Schizophrenia is one of the most devastating chronic mental disorders that a person can suffer from. Famous for the perception-altering hallucinations it causes, it can also lead to other cognitive changes that affect a person’s mood and behavior. Of all the causes behind the condition, schizophrenia and drug use are the least understood.
A combination of genetic predisposition and environmental factors likely causes schizophrenia. Research is ongoing to understand how it develops fully, but research bears out that certain experiences can exacerbate a neurobiological predisposition for it. Drugs use, whether one bad drug experience or drug abuse, can bring about a break with reality and lead to schizophrenia.
Drug use comes with immense risks that are important to understand. At MAT Care Clinics, it’s our mission to get you or a loved one on track to sobriety. Drug-induced psychosis and schizophrenia are among the most unfortunate effects of addiction. In this article, we will address the connection between schizophrenia and drug use, hopefully shining a light on one of the underexplored elements of addiction.
1. The Symptoms of Schizophrenia
It’s important to highlight the difference between psychosis and schizophrenia. Psychosis is any state in which a person suffers a complete break from reality. Many drugs can induce psychosis, most famously hallucinogens such as LSD (acid) and psilocybin mushrooms.
Schizophrenia, however, is a specific mental disorder. It includes psychosis, among other things. The symptoms of schizophrenia consist of three categories, negative, positive, and cognitive. The negative symptoms take away from a person’s perception, the positive add to perception, and the cognitive impact on the body’s mental processes like memory. The following are the symptoms that are associated with schizophrenia:
- Delusions (false beliefs not based on reality) can include paranoid delusions (believing that others are plotting against you) or grandiose delusions (having an exaggerated sense of self-importance).
- Hallucinations, most commonly auditory hallucinations (hearing voices), can also involve visual, olfactory, or tactile hallucinations. The hallucinations can be very elaborate, seeing family members that aren’t there, animals, and even religious figures.
- Reduced emotional expressions are common, and individuals may display limited facial expressions, reduced voice modulation, or lack of emotional responsiveness.
- Decreased motivation and an inability to engage in goal-directed activities result in reduced productivity, social withdrawal, and apathy.
- Someone loses the ability to experience or derive enjoyment from previously enjoyed activities, also known as Anhedonia.
- Social and occupational dysfunction may involve difficulties in maintaining relationships, holding a job, or pursuing educational goals.
- Disorganized thinking and speech often manifest as incoherent or illogical speech patterns, difficulty organizing thoughts, or rapidly shifting topics.
- Cognitive impairments include attention, memory, executive functioning, and general cognitive processing problems.
- Disorganized or abnormal motor behavior includes unpredictable movements, catatonic states (immobile or unresponsive behavior), or unusual mannerisms.
- Lack of insight or awareness into one’s symptoms makes it challenging for individuals with schizophrenia to recognize that their experiences are not reality-based.
- Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or an irregular sleep-wake cycle.
- Anxiety or depression are often comorbid conditions with schizophrenia.
- Suicidal thoughts or behaviors, as individuals with schizophrenia, may experience significant distress and struggle with coping mechanisms.
Studies have shown that individuals with a family history of schizophrenia are at a higher risk of developing the disorder than the general population. The risk increases further if the family member is a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) with schizophrenia. Genetic factors are estimated to contribute to about 70-80% of the overall risk of developing schizophrenia. However, it’s important to note that specific genes associated with schizophrenia are complex and involve interactions with various environmental factors. One of these environmental factors is drug use.
2. Schizophrenia and Drug Use: Which Drugs Can Trigger It
Evidence suggests that certain substances can increase the risk of developing psychotic symptoms or triggering the onset of schizophrenia in vulnerable individuals. It is important to note that substance use alone is not sufficient to cause schizophrenia, but it may interact with other factors in individuals who are predisposed to the disorder. Here are some substances associated with an increased risk of psychosis or psychotic symptoms:
Cannabis and its derivates:
- Cannabis: Heavy or prolonged use of cannabis, particularly strains with higher levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), has been linked to an increased risk of psychosis or schizophrenia, especially in individuals with a genetic predisposition.
- Synthetic cannabinoids: These new types of drugs are rapidly gaining popularity because they skirt federal regulation by being chemically different from cannabis in small ways. They are laboratory-made substances designed to mimic the effects of cannabis, with names like “Spice” or “K2,” often ingested via vapes. They have been repeatedly associated with an increased risk of triggering psychosis, though research is ongoing.
- Amphetamines: Drugs like amphetamine and methamphetamine, commonly known as “speed” or “meth,” can potentially induce psychotic symptoms or exacerbate existing psychosis.
- Cocaine: Heavy or chronic use of cocaine can increase the risk of psychosis or trigger psychotic episodes. Cocaine abuse mimics certain symptoms of schizophrenia, like paranoia.
- LSD (acid): Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is an intense hallucinogenic drug that can induce altered states of perception, which may resemble psychotic experiences. Studies show that “LSD psychotics,” meaning people hospitalized for a psychotic break while on LSD, were fundamentally similar to people with schizophrenia.
- Psilocybin (magic mushrooms): Psilocybin-containing mushrooms can cause hallucinations and other perceptual distortions, potentially triggering or exacerbating psychotic symptoms.
- Phencyclidine (PCP): Phencyclidine, commonly known as PCP or “angel dust,” is a dissociative drug that can produce hallucinations, delusions, and other symptoms resembling psychosis. Unlike acid, it can produce the “primary symptoms” of schizophrenia that affect cognition deficits in those without any prior mental illness.
- Ketamine: Ketamine, primarily used as an anesthetic, can induce hallucinations, dissociation, and other experiences that may resemble psychotic symptoms. Ketamine has a history of exacerbating both the positive and negative symptoms of schizophrenia.
MAT Care Clinics and Drug Use
At MAT Care Clinics, we care about helping you or a loved one beat substance abuse and maintain a healthy life of sobriety and promise. We specialize in medication-assisted therapy, which helps the transition from addiction to a drug-free lifestyle. Suboxone, Sublocade, Naltrexone, and Vivitrol are FDA-approved medications proven to significantly aid in fighting addiction.
Call (833) 622-0628 or contact us through our website to discover how we can help you avoid the dangers of drug addiction and stay clean.