King’s College London begins study of 6,000 people on cannabis and mental health

King’s College London, ranked as one of the top 10 universities in the UK, recently announced that it would launch a study to examine the effects of cannabis on mental health.

The study is led by Dr. Marta di Forti, a Medical Research Council (MRC) Senior Clinical Fellow who has conducted cannabis-based research in the past. “We want to reach out to those out there who use cannabis, especially those who will benefit from it. Without their help, we will continue to have a polarized debate about cannabis, where we think everything is bad and should be banned, and others believe that because it’s a plant, it can’t have any negative effects,” di Forti said.

The study, called Cannabis & Me (CAMe), is funded entirely by King’s College London. Di Forti first submitted it to the MRC in 2019 and it was approved in 2020 with a $2.5 million grant. “The pandemic has postponed the start to this date. The study involves multiple collaborations and laboratories, all of which have been impacted by COVID-19. Everyone is finally ready to start,” explained di Forti. The study is scheduled to run for five years, with first results to be published in 2023 or possibly early 2024.

In describing the purpose of the study, the authors explained the need for further research given the rapid increase in consumer numbers around the world. “Therefore, at a time when cannabis use is increasing worldwide, this study focuses on understanding the broader effects of cannabis use on the physical and mental health of cannabis users. It also aims to identify environmental and biological factors that may explain the different effects people experience when consuming cannabis, and in particular to identify those users who are more likely to suffer from psychological and social problems.”

The study includes 6,000 participants aged 18 to 45 and must reside in Greater London. In addition to participating in an online study, they must agree to an in-person assessment, blood sample donation, and VR experience (which is used to measure a person’s physiological response to certain situations). . An important caveat to participation relates to an individual who has no prior or current diagnosis of psychotic disorders and should not be receiving treatment for that condition.

Participants are selected for face-to-face interviews based on their current cannabis use or never/only twice cannabis use.

“The primary goal of the study is to understand why a minority of cannabis users experience psychological and cognitive side effects — this is the clinical population that I serve as a clinician,” said di Forti. “If we can identify the environmental and biological factors that make a minority vulnerable to side effects when using cannabis daily for medical or recreational purposes, we can inform safe prescription and side effect monitoring (we use virtual reality to test, whether or how cannabis affects perception of reality).”

Di Forti also expressed the need for more information on possible negative effects in addition to the positive benefits. “We can also offer more information to the general public on how to avoid side effects from cannabis use and how to recognize them,” she said. “Everyone in our society can see the negative effects of excessive alcohol consumption, but not everyone knows how to recognize the changes in thinking, processing and cognition that a minority experience when using cannabis.”

In the past, di Forti has conducted studies to analyze the link between cannabis use and psychotic disorders. In the results of a 2015 study, she concluded that “the risk of individuals having a psychotic disorder was about three times higher among users of skunk-like cannabis compared to those who had never used cannabis.” The results of this study were used to support anti-cannabis efforts, which di Forti does not condone. “Sometimes the political debate about cannabis has used my data in a context that doesn’t necessarily reflect my opinions, and that’s what tends to annoy me,” di Forti said in an interview with Cannabis Health. “People now associate me with the idea that nobody should use cannabis and that cannabis is a toxic substance, which I don’t think.”

Another recent study in conjunction with King’s College London found evidence that adolescent and adult smokers are no less motivated because of their cannabis use. Cannabis use has also been found to help people with COVID-19 develop less severe symptoms.

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