Evaluating the Evidence: Cannabis and Psychosis, Part II


As promised, I am back with more of the analysis. Before I jump into the findings, I do want to let you know I have been ruminating a bit about the issue of cannabis testing. 

To attempt to state my thoughts succinctly here, until we start testing the cannabis that patients in these types of studies are using, we won’t be doing good science. Granted, we know that THC is responsible for many of the side and and adverse effects of cannabis, but to state that the issue with the cannabis is that it has become so high in THC% is far too reductionistic. There is no specific proof that this one cannabinoid alone is the issue when it comes to the relationship between cannabis and new onset of psychosis. The researchers did state that they opted not to test patients’ cannabis because it provides only a snapshot of a moment of cannabis use in the person’s history.

However, relying on reports of what cannabis is available in the area, because it still in my mind, when I think of the wide variety of cannabis strains available, leaves too much of a gap in getting a handle on what patients are actually consuming. Cannabis is a complex plant with over 500 chemicals, but a few simple tests could provide a wealth of information when it comes to determining if high potency THC cannabis truly does play a role in onset of psychosis, or if something else is going on here.

If a similar study were run again, I would suggest testing the actual cannabis that these psychosis patients had used. Those tests should minimally include the cannabinoid and terpene profiles, in addition to testing for heavy metals and pesticides. While this would have some associated costs, it may at least let the researchers know if the profile of the last cannabis used, which could be very enlightening.

Another consideration with testing cannabis: there is a long history of concern when it comes to the role of heavy metal ingestion and the onset of psychiatric symptoms (Attademo , Bernardini , Garinella , & Compton 2017; .Orisakwe, 2014 ). Cannabis plants can easily become contaminated with heavy metals when grown in soils containing heavy metals. Pesticides can also contaminate cannabis, and the consideration of pesticides as both endocrine disruptors and a possible contributing factor to schizophrenia/.psychosis has also been researched over the years (Maqbool F1, Mostafalou S2, Bahadar H3, Abdollahi M4,, , 2016). What if what we really need to regulate or worry about is not the cannabis plant and THC potency so much as what contaminants are in the plant? In my thought process, this really becomes an ethical question of what we are researching, and what might actually bring harm to patients and vulnerable populations. One of the issues around the end of cannabis prohibition and the beginning of regulation of cannabis should be that people have access to a an herbal medicine that is tested and safe, so people know what they are consuming. Beneficence and autonomy come to mind.

This would encourage cleaner product to be produced and help support people with their own healing quests and/or help them to be a more informed consumer. While I don’t particularly care to draw analogies to alcohol (which comes with its own costly public health concerns namely that alcohol is potentially deadly and cannabis is not), imagine buying alcohol without knowing how strong it is, what is really in it, and so forth. Remember the days of prohibition of alcohol and all of the issues with people making “moonshine”?

And now I will continue to look at the findings. 

Participants: Theres seems to be a good split between male/female, with the median age of 36 for control and 31 for case. The median age coupled with the wide range of ages (18-64) included in the study was just a bit concerning, because we know that first time psychosis tends to happen in the early-mid 20’s. The vast majority of all participants were white with at least some college or vocational training and full time employment. It was also clear between case and control, there was much more use of cigarettes, cannabis, and other “drugs” (stimulants, hallucinogens, ketamine, etc) by the case group. Alcohol was not included the summary data table, but in the body of text it states there no difference in alcohol consumption amongst the case vs control groups. And this points to another issue, that it’s really hard to control these types of studies, because most people who are using “drugs” tend to use many different types of substances and it is hard to determine which is having the impact, particularly as we know their can be short term and long term implications. I began to question the issue of poly substance abuse perhaps being a greater issue here then just looking at the % of THC in cannabis, and that lead me to this research….

The International Early Psychosis Association published research by Neilsen et al (2016) that found that alcohol, cannabis, and other drugs increase risk for developing schizophrenia later in life. This was a large retrospective study with the Danish population. The full paper can be accessed here: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/1d58/2eaad2f2f9b61f5952f2ecf696bb81a55c7e.pdf Actually, as I ruminate and dig deeper into the Neilsen et al study, I discover it’s having the diagnosis of substance abuse that is correlated with the risk for being diagnosed with schizophrenia 6 fold.  Indeed both cannabis and alcohol greatly increased the risk for diagnosis, but Neilsen et al are careful to state that they cannot say alcohol and substance abuse caused the schizophrenia.

