What are the policy implications of the evidence on cannabis and psychosis?

Wayne Hall, Louisa Degenhardt
Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. Revue Canadienne de Psychiatrie 2006, 51 (9): 566-74

OBJECTIVE: To explore the implications for mental health services, for health education about the risks of cannabis use, and for public policy toward cannabis use of observational evidence that cannabis use is a contributory cause of psychosis.

METHOD: Using comparative analyses of similar evidence for the harmful effects of alcohol, tobacco, and amphetamine use, we considered the relation between observational evidence and action on cannabis. We examined arguments on the grounds of public health prudence for discouraging cannabis use by young individuals. With the assumption that the relation may be causal, we considered recommendations for policy in mental health services, health education, and public policy toward cannabis.

RESULTS: The observational evidence and biological plausibility of the hypothesis that cannabis is a contributory cause of psychosis is at least as strong as evidence for causal relations between heavy alcohol and amphetamine use and psychosis. On public health grounds, there is a good case for discouraging cannabis use among adolescents and young adults. It remains uncertain how best to discourage use and at whom campaigns to reduce cannabis use should be targeted.

CONCLUSIONS: We should discourage young adults seeking treatment in mental health services from using cannabis and inform them of the probable mental health risks of cannabis use, especially of early and frequent use. We must exercise caution in liberalizing cannabis laws in ways that may increase young individuals' access to cannabis, decrease their age of first use, or increase their frequency of cannabis use. We should consider the feasibility of reducing the availability of high-potency cannabis products.

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