How Schizoaffective Disorder compares to other disorders
There is little information about schizoaffective disorder in children, which usually starts around puberty. As a parent, you know how seriously it affects your child, but how does it compare to depression and bipolar (manic and depressive states) and schizophrenia? What is the course of schizoaffective disorder, and how can you help your child’s future?
Schizoaffective disorder is not as serious as schizophrenia, but more serious than bipolar/depression.
Research conducted in Britain* studied young people who received typical treatment for schizoaffective disorder, schizophrenia, and bipolar/depression who were between the ages of 17 and 30 (average age was 22). Over a 10 year period, those with schizoaffective disorder improved slightly, better than those with schizophrenia.
Behavioral functioning over time for schizoaffective disorder, schizophrenia and affective disorders (depression, bipolar) at four consecutive follow-ups.(This scale goes from 2 (good) to 6 (poor). A “1” would be the level of a person with no symptoms and who is considered normal.) *M. Harrow, L. Grossman, Herbener, E. Davies; The British Journal of Psychiatry; Nov 2000, 177 (5) 421-426
Behavioral functioning is measured by how well a person does in five areas:
Work and social functioning
Adjustment to typical life situations
Capacity for self-care
Appearance of major symptoms
Number of relapses and re-hospitalizations.
Your child will struggle with these, but there’s good news according to a recent landmark study: Family support improves a patient’s outcome.
“Life with a schizoaffective teen,” tells my story, and what steps I discovered which worked to improve my daughter’s functioning and behavior. This article also provides insights into how children with schizoaffective disorder think.
A new treatment program was developed that altered some well-established practices. A set of schizophrenia patients received the following support and were later compared with those who had the usual medication approach.
Dosages of antipsychotic medication were kept as low as possible
Help with work or school such as assistance in deciding which classes or opportunities are most appropriate, given a person’s symptoms;
One-on-one talk therapy in which the person with the diagnosis learns tools to build social relationships, reduce substance use and help manage the symptoms.”
Patients who went through this for of treatment made greater strides in recovery over the first two years of treatment than patients who got the usual drug-focused care. More here. New Approach Advised to Treat Schizophrenia, Benedict Carey, New York Times, Oct. 20, 2015
“..if you look at the people who did the best—those we caught earliest after their first break with reality—their improvement by the end was easily noticeable by friends and family.”
The longer psychotic symptoms stay in an extreme phase,” in which patients become afraid and deeply suspicious,” the more likely the person will be vulnerable to recurring psychosis, and the more difficulty they will have coming out of it and adjusting to normal life.
How to help your child
Be very realistic about what your child can handle in school. They may be extremely intelligent–but maybe can’t handle too much homework; or class disruptions; or lack of empathy from the teacher. A parent or school counselor should help your child find low-stress classes or activities, and consider limiting the number of classes per day. They can only hold it together for so long! I found it helped my schizoaffective child to take later classes, starting at 10 or 11 am.
Get the whole family on board to make his or her life easier. Your child might be stressful and a source of irritation for everyone, but family members can help reduce this by taking on the chores your troubled child would ordinarily do; avoid pressuring them about something, or anything; and allow your child to say oddball things without confronting them about how irrational they are or arguing with them.
DIY talk therapy – Here are some ways to guide your child out of their troubled states.
Schizoaffective kids may express anxiety in a tangled web of seemingly unrelated things, and spike them with paranoia about what they mean. Listen carefully, and conduct a gentle interview to explore what truly is bothering them. It may be as simple as the room being too cold.
Give them plenty of time (if you can). A venting session is sometimes all they need.
Diplomatically redirect a negative monologue with a comment about something else more positive. This is where it’s useful to hand them a cat or call over a dog, offer tea or juice, or briefly check email. The point is to break the spell.
Run-on obsessive thoughts
Voices and thoughts can be angry, mean, and relentless. Your child may not tell you this is happening, or may simply assume you already know what’s in their head. Ask him or her if thoughts or voices are pestering them. If so, show indignation at how wrong it is for them to mistreat your child, “that’s not right that this is happening to you; this is so unfair to you; you deserve better; I want to help if I can…”
Encourage your child to ignore the voices/thoughts and they may go away, or encourage them to tell the voices/thoughts to leave them alone. “I refuse to listen to you anymore!” “Quit pestering me!” “Back off and leave me alone, you jerk!” Negative thoughts and voices are just bullies.
Help your child stand up to thought/voice bullies the same as
as you would help any child dealing with a bully. Seriously, this works.
“Life with a schizoaffective teen,” tells my story, and what I discovered that worked to improve my daughter’s functioning and behavior. It also provides insight into how people with this disorder think.
Some families are presented with the dual dilemmas of dealing with a child that is both gifted and troubled. Such is the case with my daughter who in spite of her schizophrenia nearly ended up on the popular television show American Idol.
Most fathers would be quite pleased if children came with owner’s manuals. Mind you, the great majority would not read the manual, but prefer to use their own experiences and logic to determine appropriate actions in parenting. Owner’s guides would be a fine reference resource to look up how things were to be done after trying their own thoroughly contemplated actions before resorting to some sort of predetermined remedial action.
