image of a human brain against a black background

Even Single Dose of CBD Resets Brain Function in Patients With Psychosis

Even Single Dose of CBD Resets Brain Function in Patients With Psychosis


A CT scan of a human brain against a black background


CBD works because it steers a wayward brain back toward neurotypical functioning, and away from psychosis.

Although it’s long been thought to be a cause of psychotic activity, new research shows that cannabis actually improves brain function by reducing functioning abnormalities in the brain that cause psychosis.

So why the reversal in long-held scientific understanding? It’s the result of new research from King’s College London, which finds something surprising (at least for those not paying attention.)

Cannabis has two potent active ingredients: cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The latter causes the “high” users feel – but can also be the cause of paranoia in some patients. The former ingredient, CBD, has a number of functions but among them is the ability to reign in (or lessen the potency) of THC.

man crouching down and screaming with hands on his headImage Credit: Eldar Nurkovic

As it turns out, the same properties that allow CBD to reduce the negative effects of THC have a similar effect on bad influences in the human mind. Put another way, it’s similar to Viagra. The little blue pill was developed as a way to lower blood pressure, but clinical tests revealed the surprising side effect for male users and the rest is history. While many researchers focused on the possibility that THC could play a role in developing or spurring on psychosis, they didn’t realize a different effect of cannabis could work to improve brain function.

Drawing of the chemical compounds of CBD and THC

Image Credit: Stockish

The King’s College study went like this: Researchers recruited a group of young Brits, some of whom reported experiencing psychotic symptoms.

They gave half the group a single dose of CBD while the others received a sugar pill. Then, they scanned their brains.

The scans revealed that participants who reported the psychotic symptoms indeed had brains that functioned in atypical ways

*But the clincher is that those who received the CBD treatment showed significantly less abnormal brain behavior than those who took the placebo.


This indicates that something about CBD, even a single small dose, helps re-adjust brain activity toward neurotypical levels. That’s a bigger deal than it sounds!

Most of the drugs marketed as antipsychotics have a few things in common. First, they were developed in the 1950s. Second, they all tend to work by blocking dopamine receptors. This approach makes sense because dopamine’s functions appear altered in the brains of people with psychosis. Hence, if the dopamine is blocked, so are the results of its abnormal functions. But dopamine isn’t the only neurotransmitter that goes a bit haywire in psychosis, which explains why anti-psychotics aren’t effective for everyone.

Dopamine chemical formula C8H11NO2

Image Credit: Zerbor

Treatment with CBD is an entirely new approach to treating psychosis — one that inherently different than the approach we’ve taken for the last 60 years. Instead of blocking a natural, if abnormally functioning, part of the brain’s wiring, using cannabis as a treatment allows scientists to harness the body’s endocannabinoid system to help steer a wayward brain toward the right path.

It’s already been established that CBD oil can be an effective treatment against psychotic disorders like schizophrenia, thanks to studies from the American Journal of Psychiatry. But it hasn’t been, until now, that the underlying reactions have begun to be explained.

Ghosts on a beach psychosis concept

Image Credit:Jurgentr

For the King’s College study, the participants were asked to perform three actions during their brain scans. The actions were what’s known as a Verbal Paired Associates learning tasks, which is one of the most widely used measurements for assessing memory performance. It has the added benefit of utilizing the medial temporal lobe, midbrain and striatum regions, which are often impaired in psychosis sufferers. The medial temporal lobe is used for learning new things, while the midbrain and striatum play key roles in supporting and categorizing information in the memory banks. Together, these brain regions give people the ability to recall words or images on flashcards, which is exactly what researchers had them do.

Cartoon image of a Cross Section of Human Brain

Image Credit: Alexander P

Participants were shown a card with two words on it and were asked to verbalize whether the word pairs went together. Later, they were shown a card with a single word on it and were asked to name the word it was paired beside in the earlier exercise. The researchers found that the brains of subjects who received CBD worked much better during the tasks than the brains of the others who had psychotic symptoms. In fact, their brains performed almost the same as the control group.

The King’s College researchers are now investigating, through the first large-scale study of its kind, a process to determine if cannabidiol can be an effective treatment for young people who are considered possible candidates for developing psychosis. The trial is supported by a £1.85 million grant.

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