Cannabis and psychosis – Examining the link

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Mussawar Ahmad, AMRA UK

Over the years, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Research Association (AMRA) UK has conducted what have come to be known as “Research Cafés”. These are small events, typically attended by a handful of researchers, to focus on a topic presented by an expert in the field.

The aim of Research Cafés is to bring Ahmadi researchers together and discuss scientific topics, both from secular and religious perspectives, providing a safe platform for reflection, discussion and debate.

In 2017, Dr Musa Sami Sahib was the host of one such Research Café at the Nasir Mosque in Gillingham on a cold and wet January morning. At the time, Musa Sahib was in the early phases of his PhD research, although already exploring the link between cannabis and psychosis. The event was attended by about 12 people and all left wondering where Musa Sahib’s research would go.

Fast forward to 20 June 2020 and we were in the privileged position of finding out what Musa Sahib had learned in his research. The event was held virtually (a first for AMRA’s Research Café) and attended by nearly 20 people, both men and women.

Musa Sahib presented what was, by all accounts, a fascinating talk guiding the listeners through what is both an incredibly complex, yet tremendously fascinating topic. He started by describing the key challenges that psychiatrists face around the certainty of diagnosis of psychotic disorders.

He then delved deeper, explaining the different types of disorders and the impact that they have on patients that come to see him. Having given the audience an overview of the field of psychiatry, Musa Sahib moved on to talk about cannabis, its history, its uses and the chemical compounds that interact with the receptors in our brains. He also described the plethora of experiences that users of cannabis described, classifying them into three categories: desired, undesirable and physical.

There was then the crux of the talk, where the association between cannabis and psychosis was discussed and elaborated upon. Importantly, it was emphasised that the link between cannabis and psychosis should be made with due consideration for which psychosis outcome is being associated. These were classified as:

1. Symptom: Expressing traits of a psychotic disorder, but not actually having that disorder, e.g. a runny nose may be a symptom of a cold, but it does not always mean that when you have a runny nose, you have a cold

2. Risk of psychotic disorder: Transitioning from having symptoms of a disorder (where traits may be periodically expressed) to a more permanent and diagnosed disorder

3. Relapse of psychosis: For one that has suffered and subsequently recovered from a psychotic disorder, the association between using cannabis and relapsing into that psychotic disorder

It was also identified, as part of Musa Sahib’s research, that there were important differences between patients with psychosis that did and did not use cannabis e.g. those that did not use cannabis, but did have a psychotic disorder were able to better track objects with their eyes.

This led to the conclusion that there was a neurobiological distinction between the two groups, although whether these differences were a consequence of or preceded cannabis use remains an unanswered question.

Following the first part of the talk, attendees had an opportunity to ask questions which ranged from discussions on the science through to the legal and wider social implications of the research.

We then moved onto the Islamic implications of the research and linking the topic with relevant verses in the Holy Quran on the topic such as Surah al-Baqarah (chapter 2), verse 220 where the word “khamr” is translated to wine.

However, the root word also has definitions around concealment and coverings, highlighting how the word has been chosen to extend to those intoxicants that cover one’s senses. In the same verse, the Holy Quran goes on to concede that there are some advantages of such substances, but that their harm outweighs them.

This then fuelled the debate around medical marijuana and the distinction between the good it could do and how the system was being abused.

AMRA will be holding its next Research Café on 8 August 2020, where Dr Ahmad Mannan Sahib will be talking about his research on the use of bacteria as factories for manufacturing chemicals. You can sign up at https://amracafecells.eventbrite.co.uk/

If you would like to participate or indeed, if you are a researcher who wants to use Research Café as a means to disseminate your research, please reach out to research@khuddam.co.uk

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