Particularly in American society, a Man’s perspective is to reason out and come up with solutions to problems they encounter or to follow a set of requirements at their employment to retain their job. Sure, there are exceptions, especially for those who pursue artistic endeavors, but even these can often be reduced to techniques, learned, practiced and then applied. (More about men’s approaches to parenting is here: For men who raise troubled kids)
Like many other parents and especially fathers, my work revolves around the repair of things and when I first encountered my daughter’s difficulties with life, I followed an approach of analyze, find a solution and apply a remedial fix to my interactions with her.
Much of Western medicine follows this thought process as well; study the problem, recommend a treatment and magically the problem will be gone. The real problem is that this simplified view does not reflect the nature of the underlying problem with many mental health issues. An especially difficult disorder to use this approach with is schizophrenia. Because we define this illness as a set of behaviors and characteristics and each person can have or not have many of the characteristics, the approaches that I followed in dealing with my daughter’s situation were woefully inadequate as well as misguided.
In fact, most of my approach to dealing with my daughter would have been ineffective with just about any teenager, much less one suffering from hearing voices and disjointed thinking.
If the point of reference that you are using to deal with a child with schizophrenia is that the child is somehow concerned with what effect their behavior will have upon you, you are sadly mistaken. This is precisely what I thought when I would painfully explain why some task had to be done, like load a dishwasher. If she could not complete the task, it was obviously because she was trying to agitate me and I responded by becoming agitated and angry at either her lack of compliance with my instructions or the poor quality of her efforts. As the behavioral difficulties became more serious my frustrations escalated accordingly. The escalations were equally ineffective.
All of the difficulties came to a crisis point when my daughter left to attend a performing arts college in Minneapolis. There her difficulties took on another level of seriousness and she returned home. Under the care of a psychiatrist, some progress was made and my wife and I elected to take a class in dialectic behavioral therapy (DBT) for parents. The class, in conjunction with some wise advice from her psychiatrist finally got me to see that her difficulties were from within her own mind and the best approach was to understand her behavior reflected her struggles to deal with her view of the world and were not based upon a master plan to disappoint or offend me personally. DBT techniques allow you to understand the effect of delusions on the child’s behavior and instruct you to deal with the feelings that those delusions have on the child’s behavior. There is not an acceptance of the truth of the delusion, but there is an acceptance of how the person feels about the thoughts they have. Having someone verify their feeling about the delusion (It must be frightening to believe the government is using thought control on everyone) without accepting the truth of the idea helps the person modify their response to the delusional thought.
Once there is an understanding of the thought issues facing the person with schizophrenia, there is hope that the narrative that their brain has created for their existence in the world can be refocused to include new ways of viewing the world and how they are to interact with those around them. Proposing alternatives to how they see the world is a method of getting them to rethink the ideas that they hold and readjust to a new way of behaving. It is by no means as simple as an owner’s guide, but progress is possible.
Another aspect of mental illness that seems to be misunderstood is the wide range of seriousness and variation with symptoms. My family has been both fortunate and unfortunate. My daughter has been blessed with a set of skills in singing that brought her national recognition for her efforts with American Idol, but did not ultimately reward her with employable skills or remediate her disease. There are others with schizophrenia with truly exceptional talents who find jobs and recovery. There are also those who struggle with more serious symptoms. Whatever the course of your loved one’s illness, there is some measure of comfort in seeking and finding skills that will help in dealing with the issues that are confronting them. Not the least of these skills are understanding the emotional turmoil that the person feels in dealing with their view of the world and helping them deal with the issues surrounding that view.
During her American Idol experience,my daughter wrote and recorded a song entitled “I am Not Alone.”There is no reason that any family or person should be alone in their efforts to deal with their condition. While it may sometimes feel lonely, seeking out resources and learning about the experiences of other people with similar challenges will help in your efforts to create not an owners’ manual but a guide to help you understand alternatives while you seek a better path to follow. You may not cure the disease, but you can respond better to the challenges you face in your own journey.
I offer deep gratitude to both Don and Tracy for sharing their remarkable experiences
I have first-hand experience raising a child with schizoaffective disorder. Up until my child’s onset of the disorder in the ‘tweens’, I never thought I had much patience or backbone. But one’s character strengthens with trials, and I learned I was patient and stronger inside than I thought. Parenting my child entirely changed my life’s direction.
Farther down this post are practical tips and advice for raising a child with schizoaffective disorder.
My Story: Schizoaffective teens have both schizophrenic symptoms (thoughts disconnected from reality) and affective symptoms (unstable emotions and moods). My child had to persevere through intense feelings, excruciating anxiety, and thoughts that rarely touched on facts. How could anyone maintain any semblance of normalcy during this? The mental effort of holding herself together must have been exhausting.
