In the push for cannabis legalization, the link between cannabis and schizophrenia sometimes enters the discussion. Many fear that cannabis increases risk for developing schizophrenia, while others declare its value in helping relieve symptoms of the condition. But what does the research say about the role of cannabis in developing—and potentially treating—schizophrenia?

What Is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia refers to a group of conditions in which brain function is so impaired that sufferers lose touch with reality. It affects over 7.5 million adults in the United States, usually starting in their early 20s for men and slightly later in life for women.

Psychosis isn’t the only defining feature of schizophrenia. The condition is a complex syndrome characterized by a range of symptoms that fall into positive, negative, and cognitive categories. Positive symptoms are the delusions, hallucinations, and disorganized speech that characterize psychosis and are associated with losing touch from reality. Pharmaceutical treatments for schizophrenia, called antipsychotic medications, target these positive symptoms.

Traditional pharmaceutical treatments, though, do little to treat negative symptoms such as a flat emotional state, a struggle to feel pleasure, and a lack of motivation to engage socially. They also fail to improve cognitive deficits, often leaving patients with impaired attention, memory, and problem-solving abilities.

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