marijuana and mental health

Marijuana and Mental Health

With more and more emphasis on mental health and well being in our society, the question of marijuana and mental health is coming up a lot more often. And with the legalization of medical and recreational cannabis more readily available to the masses, researchers are scrambling to determine the answer.

Marijuana and mental health is a complicated topic with a lot of factors to consider. Cannabis is still considered a schedule 1 drug, making it difficult and controversial to conduct research. The medical marijuana industry and researchers are seeing that it is hard for cannabis to be taken seriously because of the stigma around the drug. Demonized and banned by many countries, we are just beginning to understand the real and far reaching benefits of marijuana for mental health. As research continues and patients share their results, we will be able to further understand the effect of cannabis on the brain, and to treat mental health issues.

With the legalization of recreational and medical marijuana spreading across the country, and already legal in Canada, it’s an important conversation to have in order to understand the relationship between marijuana and mental health.

Marijuana and Mental Health

It is stated that 1 in 4 Americans suffer from depression, anxiety, chronic stress, or PTSD. Many people are turning to cannabis for relief outside of the pharmaceutical industry. A study was conducted in 2016 and published in the journal Clinical Psychology Review that found cannabis would likely benefit people struggling with PTSD, depression, anxiety, and pain. However, it was found that some types of mental illness, like bipolar, can be triggered by cannabis use. While cannabis is not a cure-all, it has shown to offer much relief.

“This is a substance that has potential use for mental health,” says Zach Walsh, an associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia. “We should be looking at it in the same way [as other drugs] and be holding it up to the same standard.”

While psychosis and paranoia are indeed effects of cannabis use for some, this is not the case for all. Additionally, not all cannabis is psychoactive and can still impart many benefits to the user in proper doses. Take CBD for example, with cannabis still seen as an illicit drug, the benefits of the actual plant are sometimes dismissed. For symptoms like anxiety, insomnia, stress, etc some people enjoy using cannabis to seek relief. When it comes to matters of mental illness, however, many aren’t sure that cannabis is a safe prescription as it could push the person into further psychosis. 

Marijuana and mental health is a matter of balance and restraint when it comes to using cannabis. Any substance can be misused and abused, causing negative effects for the user, and marijuana is no different. Additionally, cannabis won’t be right for everyone. What may work for one, won’t work for another. But for the people that do find controlled and sustained relief by using cannabis, their lives are changed for the better. 

Still illegal in most countries, the stigma around cannabis as medicine hinders its advancement and prevents the healing plant from being taken seriously. 

The conundrum boils down to: does the use of cannabis negatively impact mental health, or does it cause mental illness in any way?

Marijuana and PTSD

Zach Walsh associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, says the strongest evidence from his lab on cannabis’ effectiveness is among patients who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Particularly in reducing nightmares, cannabis eases symptoms of PTSD and helps people who have lived through trauma get some rest. Marijuana and mental health are studied extensively in Walsh’s lab and while he sees many benefits, he states, “All (drugs) have risks and relative benefits. We just have this stigma around cannabis. We’re less critical of drugs that come from pharmaceutical.”

Considering the pharmaceutical drugs that are prescribed daily by doctors, there are numerous side effects that also include dependency, depression, insomnia, and the list goes on. The stigma that cannabis is evil, and therefore should be taken off the table of consideration for medical purposes will cause this medicine to struggle in the face of true acceptance.

Veterans in particular are reaping the benefits of experiential studies involving cannabis for PTSD. In Canada, the Department of Veterans Affairs covers the costs of medicinal cannabis—to a limit of three grams a day. Some strains will work better than others, and it is recommended to journal or track strains and dosage to find the right combination. 

Marijuana and Mental Health Issues

It is said by researchers that the younger the cannabis user is when they start, the more potential they have to develop psychosis and paranoia from using cannabis. The frequency, potency, and state age of using cannabis all factor into the effect that will be had.

Like any other popular substance in use, including alcohol and tobacco, it is no advisable to misuse or over use the substance. Abuse will surely lead to issues, and that goes for everything from cannabis to cake. Sugar is a powerful substance that is in everything we eat, but is also extremely addictive when eaten frequently and in high doses.. 

Other questions around marijuana and mental health issues include the fact that research can be tedious because there are thousands of strains and hundreds of chemical compounds like cannabinoids and terpenes within the plant. Some strains ease paranoia, while others trigger it. Especially for people with schizophrenia.

Existing psychosis disorders will not respond well to medicine that is inherently psychoactive. But there are more than 100 compounds, called cannabinoids, that have biological effects on the body without psychoactive effects. 

Medical Marijuana and Mental Health

Medical marijuana can be prescribed for chronic pain, arthritis and cancer symptoms as well as mental health issues like PTSD, depression and anxiety.

Because there would be a medical evaluation from a medical professional in order to prescribe medical marijuana for mental health issues, it is safe to assume that patients are not only seeing relief from medical marijuana, but that research is also backing it up in the lab.

Medical marijuana is also a favorable replacement for opioids, or to cut back on opioids. There is an opioid epidemic happening now, and research is showing that medical marijuana can be just as effective in managing pain. This would mean many lives would be saved and addiction would be reduced the world over. Zack Walsh stated, “If people use cannabis as a replacement for opioid medications, or to get off of opioids or cut back, we could see some pretty dramatic public health benefits. The level of opioid overdoses is so high right now.”

The road may be long for the truth about the positive effects of marijuana for mental health to become mainstream, but it is in research and advocacy that more and more people can become aware of the potential of cannabis for health and well being.

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