My child was often exasperated with me, as other teens can be with their parents: “Mom, stop explaining everything. You don’t understand; it’s like the TV’s on, the radio’s on, you’re talking to me, and I’m trying to read a book, and I can’t not think about every single thing.” Right, I did not understand. I sounded like she was processing 10,000 inputs at once. The mental overload must be why she acted crazy.
Hallucinations feel real when you’re in them
My child had a slow early onset of hallucinatory experiences beginning about 11 or 12, and she was able to hide it until 14. She considered the hallucinations and voices normal and became accustomed to them. Eventually, she noticed that others didn’t see or hear the same things: the rhinoceros walking by; the sky turning green; words writing themselves on a blackboard. She took this proof of being special, magical, a traveler on the metaphysical plane. She had attitude and felt superior to others; she felt she had special powers.
I have never had hallucinations, but you may be interested reading about what others experience (What hallucinations are like, from those who know.) I imagine they are like dreaming wide awake. My child described a conversation that must have been inspired by the comedy show, Monty Python: two loudly arguing British ladies, with thick Cockney accents, relentlessly criticizing each other’s cooking and husbands. She said this only occurred in math class, and complained that it was impossible to hear what the teacher said. Even today, during summers when she is happy, she seems to be hearing jokes. Our family witnesses outbursts of laughter and giggling for no apparent reason. Humor is contagious, and we all cheer up when this happens.
My child’s visual hallucinations took fascinating forms: stairs looked like a cascading waterfall; a living room chair continually rotated in space instead of standing still; moving objects left trails in space, like a series of images seen with a strobe light.
She awoke one morning and described her life as a powerful queen for 1000 years, and talked about it in extraordinary detail. She had an uncanny air of confidence and royal privilege in the telling.
My child is the bipolar type of schizoaffective person. While depressive types don’t have the highs or excessive agitation, they still suffer with anxiety and paranoia. When she was in a down cycle, she darkened her room and slept in a pile of bed-clothes on the floor. She avoided things with negative symbolic meaning, such as certain people, certain streets, or certain names. For some reason, sunflowers and Christmas were upsetting. During depressive phases, she talked about suicide, or “caught” other disorders such as anorexia and PTSD. I was often accused of abuse and endured many hurtful words.
Haunted by anxiety and paranoia
Anxiety and panic were torturous, and I wished I could have spared her from the pain. She would obsess on a past emotional hurt and become horribly upset for hours, days, weeks at a time. (In my stress and ignorance back then, I yelled at my child unaware of how hard this impacted her mental health.) I have apologized a zillion times.
My child continues to obsess on ancient hurts, now well into adulthood. Any traumatizing experience can become a theme in the life story of a schizoaffective person. They will refer to it and make connections to it for the rest of their lives. Major obsessions with my child are about money (having money, people stealing money, having no control over money). It’s common for her to interpret any event as the turning point when everything started to go downhill, “That’s when you took all my money, “That’s when you ruined my life.”
Paranoia is ever-present. It’s the very nature of schizophrenia spectrum disorders to find something to be paranoid about. The point is that a parent to must avoid talking them out of their paranoia. It will never work, and both of you become frustrated and upset with each other. The emotional drain on your child can also cause intense irritability. I had to learn to “de-escalate” my child, don a quiet and patient demeanor, affirm her feelings, show empathy, and change the subject (“redirect”). The other problem with paranoia is that it creates intense resistance to psychiatric treatment–as if others are trying to control their mind. There’s more about building trust below, the kind of trust you’ll need to help them accept mental health treatment.
Stalkers of famous people often have schizoaffective disorder
She did some reading and told me that people with schizoaffective disorder often believe they are connected to a celebrity’s life as lovers or confidantes, and some will stalk that person. John Hinckley is a famous example of this. He believed he was the boyfriend of actress Jodie Foster in her role in the film, “Taxi Driver.” In this film, her boyfriend attempts to assassinate a president to impress her. Hinckley then did the same, and attempted to assassinate then-President Ronald Reagan. In prison, Hinckley was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. The Beatles musician, John Lennon, was killed by Mark David Chapman. Mark believed that he, himself, was John Lennon, and that the real John Lennon was impersonating him–Chapman is another person with schizoaffective disorder.
As an adult, my daughter told me that parents should pay attention to their schizoaffective child’s obsessions. An obsession might be considered harmless, such as obsessing on winning a lottery, or dangerous, such a wanting to stalk or harm someone because they your child is obsessed with them.
Partial complex seizures can simulate symptoms of schizoaffective disorder
Partial complex seizures of the left temporal lobe (temporal lobe epilepsy) cause, enhance, or simulate symptoms of schizoaffective disorder. If your child has not had an EEG (electroencephalogram), request one. If there is seizure activity, it can be easily treated by anticonvulsant medication. My child did indeed have this seizure type in the left temporal lobe. The medication removed some of her symptoms, such as seeing auras around people and moving patterns on surfaces. (See an abbreviated article with an explanation at the end of this post.)
Lessons I learned
Don’t challenge your child’s beliefsabout their experiences, even if you think they are strange, focus instead on keeping your child functional: taking medications, attending school if possible, engaging in safe activities, and managing their personal care. You will be better able to support appropriate and safe thinking if they trust you, and aren’t afraid you will argue with them.
