While not a disorder itself, psychosis is characterized by a set of symptoms of mental illnesses. These symptoms result in strange or bizarre thinking, uncommon perceptions of sight and sound, actions, and emotions. Psychosis’ severity is improved (or worsened) by environmental factors, including drug use and stress. Though the National Institute of Mental Health notes that, while there is no concrete number of people who experience their first episode of psychosis each year, incidence data from other countries suggest that roughly 100,000 Americans experience their first onset of psychosis annually. While there is currently no one cure for psychosis, researchers have recently found that CBD can improve psychosis symptoms by impacting three areas of the brain.

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How CBD is Thought to Improve Symptoms of Psychosis

Researchers at King’s College London have found that 600mg of an oral dose of CBD can improve the onset of psychosis. The small study included 33 participants who were experiencing psychosis symptoms and a group of participants who were not exhibiting signs of psychosis; the latter served as the control group. Participants who were experiencing symptoms of psychosis were given a single 600 mg oral dose of CBD, while the other half was given a placebo, and the control was not given any drug or placebo. Once administered, each participant took part in a verbal paired associate (VPA) learning task that sought to engage three brain regions that are known to be impaired at the onset of psychosis.

During this memory task, each participant underwent an fMRI to scan for abnormal activity in the brain. While researchers noted that healthy individuals’ brain scans revealed no abnormalities—and those experiencing psychosis symptoms did—they also found that the group that had received CBD had less severe abnormalities than those in the group who received a placebo.

“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,” said Dr. Bhattacharyya of the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College. “Our results have started unravelling the brain mechanisms of a new drug that works in a completely different way to traditional anti-psychotics.”

“There is an urgent need for a safe treatment for young people at risk of psychosis. 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. 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.”

Though the study shows promising results, the size and methodology contributed to its limitations. Researchers also recognized that they can’t say with definity that CBD’s impact on participants wasn’t just short-lived; they admit that it is unclear whether or not the effects will be long-lasting. However, researchers have already begun a larger study with the intent of replicating these results.