Just like other risky behaviours (such as driving a car), there’s no way to use cannabis without any risks at all, but it’s definitely possible to do some things so that your use is less risky.
Two of the most impactful risk factors for someone’s cannabis use to potentially lead to psychosis might be unrealistic for your situation if you’re already using and enjoying cannabis, but we’ll mention them just in case. The first is having a family history of psychosis or schizophrenia. You can check this by asking a trusted biological family member (since the research shows that it’s really the genetic component that matters, more than the social one). However, sometimes, the family may keep past histories secret through embarrassment, shame or fear of stigma or even have no awareness of details. Schizophrenia and psychosis are both pretty medical terms, so you may also want to check for things like a “mental breakdown” or a “break with reality”. If this happened, it doesn’t necessarily mean it was psychosis or schizophrenia, but it can help give you an idea of potential instances. Note that schizophrenia does not mean “split personality” – this is a common misconception.
The other factor is the age you start to use cannabis, and using early on, before you’re 15 or 16 years old, is associated with an increased risk of developing psychosis. The reason for this is that the brain continues to mature until about 25 and is therefore more vulnerable to stress and the use of cannabis. Also because everything is happening so quickly, even waiting a year or two before you start using can make a big difference. Waiting until you’re older than 15 or 16 is then one way to reduce your risk, and waiting until you’re 25, when your brain is more fully developed, is even better. However, this might be realistic for some, and not for others.
Luckily, there are also two ways to reduce your risk that are under your control, and that you can start to do as soon as you’re ready: reducing frequency of use and THC content. High frequency of use, especially using every day or almost every day, is linked to a higher risk of psychosis. Specifically, people who use cannabis heavily are 4 times more likely to also experience psychosis when compared to people who don’t use, although there are still debates about how much of this association is cause and effect, and how much is co-occurrence. Still, you may want to consider your frequency of use as a key way to move away from scoring high on this risk factor.
If you do use quite frequently, using less often can have some added benefits like your tolerance going down (so it’s less expensive to get high) and you enjoying each time more because it’s more special and less of a routine thing. The other thing you can do is use cannabis that has a lower THC content.
If you’re not really sure what THC is, we talk about it more here. Choosing cannabis with a lower THC content usually goes hand in hand with having higher CBD content, which can be protective of the risks that THC poses for developing psychosis.
Like reducing your frequency of use, reducing your THC content can actually be enjoyable – you might experience a different kind of high or be able to be more active during your session. If you don’t know about the THC content in your cannabis, you can always consume less per session in order to be ingesting less THC overall.
These are some of the risk factors that are specific to developing psychosis, but if you’re curious about reducing the risks of your cannabis use in general, we go into that here.