Let’s keep in mind with the study being analyzed DiForti et al (hopefully you aren’t getting lost as I move between the primary study and supporting studies I have included!) also found in their population that most people who have a substance abuse disorder do not use one substance alone. In fact the case participants in most of the drug categories used nearly twice as much as the control groups. So is poly substance abuse a factor here? 

And that brings me to my next thought: Self-medicating. I don’t see this addressed at all in this article, but were the participants asked about why they used cannabis? Seeing as most people with  psychosis have at least 1 year of symptoms prior to being diagnosed with the new onset psychosis, during that time they may be self-medicating or abusing many different substances. My mind starts to question: What if cannabis is actually helping them manage their symptoms, and they would actually would be worse off without it?

And then I come along this little article, that although it’s not in a peer reviewed journal, it clearly explains a possible link between THC, reduction in glutamate, lowered NMDA, weakened CB1 receptors, dopamine receptor D2 being elevated….all this comes together to create hypersensitivity in the limbic system, which may create an environment where schizophrenia could occur.  I didn’t see any of this info in the article be analyzed, f I missed it, somebody let me know! There is conflicting research on whether CBD might help with schizophrenia as it changes/modulates CB1 receptors, but we can ‘t forget that CBD % is an important consideration when looking at cannabis plant profiles. https://www.leafly.com/news/health/link-between-cannabis-and-schizophrenia

The leafy article also linked me out to another article looking at causation between cannabis use and psychosis. The authors Louise Arseneault (a1), Mary Cannon (a2), John Witton (a3) and Robin M. Murray

in their meta analysis of five other research articles found that while youthful cannabis use may create a two fold  a risk factor for psychosis, and may be responsible for up to 8% of the worlds schizophrenia diagnoses, it also is just one part of a “complex constellation of factors”, and of course vulnerable youth should avoid use of cannabis. 

What if people with mental health issues find some relief, for some period of time, from cannabis, that they don’t find from other medications or activities? Why are there so few qualitative studies around cannabis use and self-medication? And why do we have such a stigma associated with self-medication, in much the same we have a stigma around being diagnosed with a mental health issue? The questions go on and on in my mind. 

Overall Findings: Okay, let’s get down to the meat of the findings here. The statistical analysis seem logical and well run (I am not a statistician, in fact I found a statistician to work with as I am doing my own quantitive study on an unrelated topic at this time.).  

Simply stated, the findings correlate starting use of cannabis before age 15, using high potency cannabis (>10% THC), and  daily use as seeming to have the greatest correlation to psychosis (keep in mind causation is not proven here, and almost all of the case participants had also indulged in other substance use at much higher rates than the control group, the issue of possible contamination of ingested cannabis, the lack of knowledge around the full cannabinoid and terpene profile of the cannabis used, and so on). 

Conclusions: For me personally, this study did little to change my mind about cannabis and its safety profile, nor change my overall thoughts on safe use of cannabis, including the idea that cannabis should likely not be used recreationally by young people in their teens and early 20’s.

For most people using cannabis medicinally,  a high potency THC cannabis is likely not needed, but having safe tested cannabis helps people to make informed decisions about the quality of cannabis they are ingesting and the amount of THC they are consuming. High potency THC cannabis or escalating doses of THC may indeed be risky for some people, most likely young people, those with a predisposition to addiction or history of familial psychosis episodes, those with childhood trauma, those with familial history of substance abuse, and those who currently are poly- substance users. 

  • Avoid using cannabis (and really all “drugs” and alcohol) until one is in the mid-20’s and the brain is well developed. This does not account for the idea that teens will use substances, so I would say avoid poly-substance use, and cannabis is still generally safer than alcohol (psychosis risks aside). Alcohol is far more readily available for teens to access, also it too is a significant risk factor for psychosis (and of course immediate death if one becomes extremely intoxicated….you can’t die from cannabis ingestion).
  • Use tested cannabis that is free from heavy metals, pesticides, fungus, and mold.
  • Know the potency of the cannabis medicine you are using. Avoid long term use of “high potency THC cannabis”, or better yet know your THC consumption in mg and limit it to 15 mg max/ day (divided into TID doses), balanced with CBD (up to 20 mg/ day) and terpenes from whole plant medicine (MacCallum & Russo, 2018). 
  • Take regular cannabis breaks (for the recreational user,  avoid daily use and avoid regular use of high potency THC strains; for the medicinal user, consider working with your healthcare provider to determine what a break schedule might look for you, and use lower THC strains if they are still effective at managing symptoms). The website www.healer.com has great info about dosing. 
  • Medicinal users of cannabis: start low, go slow with the THC dosing. One does not need to be “high” in order to feel relief of symptoms, and with cannabis being a biphasic medication, sometimes less is more. For specific dosing guidance, see MacCallum & Russo (2018). 
  • For researchers: as prohibition ends and we move toward an era of regulation, let’s find ways to create the best body of evidence available when it comes to the benefits and risks associated with this herbal medication. Let’s base our public policy and educational efforts in sound science. Let’s not jump from correlation to causation, which means we will have to approach the study of this plant with a complexity lens. 

