Study: Cannabidiol Reduces Brain Function Abnormalities in Psychosis


Study provides insight into how cannabidiol acts in the brain to reduce psychotic symptoms.

New research shows cannabidiol (CBD) may help readjust brain activity to alleviate abnormal functions, underscoring its potential therapeutic effect for psychosis, according to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry.

CBD, a non-intoxicating compound found in cannabis, has been investigated in several therapeutic areas. Although evidence supports CBD’s beneficial effects for psychotic disorders, the exact brain mechanisms that underlie its anti-psychotic properties have remained unknown. The study findings provide insight into how CBD acts in the brain to reduce psychotic symptoms, which could pave the way for future developments in anti-psychotic treatments, according to the authors.

In the study, the researchers analyzed a group of 33 young individuals who had not been diagnosed with psychosis but were experiencing distressing psychosis symptoms, along with 19 healthy individuals in the control group. Data were collected from July 2013 to October 2016 and analyzed from November 2016 to October 2017.

Sixteen participants received a single dose of CBD and the other 17 were given a placebo. The researchers studied the participants using an MRI scanner while they performed a memory task that engages 3 regions of the brain known to be involved in psychosis. Brain activity in those with a risk of psychosis was abnormal compared with the healthy group; however, abnormal brain activity was less severe in those who received CBD than those who received a placebo.

“Cannabidiol may partially normalize alterations in parahippocampal, striatal, and midbrain function associated with the clinical high risk state,” the researchers wrote in the study. “As these regions are critical to the pathophysiology of psychosis, the influence of CBD at these sites could underlie its therapeutic effects on psychotic symptoms.”

Because available anti-psychotic medications can have serious adverse effects, there are currently no treatments that can be offered those at high risk of psychosis, the researchers noted.

The findings could potentially pave the way for future development of CBD therapies for this patient population.

“The mainstay of current treatment for people with psychosis are drugs that were first discovered in the 1950s and unfortunately do not work for everyone,” Sagnik Bhattacharyya, MBBS, MD, PhD, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, said in a press release. “Our results have started unravelling the brain mechanisms of a new drug that works in a completely different way to traditional anti-psychotics.”

Dr Bhattacharyya and colleagues are launching the first large scale, multi-center trial to investigate the use of CBD treatment in young individuals at high risk of developing psychosis, according to the press release.

“There is an urgent need for a safe treatment for young people at risk of psychosis,” Dr Bhattacharyya said. “One of the main advantages of cannabidiol is that it is safe and seems to be very well tolerated, making it in some ways an ideal treatment.”


Bhattacharyya S, Wilson R, Appiah-Kusi E, et al. Effect of cannabidiol on medial temporal, midbrain, and striatal dysfunction in people at clinical high risk of psychosis. JAMA Psychiatry. 2018. Doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.2309

Cannabis extract helps reset brain function in psychosis [news release]. King’s College London website. Accessed August 29, 2018.

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