Psychosis and Marijuana - Study in Australia
BRISBANE, Australia, May 8, 1997 - A psychiatrist today cautioned against decriminalising cannabis following a study showing its use may hamper recovery in young people suffering early psychosis. Dr Tim Rolfe, of Dandenong Hospital, said he had observed high levels of cannabis use among young people treated for a first episode of schizophrenia-like illness. A study of 60 young adults researched at the Centre for Young People's Mental Health in Parkville, Victoria, found 30 per cent used cannabis at least daily and a further 35 per cent at least weekly. Dr Rolfe told the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists' 32nd annual congress in Sydney that the figures were higher than those for the average population and greater than previously reported for people with a mental illness.
He could not say whether they indicated cannabis may precipitate psychosis,
or whether people with psychiatric conditions were more likely to turn
to cannabis. "In this study I looked at whether cannabis use affects
the nature of the presentation and symptoms and so far I have seen a greater
level of depression in people who are cannabis users," Dr Rolfe told
AAP. The young people, aged 16 to 30 years, were assessed again after two
months of pharmacological treatment. "The trend is for those people
who were previously cannabis users and then gave up to recover to a greater
extent," Dr Rolfe said. Improvement was measured using standard psychiatric
assessments of attention-span and ability to experience pleasure. Dr Rolfe
said after minor intervention for their psychosis, half of the cannabis
users gave up, many citing their own suspicions "it might be harmful".
Dr Rolfe said the study was important in view of the ongoing debate in
Australia on decriminalising cannabis. "I would be guarded about it
(decriminalisation) in view of these results," he said. Dr Rolfe said
wider availability may be associated with poorer outcomes in the long term.
However benefits could include the fact that young people would not hide
their use from doctors, and, if it was less expensive, may direct their
funds to more useful ends, "such as housing".
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