Believe and act on any references to suicide or destructive plans—this may be manipulation, but don’t take the chance. If you believe your child is being manipulative or overly dramatic, ask them respectfully to stop. Yes, just ask.
Allow your child to talk comfortably about their hallucinatory experiences. You want to know what they are experiencing. Is a voice or image tormenting your child, like telling them to hurt themselves or others? My daughter was lucky in a way. Her main hallucination seemed to me like a boyfriend who gave her support and made jokes to make her laugh. (I think many of the jokes were about me.)
“Inoculate” your child from cruel voices or messages–teach them to deny the power of the voice(s) and not take them seriously. Example: “I know you can’t stop voice(s) from bullying you, but I encourage you to resist or ignore them or fight back. No one has power over you.” She was very upset once because her ‘boyfriend’ yelled at her. I told her to tell him, “Stop it and leave me alone! Don’t talk to me that way!” She did (somehow), and it apparently worked. The voice vanished for a couple of days (as if he was sulking?), but returned and apologized later.
Things you can do
Low stress is a priority. Create a low-key environment in the home, and limit stressful sensory input (people bickering, harsh music, intensely emotional movies or reading).
Allow your child to avoid over-stimulation–crowds or energized spaces with too many things happening (parties, malls, sports events or activities, slumber parties, or whatever they say it is).
Don’t argue with them if something they say doesn’t make sense to you. Listen attentively and avoid offering your opinions. Let me repeat, don’t reason with someone who is inherently irrational. Ensure they are safe, comfortable, and appropriate, and spend quality time listening like you would any other child.
Help them avoid anxiety-causing things or places. Go out of your way. Make a point of driving down a different road, or bringing them home from an event early, even if it’s inconvenient. This is respectful and humane because they are agonizing about something you don’t experience. You need their trust so they will listen to you and accept support that can protect them from their own mind.
Help them avoid dangerous obsessions–Some examples of dangerous obsessions for a schizoaffective person are extremists and extremist messages of any stripe, books about negative occult practices, suicide, extreme religious beliefs, and anything that threatens the safety of themselves or others.
Ask your child what they need to calm down or settle. If they want to be in a dark room with the windows covered with foil, fine. If they want to listen to loud music through headphones, fine. Just watch. It will be obvious if it settles them, or helps them focus and become clear-headed.
Allow your child to be weird at home as long as they adhere to basic rules. “I respect your freedom to be who you want to be, but you must take showers and wear clean clothes. Hygiene is the family policy. This rule won’t change, but I am happy to help you with this if you want.” No reasoning or justification, just a simple statement of the rules everyone follows.
Provide your child with a journal or large surface upon which to write or draw. This has several benefits. Writing and drawing help them process and organize their thoughts. It also helps you understand their head space, and if their thoughts reflect normal adolescents or are veering off into paranoia or potentially destructive obsessions.
You can ask for, and expect, respectful behavior
It is possible to ask your schizoaffective teen to stop disrespectful or harmful, inappropriate behavior, and it is possible to set a boundary if done in a respectful considerate tone of voice without justifying yourself.
Example of something I said to my daughter during a particularly dark period: “I’m leaving the house and I’ll be gone about 2 hours. Do not try to commit suicide, stay right here in your room and be calm. I’ll bring you a snack when I get home.” She groaned “oooh kaay”. Note that this gave her a reason to wait until I came home.
Outcomes are poor with schizoaffective people, but statistics say they have a better long-term prognosis than those experiencing schizophrenia (see “Outlook for schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia”). Perhaps it’s because their emotional awareness gives them the ability to form friendships and relationships, and talk about feelings (unlike those suffering with ‘pure’ schizophrenia). See article at the end of this post, “Social Interaction Increases Survival by 50%.”
You are in this for the long haul. You will experience a roller coaster ride of emotions. Pace yourself as if in a marathon. There may be multiple crises and hospitalizations, but these may space farther apart over time with treatment and family support, and you’ll have respite. Your child will settle into stable, repeated patterns unique to them, and you’ll learn which triggers to avoid, and to ignore what isn’t important. You’ll also learn how to bring them back into positive states of mind, and set up a healthy environment where they choose to stay. Have hope. I lived this, and can attest to it.
Please add your own story or comment. Your observations help others. Read about other parents’ experiences, which may help you better understand your situation.
– – – – – – –
Complex Partial Seizures Present Diagnostic Challenge (summary) Richard Restak, M.D. | Psychiatric Times, September 1, 1995
Temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE), is now more commonly called complex partial seizure disorder. It may involve gross disorders of thought and emotion, and patients with temporal lobe epilepsy frequently come to the attention of psychiatrists.
