There has been a shift in symptoms presenting in therapists and family doctors’ offices. Ten years ago, it was rare to come across adolescent clients in counseling centers with active psychosis (other than that produced by methamphetamine, another problem). Now, we get calls about this issue several times per week. 

In our clinic, we provide outpatient weekly therapy sessions and higher level of care (HLOC) for individuals needing more frequent and longer sessions and support. While we do not treat individuals with more severe symptoms, we are seeing increased numbers like never before. Why? Let’s break it down. 

“The takeaway for both parents and the medical field is simple: cannabis can “wake-up” genes in individuals who are at risk for developing psychosis with children and teens at higher risk.”

— Kelly Lewallen, LMFT, CEDS-S

Cannabis-induced psychosis is a mental health condition characterized by a break from reality following the use of cannabis. Studies have shown a significant association between the consumption of cannabis, particularly high-THC strains (and especially Delta-9 THC) and the onset of psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions and disorganized thinking. The exact mechanisms underlying this phenomenon are still being researched, but it is believed that the psychoactive compounds in cannabis can disrupt the brain’s normal functioning, particularly in individuals with a genetic predisposition to psychosis. The increased concentration of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in cannabis production1 is a concerning trend that raises various health and safety issues.

In discussions with local pediatric psychiatrists, Dakota Carter, MD, EdD states that, “While the exact mechanism is not clearly understood, there is a known causal relationship between cannabis use and psychosis. With higher potency of the substance, along with the rising availability due to legalization, the incidence of cannabis-induced psychosis has dramatically increased. It is estimated that cannabis is involved in approximately 50% of psychosis diagnoses, and many studies indicate that cannabis use increases the chances of developing schizophrenia by approximately three-fold, a finding supported by a dose-response relationship (the more you use, the bigger the risk); this number is even higher for individuals with a family history of psychosis or mental illness and/or the younger someone is with a developing brain.”

Children’s and teens brains are not developed until their early 20s. During adolescence, children seek more acceptance, belonging and “being chill.” Given its potent effects for “getting high,” we are seeing higher concentrations of Delta-9 THC in cannabis, the very THC molecule responsible for the rise in cannabis psychosis. 

What about the benefits of cannabis? In reviewing scientific research, here is what I found: cannabis has been used to mitigate symptoms produced by a few organic diseases including glaucoma and children suffering with seizure control who have Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes. Additionally, it can act as an antiemetic in cancer patients. Cannabis has been utilized to treat anorexia nervosa, my specialty, but not recommended for treatment by the International Association of Eating Disorder Specialists. I don’t include anxiety and depression reduction here, as long-term use actually heightens these disease processes over time. 

The takeaway for both parents and the medical field is simple: cannabis can “wake-up” genes in individuals who are at risk for developing psychosis with children and teens at higher risk. As we raise our kids in a society with alcohol and other drugs, we also need to protect them. Knowledge is that power and I encourage all to do their own research.

Kelly Lewallen is CEO of Desert Marriage and Family Counseling and a member of Desert Doctors. She can be reached at (760) 777.7720. For more information visit or

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