 

References:

 Arseneault, L.  (a1), Cannon, M.,  (a2), Witton, J.  (a3) & Murray, R.M. (a4 .

(2004). Causal association between cannabis and psychosis: Examination of the evidence. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 184(2), 110-117. https://doi.org/10.1192/bjp.184.2.110

Attademo L1, Bernardini F2, Garinella R3, & Compton MT4.(2017). Environmental pollution and risk of psychotic disorders. Schizophrenia Research, 18, 55-59.

MacCallum, C.A.. & Russo, E.B. (2018). Practical considerations in medical cannabis administration and dosing. European Journal of Internal Medicine, 49 , 12–19.

(Maqbool F1, Mostafalou S2, Bahadar H3, Abdollahi M4,, ,(2016). Review of endocrine disorders associated with environmental toxicants and possible involved mechanisms. Life Sciences, 145, 265-273. 

Nielsen, S.M., Toftdahl, N.G., Nordentoft, M., & Hjorthoj, C. (2016). Association between alcohol, cannabis, and other illicit substance abuse and the risk of developing schizophrenia: A nationwide population based register study. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/1d58/2eaad2f2f9b61f5952f2ecf696bb81a55c7e.pdf

Orisakwe O. E. (2014). The role of lead and cadmium in psychiatry. North American journal of medical sciences, 6(8), 370-6.

Breaking: Report of new study on nurses and the media!


The original Woodhull Study raised awareness that the voices and perspectives of nurses, the nation’s largest group of health professionals, were largely invisible. Twenty years later, researchers revisited that landmark study on May 8, 2018, to determine whether nurses’ representation has improved or remained static.  Sadly the outcome shows the situation is worse – but also revealed keys to changing this going forward.  For more information, go here.  Watch for our “Inspiration for Activism” feature coming tomorrow of Diana Mason, leader of the study team!

Jo Ann Ashley 1939-1980


# 2 “Inspiration for Activism”

  • Leading voice in nursing for 2nd wave feminism
  • Author of landmark book “Hospitals, Paternalism and the Role of the

    Jo Ann Ashley

    Nurse” uncovering the history of gender and class bias in healthcare

  • Advocate for nurses to claim the right to control our own practice, to demand safe working conditions, to practice to the full extent of our education, and to fight for economic justice.

More information:

Jo Ann Ashley papers, 1942-1980. (n.d.). Retrieved February 15, 2018, from http://dla.library.upenn.edu/cocoon/dla/ead/ead.html?fq=donor_facet%3A%22Ashley%2C%20Jewell%22&id=EAD_upenn_bates_MC115&

Kagan, P. N. (2006). Jo Ann Ashley 30 years later: legacy for practice. Nursing Science Quarterly, 19(4), 317–327. https://doi.org/10.1177/0894318406293121

Wolf, K. (Ed.). (1997). Jo Ann Ashley: Selected Readings. Jones & Bartlett Learning. Retrieved from https://market.android.com/details?id=book-242diP_sDdkC

View Video

On September 2, 1976, WNED public television in Buffalo, New York, produced a segment as part of their “Woman” Series titled “New Image for Nurses: Part 1“. This episode featured a conversation with Jo Ann Ashley, Ph. D., June Rothberg, Ph.D.,  and Jean Spero, Ph.D.Dr. Ashley was an Associate Professor of Nursing at Northern Illinois University. She was also on the board of trustees of NCAP (Nurses Coalition for Action in Politics) at the time of the interview. Dr. Rothberg was Dean of the School of Nursing at Adelphi University. She was a co-founder of NCAP and the immediate past president of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Dr. Spero was Dean of the School of Nursing at the State University of New York at Buffalo. She was Chair of the Board of Review of Baccalaureate and Higher Degree Programs of the National League for Nursing.

The video portrays Jo Ann’s fiesty and courageous personality!  She was fearless in speaking the truth. The archive video is available here. 