A Dr. Jackson observed in the late 1800’s that seizures originating in the medial temporal lobe often result in a “dreamy state” involving vivid memory-like hallucinationssometimes accompanied by déjà vu or jamais vu (interpreting frequently encountered people, places or events as unfamiliar). Jackson wrote of “highly elaborated mental states, sometimes called intellectual aura,” involving “dreams mixing up with present thoughts,” a “double consciousness” and a “feeling of being somewhere else.” While the “dreamy state” can occur in isolation, it is often accompanied by fear and a peculiar form of abdominal discomfort associated with loss of contact with surroundings, and automatisms involving the mouth and GI tract (licking, lip-smacking, grunting and other sounds).
– – – – – – –
Social Interaction Increases Survival by 50% Psychiatric Times. July 30, 2010
Theoretical models have suggested that social relationships influence health through stress reduction and by more direct protective effects that promote healthy behavior. A recent study confirms this concept. Findings from a meta-analysis published in PLoS Medicine indicate that social interaction is a key to living longer. Julianne Holt-Lunstadt, PhD of Brigham Young University and colleagues analyzed data from 148 published studies (1979 through 2006) that comprised more than 300,000 individuals who had been followed for an average of 7.5 years. Not all the interactions in the reports were positive, yet the researchers found that thebenefits of social contact are comparable to quitting smoking, and exceed those of losing weight or increasing physical activity.
Results of studies that showed increased rates of mortality in infants in custodial care who lacked human contact were the impetus for changes in social and medical practice and policy. Once the changes were in place, there was a significant decrease in mortality rates. Holt-Lundstadt and colleagues conclude that similar benefits would be seen in the health outcomes of adults: “Social relationship-based interventions represent a major opportunity to enhance not only the quality of life but also of survival.”
If you would like to get ongoing updates on the latest news and research in child & adolescent mental health, follow my Facebook Page.
It’s a myth that marijuana is safe. While it has proven benefits for certain physical ailments, the drug’s effect on adolescents, especially those with psychiatric vulnerabilities, can lead to psychosis and debilitating long-term cognitive impairment. Research on the effects of marijuana on the human brain has been taking place internationally for a couple of decades. Studies show marijuana has a more negative effect on the brain than is generally understood. Even though it is from a plant source, it is a psychoactive drug with dangerous side-effects the same as any synthetic psychoactive drug.
Just because marijuana is plant-based does not mean it is safe. Its use and dosage should be guided by a doctor.
One researcher discovered that both mentally ill and normal adult test subjects experienced negative mental health side-effects. He wrote, “When THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) was administered in one trial, it caused both patients and controls to experience transient increases in cognitive impairments and schizophrenia-like… symptoms.”
Marijuana legalization has deeply concerned pediatric psychiatrists and other providers specializing in child, adolescent, and young adult mental health treatment. Up until the their early 20’s, young brains undergo radical changes as part of normal development. Neurons are “pruned” to reduce their number (yes indeed, one can have too much gray matter to function as an adult). Pruning occurs more rapidly in teenagers–think about it, a lot of nonsensical teenage behavior can be explained by this. The THC in marijuana, the part responsible for the high, interferes with the normal pruning process.
Numerous research summaries are appended below, and the dangers to adolescents are shown time and again. I find this statement extraordinarily sad:
“Increasing levels of cannabis use at ages 14-21 resulted in lower levels of degree attainment by age 25, lower income at age 25, higher levels of welfare dependence, higher unemployment, lower levels of relationship satisfaction, and lower levels of life satisfaction.”
I worked with adolescents in residential care and in the juvenile justice system who regularly used marijuana when they could.A young man on my caseload grew noticeably depressed after he started smoking regularly, and his anxiety and paranoia increased. He said that smoking helped him feel better, but he couldn’t observe what I and other social workers observed over time. Smoking marijuana, ironically, was briefly relieving him of its own side-effects.
When marijuana is ‘medical,’ a medical professional determines a safe adequate dose. And when it is ‘recreational,’ there is no such limit… no one even realizes there should be.
A note on medical marijuana – The plant Cannabis sativa has two substances of interest:
cannabidiol (CBD) – the molecule considered safe for a variety of treatments and approved by the American Medical Association;
tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the molecule responsible for the high and the one that can produce psychotic symptoms.
Please share this information with other parents and peruse the research below. Everyone needs to know that the same warnings parents teach their kids about alcohol and illegal street drugs also apply to marijuana. It may not be possible to totally prevent your troubled child from using, especially in states where it is legal, but you can do what you can. We can’t ignore this anymore.
Proof cannabis DOES lead teenagers to harder drugs Daily Mail, London U.K., June 7, 2017
“The study of the lives of more than 5,000 teenagers produced the firstresounding evidence that cannabis is a gateway to cocaine, amphetamines, hallucinogens and heroin.” Read the full story “Teenagers who regularly smoke cannabis are 26 times more likely to turn to other drugs by the age of 21. It also discovered that teenage cannabis smokers are 37 times more likely to be hooked on nicotine and three times more likely to be problem drinkers than non-users of the drug.”
