Recently, researchers have sought to examine the effects of cannabis use on psychosis. Studies have been conducted that explore how cannabis use in correlation with genetic risk, childhood trauma, and existing mental health issues in childhood influences psychotic symptoms in early adulthood. However, few of these studies have tried to identify how frequency of cannabis use, resulting from childhood maltreatment, and not specifically sexual abuse, affects later psychosis. To address this issue, M. Konings of the Department of Psychiatry and Neuropsychology at the South Limburg Mental Health Research and Teaching Network of Maastricht University Medical Centre in the Netherlands conducted a study that analyzed a large pool of participants over several years. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is thought to activate psychotic responses and is a stressor. Understanding how stressors such as THC, socioeconomic disadvantage, and childhood maltreatment impact specific triggers in the brain responsible for the release of dopamine is important to address early risk factors for psychosis.
Some evidence exists that suggests that THC in combination with childhood adversity may compromise the dopamine response in adults. Therefore, Konings sought to clarify how early life challenges affected cannabis use throughout an individual’s life and, further, if the level of cannabis use resulting from childhood challenges was directly related to the level of risk for psychosis in adulthood. Konings examined data from the Greek National Perinatal Survey and the Netherlands Mental Health Survey and Incidence Study (NEMESIS), both of which were longitudinal in nature and provided information on participants’ mental health, socioeconomic conditions, childhood experiences, and cannabis use.
Konings discovered that the participants who experienced childhood maltreatment and later used cannabis did not experience a significant increased risk for psychotic symptoms. Participants who did not use cannabis and reported mild maltreatment, such as spanking, were more likely to develop psychotic symptoms if they were spanked regularly. This suggests that the participants who used cannabis to cope with childhood adversities and challenges were desensitized to other stressors that could make them more vulnerable to psychosis. However, existing animal research indicates that increased cannabis use does increase the risk for psychotic symptoms. Konings said, “The current finding suggests that the psychosis-inducing effects of cannabis are moderated by early experience of maltreatment, suggesting cross-sensitization between stress and cannabis in shaping risk of psychotic outcomes.” Konings added more research is needed to determine how the strength of cannabis and frequency of its use affects psychotic symptom development.
Konings, M., Stefanis, N., Kuepper, R., De Graaf, R., Ten Have, M. Replication in Two Independent Population-based Samples That Childhood Maltreatment and Cannabis Use Synergistically Impact on Psychosis Risk. Psychological Medicine 42.1 (2012): 149-59. Print.
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