Objective: To assess whether cannabis use in adolescence and young adulthood is a contributory cause of schizophreniform psychosis in that it may precipitate psychosis in vulnerable individuals.
Method: We reviewed longitudinal studies of adolescents and young adults that examined the relations between self-reported cannabis use and the risk of diagnosis with a psychosis or of reporting psychotic symptoms. We also reviewed studies that controlled for potential confounders, such as other forms of drug use and personal characteristics that predict an increased risk of psychosis. We assessed evidence for the biological plausibility of a contributory causal relation.
Results: Evidence from 6 longitudinal studies in 5 countries shows that regular cannabis use predicts an increased risk of a schizophrenia diagnosis or of reporting symptoms of psychosis. These relations persisted after controlling for confounding variables, such as personal characteristics and other drug use. The relation did not seem to be a result of cannabis use to self-medicate symptoms of psychosis. A contributory causal relation is biologically plausible because psychotic disorders involve disturbances in the dopamine neurotransmitter systems with which the cannabinoid system interacts, as demonstrated by animal studies and one human provocation study.
Conclusion: It is most plausible that cannabis use precipitates schizophrenia in individuals who are vulnerable because of a personal or family history of schizophrenia.