By Lucas De Vries

February 13, 2020
Reading Time: 2 minutes


This team from King’s College London brings us new insights into how cannabidiol (CBD) works in the brains of people with psychosis. This imaging study, presented in the journal Psychological Medicine, also suggests that this cannabinoid may “correct” unusual or abnormal brain activity in these psychotic patients.

CBD is one of more than 100 chemical compounds available as cannabinoids found in cannabis. There is growing interest in the use of cannabidiol (CBD) in a variety of conditions, particularly as an alternative to current antipsychotic drugs. CBD appears, in general, to be better tolerated and more effective for patients who are refractory to available antipsychotic drugs. Moreover , its use has already been associated with decreased symptoms of psychosis and changes in brain activity during verbal memory tasks in patients at high risk of psychosis.

CBD reduces abnormal brain activity

Here the researchers are using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to monitor the brain activity of 13 psychotic patients who received either a single dose of CBD or placebo vs. 16 control participants (controls) free of psychosis. Imaging performed while participants performing a memory task. The analysis shows that during this task:

  • the pattern of brain activity differs in the prefrontal and mid-temporal brain areas of patients with psychosis vs. controls;
  • taking a dose of CBD rectifies this activation in these areas of the brain. Moreover, brain activity in psychotic patients becomes similar to that observed in controls;
  • while activity in the striatum and hippocampus appears more coordinated in participants with psychosis. A dose of CBD reduces this abnormal functional connectivity to the same level as that observed in controls;
  • finally, while this result remains, according to the researchers, very “qualitative”. It seems that the dose of CBD may have reduced psychotic symptoms in this limited number of participants.

A moderating effect on alterations in brain activity: in fact , the main author of the study, Prof. Sagnik Bhattacharyya, from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College. Explains that for the first time a study specifies the areas of the brain targeted by CBD . And shows that CBD influences the very areas of the brain affected in patients with psychosis. Therefore ,CBD has a moderating effect on alterations in brain activity in the prefrontal, mid-temporal and striatal areas in people with psychosis.

The researchers thus confirm “the antipsychotic potential of CBD” . By demonstrating that the compound precisely targets the function of the brain regions involved in psychosis. Basically , a single dose can improve some of the alterations in brain function that underlie psychosis.

These data are therefore very promising and will lead to larger-scale clinical trials.

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