‘A new study has found that adolescents living in medical marijuana states with a plethora of dispensaries are more likely to have tried new methods of cannabis use, such as edibles and vaping, at a younger age than those living in states with fewer dispensaries. ” …As cannabis legalization rapidly evolves, in both medical and recreational usage, understanding the laws’ effect on young people is crucial because this group is particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of marijuana and possesses an inherent elevated risk of developing a cannabis disorder.
Marijuana Can Permanently Lower IQ in Teens Duke University and King College (London), August 2012
Teens who regularly smoke marijuana are putting themselves at risk of permanently damaging their intelligence as adults, and are also significantly more likely to have attention and memory problems later in life, than their peers who abstained, according to a new study conducted by Duke University and London’s King’s College. This study is among the first to distinguish between cognitive problems the person might have had before using marijuana, and those that were caused by the drug..
The research found that adults who started smoking pot as teenagers and used it heavily, but quit as adults, did not regain their full mental powers. In fact, “persistent users” who started as teenagers suffered a drop of eight IQ points at the age of 38, compared to when they were 13. Researchers noted that many young people see marijuana as a safer alternative to tobacco. A recent “Monitoring the Future” study found that, for the first time, more American high school students are using marijuana than tobacco. Lead researcher Madeline Meier, a post-doctoral researcher at Duke University, said, “Marijuana is not harmless, particularly for adolescents.”
Risks of increasingly potent Cannabis: The joint effects of potency and frequency Joseph M. Pierre, MD; Current Psychiatry. 2017 February;16(2):14-20
Cannabis at a young age (age <15 to 18) increases the risk of developing a psychotic disorder. The accumulated evidence to date is strong enough to view the psychotic potential of Cannabis as a significant public health concern, especially a high-potency Cannabis (HPC) form of hash oil known as Cannabis “wax” or “dabs” that contains as much as 90% THC. Preliminary anecdotal evidence supports the plausibility of hyper-concentrated forms being more psycho-toxic than less potent forms. Of great concern when it comes to teens, HPC comes in very appealing forms (baked goods, candy, and drinks). Full article here.
“Woody Harrelson quit; What happens to your body after a stoner quits smoking weed.” Expect the following if you child attempts to quit or quits marijuana, and give them lots of love and support! Dr. Stuart Gitlow and Dr. Joseph Garbely explain what happens to them. Read the full article here.
They miss and crave it at first
They get anxious
They feel feelings again
It’s going to be uncomfortable for months, even a year
Marijuana Use Linked with Poor Depression Recovery Journal of Affective Disorders; ePub 2017 Feb 13; Bahorik, et al
Marijuana use is common and associated with poor recovery among psychiatry outpatients with depression a recent study found. Researchers evaluated 307 psychiatry outpatients with depression, and past-month marijuana use for a substance use intervention trial. They found:
Marijuana use worsened depression and anxiety symptoms; it also led to poorer mental health functioning.
Medical marijuana (26.8%; n=33) was associated with poorer physical health functioning.
Keeping Teenagers Safe In Vehicles: Alcohol use is down but marijuana use is up O’Malley, P. & Johnson, American Journal of Public Health. Nov. 2013, Vol 103, No. 11.
Driving accidents remain the number one cause of mortality among American teenagers. Alcohol use is often involved, and more recently, distracted driving as a result of cell phones is a contributor. A recent analysis has found that drinking and driving has decreased among teenagers, but “using marijuana and driving has increased.” In this longitudinal study, a sample of 22,000 12th grade students from high schools across the country were questioned over a ten-year period, from 2001-2011. They showed an increase over the 10-year period in either being the driver or passenger of a driver who had just used marijuana. Specifically, 28% reported doing so within the past two weeks. Marijuana use can impact drivers as much as alcohol.
“Early cannabis use increases the risk of psychosis in young adults,” reports lead investigator John McGrath, MD, of Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research in Brisbane, Australia. “Apart from having an increased risk of having a disorder like schizophrenia, the longer the young adults reported since their first cannabis use, the more likely they were to report isolated symptoms of psychosis.”
Investigators assessed 3801 study participants at ages 18-23 years, identifying first marijuana use and three psychosis-related outcomes: non-affective disease, hallucinations, and the Peters et al Delusions Inventory Score. “Psychotic disorders are common and typically affect 1 or 2 people of every 100” Dr. McGrath said, “…(I) was surprised that the results were so strong and so consistent… We need to think about prevention.”
Results mirror those of another study conducted by Michael Compton MD, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry (November 2009), where investigators looked at 109 patients in a psychiatric unit and found that daily marijuana and tobacco use was common. Of those who abused cannabis, almost 88% were classified as weekly or daily users before the onset of psychosis.
Emma Barkus, PhD, from the University of Wollongong in New South Wales, Australia, says other studies suggest that those who are engaging in risk behaviors about the age of 14 years are more likely to persist as they get older, adding further support to the role of cannabis use in predicting earlier psychoses.
