A compound found in marijuana can help treat schizophrenia as effectively as standard antipsychotic drugs—and with fewer side effects—according to the results of a new clinical trial, reports The Fix columnist Maia Szalavitz in Time.
Researchers at University of Cologne in Germany studied 39 people with schizophrenia, all hospitalized for a psychotic episode. Twenty of the patients were given cannabidiol (CBD), a substance found in marijuana that is associated with its mellowing, anti-anxiety effects (not THC—the main ingredient in marijuana, which has been found to worsen schizophrenia). The other participants were given amisulpride, an antipsychotic medication.
At the end of the four-week trial, both groups showed significant clinical improvement in their schizophrenic symptoms. “The results were amazing,” says Daniele Piomelli, professor of pharmacology at the University of California-Irvine and a co-author of the study.
“Not only was [CBD] as effective as standard antipsychotics, but it was also essentially free of the typical side effects seen with antipsychotic drugs.” Antipsychotic medications can cause serious, sometimes permanent movement disorders and other side effects such as weight gain and movement problems.
In the study, these side effects were observed in those taking amisulpride, but not in those taking CBD. “These exciting findings should stimulate a great deal of research,” says Dr. John Krystal, chair of psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine, who was not associated with the study. He noted that CBD, in addition to having fewer side effects, also seemed to work better on schizophrenia’s negative symptoms, which are notoriously difficult to treat, including: social withdrawal, blunting of pleasure, and lack of motivation.