The Call for Community, Art, and Artists in the Resistance Movement


This week, members of the Nurse Manifest Team gathered together by the warmth of our computer screens for engaging video conference. We took the time to welcome some new members and talk about the future of the movement. I have to say for me, being with like minded #NurseResisters was so energizing (even though I have been suffering through a bout of the flu this week!) and also very comforting.

It’s important for #NurseResisters to remember we are not alone and to gather those around us during these challenging times: when change seems to be happening at a rapid pace, when social media pages are filled with what resisters might find to be concerning or bad governmental news, when there are 10 things you would like to take action on, but you can’t be on the phone all day….it can become easy to become discouraged, overwhelmed, or burned out. This is where truly being with a like minded community can lift your spirits and buoy your endurance.

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And endurance is what we will need. I know right now it sometimes feel like a sprint…get out there and get things done now, get to this march, make your signs, write your emails and postcards, get on the phone….because the administration has been creating changes at a rapid pace, the media and social media have been bumping up our energy, and we feel drawn to create change now.

The thing is, this is not a sprint and it’s not a solo race…it’s more like a team based marathon or ultra-marathon, and it is going to take teams of like minded community members to both participate in and complete the race.

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Individual Sprint

Versus

Team Marathon

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We need to carry lights, march together through the dark night with our nightingale lamps, and strive toward unity. There is no clear finish line, and no medals for winners, second, and third place. There is a beautiful planet and population of people that need caring for and this endurance test is in part about not giving up that vision of a caring, compassionate, kind, peaceful, unified, and spirit filled world.

I suggest other #NurseResisters start gathering with your communities in real life or as we did last week, in real time via video or phone conferencing. Set aside thoughtful, meaningful time to be together, to discuss future actions, and also to just support one another, to laugh together, to share your stories. Communities can rejuvenate and recharge us, and they are a must for folks who plan to run the long race.

I also did want to share that part of our discussion last week focused on the use of humor, satire, parody, art, and music to support and gather people together. Saturday Night live is becoming a great example of the power of humor, parody, and satire to help us lighten our load, to help us rejuvenate, to connect us across time and space.

 

 

While there are many older political songs we can use (Carol King just re-released One Small Voice with free download!: https://soundcloud.com/user-844282824/one-small-voice), it remains imperative that we also create new art and new music that reflects our current siutation here, now in 2017. Until then, let’s be strong together:

“One small voice speaking out in honesty
Silenced, but not for long
One small voice speaking with the values
we were taught as children
Tell the truth
You can change the world
But you’d better be strong”

(Carole King/ copyright Rockingdale Records).

 

Nurses at the Leading Edge in Unexpected Places!


The NurseManifest project was founded with an intention to bring fundamental nursing values to the fore in every moment, time and place where people’s health is concerned – in the every day and in those exceptional moments that are least expected!  So a couple of

Dr. Brennan

Dr. Brennan

weeks ago when the new Director of the National Library – a nurse – was announced, I immediately went to the website to learn more!  Lo and behold, not only did I learn about the new Director (effective August 2016),  Dr. Patricia Flatley Brennan, PhD, RN, FAAN!

I also discovered an important exhibition “Confronting Violence: Improving Women’s Lives” that honors the role of nurses in addressing doestic violence.  This display will be on exhibit until August 19, 2016.  The nurses involved in this important exhibit are Dr. Barbara Parker, Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell, Dr. Doris Campbell and Dr. Daniel Sheridan.

At the September 17, 2015 opening event, NLM Acting Director Betsy Humphreys (l.) joins (l. to r.) nurses Dr. Barbara Parker, Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell, Dr. Doris Campbell and Dr. Daniel Sheridan, along with exhibition curator Dr. Catherine Jacquet, ABC7’s Kimberly Suiters, and Patricia Tuohy, head of the Exhibition Program, NLM History of Medicine Division.

At the September 17, 2015 opening event, NLM Acting Director Betsy Humphreys (l.) joins (l. to r.) nurses Dr. Barbara Parker, Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell, Dr. Doris Campbell and Dr. Daniel Sheridan, along with exhibition curator Dr. Catherine Jacquet, ABC7’s Kimberly Suiters, and Patricia Tuohy, head of the Exhibition Program, NLM History of Medicine Division.

So visit the National Library of Medicin Website.  Also, if you are in the vicitingy consider paying them a visit to see this wonderful exhibit! Click here for information about visiting the NLM.