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Cannabis and Psychosis

FACT SHEET

What is Cannabis?
Cannabis is the general name for marijuana, ‘grass’, ‘pot’, ‘weed’ and ‘hashish’. Cannabis comes from a plant
and is smoked or eaten. It is a ‘depressant’ drug (that is, one that slows down thinking and the nervous system)
and can also cause mild hallucinogenic effects.

How Many People Use Cannabis?


Cannabis is the most widely used illicit drug. Recent studies indicate that about 30 per cent of the population have
tried cannabis at some time, particularly those people under the age of 35.

Why Do People Use Cannabis?


Some people use cannabis, like alcohol, to help them to relax. Some use cannabis because they feel it helps them
with conversation and in social situations, while others use cannabis in an attempt to cope with life’s problems.

Are There Any Dangers in Using Cannabis?


Most people who use cannabis don’t experience any obvious harmful effects, but regular use may produce a
number of short term effects including paranoia, confusion, increased anxiety, and even hallucinations, which can
last up to several hours. Longer term risks may include asthma and bronchitis, cancers of the mouth, throat, and
lungs, poor concentration and memory, learning difficulties, and occasionally, psychosis.

What is Psychosis?
A psychosis is a condition where a person experiences some loss of contact with reality. A person with a psychosis
can experience any one or more of the following symptoms: auditory hallucinations (hearing voices that aren’t
there), visual hallucinations (seeing things which aren’t there), delusions (believing things that aren’t true), jumbled
thoughts and strange behaviour.

Does Cannabis Cause Psychosis?


It is believed that cannabis use may cause a condition known as a drug-induced psychosis which can last for up to
a few days and is often characterised by hallucinations, delusions, memory loss and confusion. However, in some
cases, cannabis use may contribute to the development of a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia.

How Does Cannabis Affect Someone Who is Already


Experiencing a Psychosis?
Cannabis use can prolong the duration of symptoms of mental illness and can lower a person’s chances of
recovering from a psychotic episode.

Who is Most At Risk From Cannabis Use?


People most at risk are those with a family history of psychotic illness or those who have already experienced a
psychotic episode. So, people with a family or a personal history of psychotic illness should avoid drugs like
cannabis completely, and try other, healthier ways of relaxing.

What About Other Drugs?


Although this fact sheet focuses on cannabis, other legal and illicit drugs should not be ignored. For example, some
evidence suggests that substances such as alcohol and amphetamines have a greater effect than cannabis in the
development of a psychosis.

Where Can I Turn To For Help?


You can ring 1800 888 236, 24 hours a day, for confidential information, counselling and referral. There is also
a booklet called A Guide to Quitting Marijuana which can help those who want to stop using cannabis. To obtain
a copy ring the DrugInfo Clearinghouse on 1300 85 85 84.

2002 Department of Human Services. This information sheet may be copied and freely distributed but may NOT be altered in ANY WAY.
Any distribution, either in print or electronic form, of this information must include the author’s credit to Department of Human Services (2002).