Evidence Accumulates for Links Between Marijuana and Psychosis (summary) Michael T. Compton, MD, MPH – Assistant Professor, Emory University School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Atlanta, Georgia, 2008
Cannabis is the most abused illicit substance in the general US population, and the most abused illegal drug among individuals with schizophrenia.This literature reviewed studies that examined (1) associations between cannabis use and clinical manifestations of psychosis, and (2) the biologic plausibility of the observed links.
The initiation of cannabis use among those with psychotic disorders often precedes the onset of psychosis by several years.Cannabis use in adolescence is increasingly recognized as an independent risk factor for psychosis and schizophrenia. Progression to daily cannabis use was associated with age at onset.
Study evidence also supported biological links between cannabis use and psychosis. In the brains of heavy users, interactions with specific cannabinoid receptors are distributed in brain regions implicated in schizophrenia. Other studies report elevated levels of endogenous cannabinoids in the blood and cerebrospinal fluid of patients with schizophrenia. When THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) was administered in one trial, it caused both patients and controls to experience transient increases in cognitive impairments and schizophrenia-like positive and negative symptoms.
Chronic toxicology of cannabis. (summary) Reece, Albert Stuart; Clinical Toxicology (Philadelphia, PA.) vol. 47 issue 6, Jul 2009 . Medical School, University of Queensland, Highgate Hill, Brisbane, QLD, Australia.
Findings: There is evidence of psychiatric, respiratory, cardiovascular, and bone toxicity associated with chronic cannabis use. Cannabis is implicated:
In major long-term psychiatric conditions including depression, anxiety, psychosis, bipolar disorder;
Respiratory conditions include reduced lung density, lung cysts, and chronic bronchitis;
elevated rates of myocardial infarction and cardiac arrythmias;
linked to cancers at eight sites, including children after in utero maternal exposure.
Marijuana Use, Withdrawal, and Craving in Adolescents (summary) Kevin M. Gray, MD, Assistant Professor in the youth division of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.
Findings in the literature survey: Initiation of marijuana use typically occurs during adolescence. Recent data indicate that in the United States, 42% of high school seniors have tried marijuana; 18% have used it in the past 30 days; and 5% use it daily. Among adolescents aged 12 to 17, 3.6% met criteria for cannabis use disorder (abuse or dependence) and 2% met criteria for cannabis dependence.
More than half (51%) of adolescents reported that marijuana is fairly or very easy to obtain. Ironically, this ready availability may be a “reverse gateway” from marijuana use to cigarette use to nicotine dependence. Earlier initiation is associated with problem-related marijuana use: “hard” drug use, poly-drug use, and academic failure. Using marijuana once per week or more during adolescence is associated with a 7-fold increase in the rate of daily marijuana use in young adulthood. Cannabis dependence increases the risk factors for impaired driving and delinquent behavior. Chronic use is associated with impaired immune function, respiratory illnesses, cognitive problems, and motivational impairment.
There is a debate whether marijuana use begins as “self-medication” for psychiatric disorders, or whether habitual marijuana use can predispose some individuals to psychiatric symptoms.
Social anxiety disorder in adolescence is associated with 6.5-times greater odds of subsequent cannabis dependence, and vice versa, frequent marijuana use during adolescence appears to increase the risk of subsequent development of anxiety and depressive disorders. The prevalence of cannabis abuse is 2 to 3 times greater among adolescents who have major depression. Also linked in both directions: conduct disorder predicts marijuana and other substance use, while early-onset marijuana use predicts conduct disorder.
Five treatment regimes were studied: motivational enhancement/cognitive-behavioral therapy (MET/CBT), family education and therapy intervention, a community reinforcement approach, and multidimensional family therapy. All resulted in positive but modest outcomes, with MET/CBT and community reinforcement treatments being most cost-effective.
Emerging evidence indicates rewards for marijuana abstinence may be positive. Multi-systemic therapy, an intensive approach that incorporates individual, family, and community components, has demonstrated effectiveness among delinquent adolescents.
Withdrawal: Marijuana withdrawal symptoms are a constellation of emotional, behavioral, and physical symptoms that include anger and aggression, anxiety, decreased appetite and weight loss, irritability, restlessness, and sleep difficulty, which result specifically from withdrawal of marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient, THC. Less frequent but sometimes present symptoms are depressed mood, stomach pain and physical discomfort, shakiness, and sweating. Onset of withdrawal symptoms typically occurs within 24 hours of cessation of THC, and symptoms may last days to approximately 1 to 2 weeks.
Craving: Patients’ craving of marijuana is evidenced after presenting them with cues associated with marijuana (e.g. sight or smell of the substance, films of drug-taking locations, and drug-related paraphernalia). Exposure to cues leads to robust increases in craving, along with modest increases in perspiration and heart rate. Cue reactivity can predict drug relapse.
Craving and withdrawal symptoms interfere with successful cessation of use and sustained abstinence. In addition, medications are often used to target withdrawal from substances, such as benzodiazepines for alcohol dependence and clonidine and buprenorphine for opioid dependence. These medications could be combined with psychosocial interventions, or developed to complement concurrent psychosocial treatments.
