About 21 million people globally suffer from schizophrenia, with males being more affected than females. The three cardinal signs of this mental disorder are delusions, hallucinations, and catatonia (abnormal body movements). The symptoms may vary from mild at the start to severe and debilitating as the condition progresses. Without adequate treatment patients may not be able to form meaningful relationships or lead productive lives.
The causes of schizophrenia are unknown, though genetic and physical factors are cited as possible etiologies while psychological factors are considered possible triggers for schizophrenic episodes.
Traditionally, schizophrenia has been managed using antipsychotics. First generation antipsychotics such as haloperidol, chlorpromazine, and fluphenazine are associated with severe side effects such as tardive dyskinesia (movement disorder) which may not be reversible. Newer generation antipsychotics such as amisulpride, clozapine, asenapine, and olanzapine cause less severe side effects.
The side effects of traditional antipsychotics negatively affect compliance with treatment. This has caused a need to seek for safer treatment alternatives that offer commensurate if not greater efficacy. Is CBD an option?
Cannabidiol, aka CBD, has been investigated as a potential treatment for various medical conditions including seizures, chronic pain, nausea and cachexia, sleep disorders, and anxiety disorders among others. A handful of researchers have explored CBD as a potential treatment for schizophrenia.
In 2012, a group of researchers from the University of Cologne in Germany investigated the safety and effectiveness of CBD in the treatment of schizophrenia as they also compared CBD to Amisulpride (2nd generation antipsychotic).
39 schizophrenic patients with a history of at least psychotic episode that warranted admission were included in the study. Half the group were put on Amisulpride while the other half were started on CBD treatment.
In a period of four weeks, participants from both groups showed significant improvement in their symptoms with no observable difference between the two groups. When it came to the safety profile, participants in the CBD exhibited fewer side effects. This led the researchers to conclude that “either treatment was safe and led to significant clinical improvement, but cannabidiol displayed a markedly superior side-effect profile.”
CBD Increases Anandamide Levels
First generation antipsychotics work by blocking dopamine receptors while second generation antipsychotics may block both dopamine and serotonin receptors. CBD, on the other hand, appears to work through a different mechanism.
Patients with acute forms of schizophrenia usually have elevated levels of anandamide which is an endogenous cannabinoid. Anandamide is a neurotransmitter that is located primarily in the brain and is referred to as the bliss molecule.
Why would patients with acute schizophrenia have higher levels of anandamide?
Initially it was believed that acute episodes of schizophrenia were as a result of the brain getting “high” on anandamide. However, research has revealed the lack of substantive truth in this theory. If anything, the reverse is true.
Here is the thing.
When a patient is having a schizophrenic episode the brain responds by increasing anandamide levels to reverse the situation. In other words, the endocannabinoid system (ECS) is triggered to restore a state of homeostasis and it does this by increasing anandamide levels. Consequently, higher levels of anandamide have been linked to fewer symptoms of schizophrenia.
The researchers from the University of Cologne established a similar relationship with CBD. CBD boosts the levels of anandamide in the brain and hence reduces schizophrenia symptoms. This research has highlighted the safety and efficacy of CBD in treating schizophrenia. It also highlights an alternative pathway for the treatment of schizophrenia.