Heather and Ilyas discuss their lived experience of cannabis use and psychosis, as well as the power of peer support and growing from these experiences.

There is a lot to know about psychosis. Here are some basics to get you started.

What is the difference between psychosis, substance-induced psychosis and schizophrenia?

Psychosis: at its core, psychosis is a disconnection from reality. People experiencing psychosis can have different experiences and symptoms, such as:

  • hallucinations: seeing / hearing / feeling / smelling / tasting things that aren’t really there
  • delusions: fixed beliefs that aren’t grounded in reality
  • other symptoms: such as
    • Disorganization – in thought, speech, or behavior
    • Disordered thinking – jumping between unrelated topics, making strange connections between thoughts
    • Catatonia – unresponsiveness
    • Difficulty concentrating

Substance-induced psychosis: The use of drugs such as cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy, ketamine, LSD, amphetamines and alcohol can sometimes cause psychotic symptoms to appear. In substance-induced psychosis, once the effects of the drugs wear off, the symptoms of psychosis can spontaneously resolve or may require medical treatment. Both the duration (how long symptoms last) and the intensity  (severity) of psychosis symptoms are considered by experts when considering a possible diagnosis of substance-induced psychosis.

Schizophrenia: According to the Canadian Mental Health Association:
“Schizophrenia is a mental illness that affects the way you understand and interact with the world around you.

When an episode occurs, people may feel that things around them seem different or strange. They may start to experience problems concentrating, thinking or communicating clearly, or taking part in their usual activities.

At the height of the episode, people may experience breaks from reality called psychosis. These could be hallucinations (sensations, like voices, that aren’t real) and delusions (strong beliefs that aren’t true, like the belief that they have superpowers). Some people feel ‘flat’ or numb. They may also experience changes in mood, motivation, and the ability to complete tasks. After an episode, signs can continue for some time. People may feel restless, irritable, withdraw from others, or have a hard time concentrating.”

“I never realized it was psychosis, started getting paranoid when I started smoking weed… I didn’t realize until later and connected the dots.”

– Participant from the earlier Exploring the Link project

So, schizophrenia can be described as a type of psychosis that is often longer lasting. However, there are several types of psychosis. Some are brief and last just hours or days, while some may last months or years. Importantly, experiencing an episode of psychosis doesn’t necessarily mean it will become ongoing, partly because there are a variety of things that can cause psychosis that aren’t schizophrenia.

If you’re still curious and/or worried, this page goes into a bit more detail and might be helpful. The bottom line is that, although you might be feeling scared or worried, there are many supports available to you.

Causes of psychosis?

There are many different factors that play into the development of psychosis. Some of the key factors include:

  • Genetics: having certain genes can predispose you to psychotic disorders
  • Sleep: prolonged lack of sleep can trigger psychosis
  • Substance use: some substances trigger psychosis, some mimic its effects
  • Brain changes: the environmental impact of stressors and risk factors on the developing brain.

Explanations for psychosis?

There are a few different explanations for psychosis:

  • Biochemical model – psychosis is a product of too much dopamine in certain sections of the brain
  • Stress bucket model – Psychosis is the result of the brain getting overwhelmed by stressors
  • Substance misuse – using substances can trigger episodes of psychosis, and put someone at risk of developing future episodes of psychosis
  • Spiritual model – psychosis is the process of transcending our previous self and rebuilding our sense of identity, e.g. shamanism.

More about psychosis

Find out more here:

Is recovery possible?

Yes. There are different factors that influence recovery (protective factors, number of episodes, length of time untreated, effectiveness of medications, post traumatic growth and the development of coping strategies). But recovery is possible for everyone given the right supports. One thing to keep in mind is that recovery will look different for everyone, and people will have different goals and beliefs that guide their recovery, but a life well lived is not precluded by psychosis.