Legalization of Marijuana: Potential Impact on Youth (summary) Alain Joffe, MD, MPH, W. Samuel Yancy, MD the Committee on Substance Abuse and Committee on Adolescence – PEDIATRICS Vol. 113 No. 6 June 2004, pp. e632-e638
Scientists have demonstrated that the emotional stress caused by withdrawal from marijuana is linked to the same brain chemical that has been linked to anxiety and stress during opiate, alcohol, and cocaine withdrawal. THC stimulates the same neurochemical process that reinforces dependence on other addictive drugs. Current, well known, scientific information about marijuana shows the cognitive, behavioral,and somatic consequences of acute and long-term use, which include negative effects on short-term memory, concentration, attention span, motivation, and problem solving. These clearly interfere with learning, and have adverse effects on coordination, judgment, reaction time, and tracking ability. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/113/6/e632
The Past, Present, and Future of Medical Marijuana in the United States (summary) By John Thomas, JD, LLM, MPH, Professor of advanced law and medicine, civil procedure, and commercial law at the Quinnipiac University College of Law, Hamdon, Connecticut, January 6, 2010
Cannabidiol (CBD) is considered safe and has a variety of positive benefits, and this component should be legalized. However, the other narcotic component in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is responsible for the high, and too much may not be a good thing because it can produce psychotic symptoms in people.
Medical Marijuana: The Institute of Medicine Report (summary) Ronald Pies, MD, Editor in Chief – Psychiatric Times. Vol. 27 No. 2 , January 6, 2010
Marijuana is not a completely benign substance. It is a powerful drug with a variety of effects. However, except for the harms associated with smoking, the adverse effects of marijuana use are within the range of effects tolerated for other prescription medications. Cannabinoids can induce acute transient psychotic symptoms or an acute psychosis in some individuals… (but it is unclear) what makes some individuals vulnerable to cannabinoid-related psychosis. There is a pressing need for more high-quality research in the area of medical marijuana and cannabinoid use.
Link Between Cannabis Use and Psychosis Onset at a Younger Age (summary) Ana Gonzales MD, Santiago Apostol Hospital in Vitoria, Spain, Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. August 2008
Researchers found a strong and independent link between cannabis use and the onset of psychosis at a younger age, regardless of gender or the use of other drugs. The link is related to the amount of cannabis used. “The clinical importance of this finding is potentially high,” Dr. Gonzalez-Pinto given that cannabis use is extremely prevalent among young people… estimates of the attributable risk suggest that the use of cannabis accounts for about 10 percent of cases of psychosis.”The findings showed a significant gradual reduction in the age at which psychosis began that correlated with an increased dependence on cannabis. Compared with nonusers, age at onset was reduced by 7, 8.5, and 12 years among users, abusers, and dependents, respectively, the researchers report.
Cannabis use and later life outcomes. (summary) Fergusson DM, Boden JM, Addiction; Pages: 969-76; Volume(Issue): 103(6), June 2008
A longitudinal study of a New Zealand birth cohort tracked subjects to age 25 years. Cannabis use at from ages 14-25 was measured by: university degree attainment to age 25; income at age 25, welfare dependence during the period 21-25 years, unemployment 21-25 years, relationship quality, and life satisfaction. Other indices were measured to adjust for confounding factors: childhood socio-economic disadvantage, family adversity, childhood and early adolescent behavioral adjustment and cognitive ability, and adolescent and young adult mental health and substance use.The findings were statistically significant. Increasing levels of cannabis use at ages 14-21 resulted in lower levels of degree attainment by age 25, lower income at age 25, higher levels of welfare dependence, higher unemployment, lower levels of relationship satisfaction, and lower levels of life satisfaction.
LONDON — New findings show physical evidence of the drug’s damaging influence on the human brain. In some people, it triggers temporary psychotic symptoms including hallucinations and paranoid delusions. Two of the active ingredients of cannabis: cannabidiol (CBD) made people more relaxed. But second ingredient: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in small doses produced temporary psychotic symptoms in people, including hallucinations and paranoid delusions. According to Dr. Philip McGuire, a professor of psychiatry at King’s College, London, THC interfered with activity in the inferior frontal cortex, a region of the brain associated with paranoia. “THC is switching off (a chemical) regulator,” McGuire said, “effectively unleashing the paranoia usually kept under control by the frontal cortex.”In another study, Dr. Deepak Cyril D’Souza, an associate professor at Yale University School of Medicine, and colleagues tested THC on 150 healthy volunteers and 13 people with stable schizophrenia. Nearly half of the healthy subjects experienced psychotic symptoms when given the drug. Unfortunately, the results for the schizophrenic subjects was so much worse that researchers scrapped adding additional schizophrenic subjects to the study. The negative impact was so pronounced that it would have been unethical to test it on more schizophrenic people.”One of the great puzzles is why people with schizophrenia keep taking the stuff when it makes the paranoia worse,” said Dr. Robin Murray, a professor of psychiatry at King’s College in UK. She theorized that schizophrenics may mistakenly judge the drug’s pleasurable effects as outweighing any negatives.