant and should be examined more closely. “Future studies examining the effect of cannabis consumption on psychosis should adjust analyses for childhood trauma.” Houston added, “Childhood trauma may advance existing gene-environment conceptualizations of the cannabis-psychosis link.”

Houston, J. E., Murphy, J., Shevlin, M., Adamson, G. Cannabis Use and Psychosis: Re-visiting the Role of Childhood Trauma. Psychological Medicine 41.11 (2011): 2339-348. Print.

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Jillian


    February 8th, 2012 at 5:12 AM

    For many smoking pot seems to be an escape for them, a way to forget about stuff going on in their daily lives. But it sounds like for some who have experienced abuse at the hands of others that this is not sucha good idea. I am not one who necessarily thinks that marijuana should be illegal- it seems harmless enough to me. But if you have some other issues maybe you should think twice before firing up and consider some other forms of treatment, like real therapy, to help you move on and not just mask the things going on.

  • Allyson


    February 8th, 2012 at 12:39 PM

    I’m a medical marijuana user and as much as I wish marijuana was decriminalized or even legalized all over, I hate to hear about or see kids smoke MJ. Some things and indulgences are for adults and it should remain that way. Kids have no business in ‘experimenting’ with MJ and eventually ending up giving it a bad name!

  • a24z


    February 9th, 2012 at 10:00 AM

    whats worse is that some abuse survivors could be using it as a coping thing without knowing that it could actually be making things worse for them!

  • Dan Ford

    Dan Ford

    February 13th, 2012 at 2:17 AM

    Moderator please note this is an amended version giving extra detail over my first draft which I inadvertently posted in error. Please will you delete that previous comment and post this one instead. Probably a good idea to remove this preamble as well. Many Thanks.
    Sorry but I have to say that I think this is a highly alarmist and biased report that leaves out a lot of very important detail. The two primary active Cannabinoids in Cannabis are THC and CBD- which is a very strong ANTI-PSYCHOTIC agent. The immature Cannabis grown under clandestine conditions is often very lacking in CBD which is why those looking to it as a medicine occasionally, very occasionally, run into problems if they are already predisposed to mental health conditions. This is a very compelling reason why, for medical use especially, it is imperative to get this highly beneficial plant out in the open, with a legal supply chain to permit medical users and consenting adults to use it, whilst keeping it out of the hands of the black market who have no qualms about supplying it to children.

    I myself do use Cannabis for medical reasons, as outlined in this article. I have used it since about age 19.I have severe muscular spasms in my back passage and upwards into the colon, not only extremely painful but when an attack strikes it renders me completely immobile. Cannabis relieves this within a few seconds when used in a vapouriser and I get day-long protection when I use it regularly each evening taken orally in a cake or chocolate drink. I also suffer from severe nightmares, both sleeping and waking, which have occurred since I was ten. The Cannabis stops these.
    Thinking about what a24z said “What’s worse is that some abuse survivors could be using it as a coping thing without knowing that it could actually be making things worse for them!” well I appreciate your concern but I have never had any harm from it in decades of use. I appreciate there may a small percentage of those attempting to use it as a medicine who will experience no benefits or even a negative result, but when you weigh this against the frequent negative results, and even death, which arise from the use of prescribed pharmaceuticals it can be seen that Cannabis is an effective and relatively safe drug to use.

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