Cannabis can both heal and harm mental health - By Paul James
cannabis is often praised for being a powerful medication that has the ability to help with a number of different health conditions..
While this is largely true, there is some difficulty with this statement. As much as we’d prefer to say otherwise, cannabis does hold the potential to also inhibit our health.
Throughout this article, we’re going to focus on mental health and a selection of the illnesses found under this category.
From there, we’ll observe cannabis’ effects whether for good or ill. The goal of this piece is to demonstrate a non-biased medical review of cannabis and how it may be affecting you.
With nearly 40 million in the U.S. struggling with anxiety, it comes as no surprise many are turning to cannabis products for answers. Traditional medication, such as benzodiazepines, are known to be addictive and, at the end of the day, merely suppress the anxiety rather than treating it.
If you’ve been around cannabis long enough, it’s likely you’ve run into people that have experienced both paranoia and anxiety relief from cannabis. But how can a substance have two clearly different effects on certain individuals?This largely has to do with the way tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) works within our body. When we consume THC, it directly connects to our cannabinoid receptors 1 (often referred to as CB1 receptors).
These receptors are largely present in the brain and nervous system and are responsible for a number of functions, including the brain’s limbic and reward circuitry. ¹CB1 receptors, along with the rest of our endocannabinoid system (ECS), contribute to the control and processing we have over anxiety, fear, and stress. Since THC inhibits the ECS in a way where typical communication is disarrayed, anxiety has the ability to either increase or decrease.
The result is largely dependent on the individual’s overall personality.However, it’s been observed that dosage can also play a significant role. In one study, participants were given a specific amount of THC and exposed to “psychosocial stress tasks.” The study found that those who consumed a low amount of THC (7.5mg) showed a decrease in anxiety whereas those who consumed a larger dose (12.5mg) showed an increase in anxiety. ²Of course, just like stronger psychedelic drugs, an individual’s reaction to THC is largely determined by their environment. In other words, someone is more likely to “chill out” when they’re with a group of friends playing video games and more likely to “freak out” if they’re presenting themselves for an important job interview.
However, there’s no denying that some individuals always feel more anxiety when they consume THC regardless. And, for this reason, cannabidiol (CBD) has been garnering a lot of attention as a potential relief.
Without psychoactivity, CBD has the ability to indirectly send our ECS into a state of homeostasis. Since our ECS is responsible for so many functions in our day-to-day life, it comes as no surprise many are finding relief for various health conditions with CBD.In terms of anxiety, there have been around 30 animal studies that observe CBD’s effects during a behavioral test. All of them have discovered that larger doses of CBD remain ineffective, but lower doses seem to provide these animals with anxiety relief.
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Some people who struggle with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have used cannabis as a means to self-medicate. More specifically, these individuals usually struggle with more severe symptoms, such as agitation, irritability, and inability to restrain themselves.There is so little research on cannabis for ADHD that it’s extremely difficult to determine whether or not it’s helpful.
The only notable research concerns a 2016 review in which researchers analyzed a number of online forums. Within the 286 threads, about 25% of participants had reported using cannabis for ADHD. The evidence it gathered is as follows:4
8% of posts discussed feeling negative effects due to cannabis
5% of posts discussed feeling negative and positive effects due to cannabis
2% of posts discussed feeling no effects on their ADHD symptoms
This research primarily discovered that cannabis may help with hyperactivity and impulsivity - but these conclusions are NOT definite.In fact, many medical professionals have concerns when it comes to teenagers and adults using cannabis to treat ADHD. This mental illness tends to bring a number of risks and complications - from altered brain development to a higher risk of depression - that cannabis can exacerbate.
In a 2013 study, it was discovered that those with ADHD who consumed cannabis actually performed worse on tests concerning memory, verbal, cognitive, decision-making, and response. Not to mention, most of them started using cannabis regularly before they turned 18.
Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders - affecting 350 million people across the world. The most difficult aspect of this figure is the fact that most people with depression don’t receive the proper treatment.
With that, it’s quite common for people to turn to other substances in order to relieve their symptoms - cannabis being one of the most notable. While research remains in the early stages, some professionals suggest that cannabis may be able to help those with depression as it can help elevate mood in the ECS.
One group of scientists at the University of Buffalo have discovered that cannabis is able to promote the production of endocannabinoids in animals with chronic stress. While this isn’t directly linked to depression, it’s quite notable as chronic stress has been found to suppress the brain’s ability to produce endocannabinoids. And this in itself could lead to depression.
Still, the lack of research still doesn’t confirm cannabis’ ability to help treat depression. Not to mention, if cannabis is able to help, it would work more as a temporary relief. The fact is that there’s no way cannabis can cure depression in the long run and even if found medically applicable, traditional treatments would still be required.
Furthermore, some studies suggest cannabis will lead to depression rather than cure it. These studies have found that marijuana users are diagnosed with depression much more often than those who don’t consume cannabis. Even more so, individuals who use cannabis regularly or chronically (large amounts at once).These studies are just as preliminary as other studies discussed on this list and, with that, it’s more likely cannabis doesn’t directly cause depression. Rather, those who are susceptible to depression - those with risk factors such as genetics and environment - are more likely to use cannabis as a way to ease emotions.
It’s often claimed that cannabis and other psychedelic drugs can cause schizophrenia. However, this is anything but true. Similar to depression, cannabis can reveal schizophrenic symptoms in individuals who are already at risk of developing them.9Still, some people who use marijuana may experience psychosis - a condition that produces similar symptoms to schizophrenia. This condition is short-lived and will go away once the “high” is over. Yet, it’s still worth mentioning that some studies have found people to experience hallucinations and delusions after consuming cannabis.
Beyond that, some studies suggest that those with schizophrenia are more likely to abuse cannabis - even more so than alcohol. Researchers aren’t entirely sure why this is, but they believe it has something to do with the fact that people with schizophrenia believe marijuana alleviates symptoms.
It’s worth noting that CBD may actually be able to fight against schizophrenia. Though there’s only so much research, one study found that CBD helped to improve
symptoms in those with the condition. And that CBD also helped in the reduction of traditional antipsychotic medications.
Substance Abuse Disorder
Contrary to popular belief, cannabis can be addictive. Yes, it’s not as addictive as substances like alcohol and opioids. But the risk for addiction remains there and this is worth discussing.
Often referred to as a “marijuana use disorder,” cannabis addiction occurs most notably in individuals who are struggling with a mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression. While these individuals aren’t physically addicted (in other words, their bodies don’t crave cannabis), they do experience mental dependence. ¹²Consider this a moment - do you find it difficult to fall asleep without a bit of cannabis before bedtime? Or, have you gone a week or so without cannabis and found yourself noticeably more anxious?
The reason for these minor withdraws is your brain has become accustomed to THC intake and has some difficulty performing common functions without it. Again, this kind of addiction isn’t nearly as intense as other substances and is much easier to overcome. Yet, it remains a reality many choose to ignore.
Some have found that environmental factors play the most significant role in those who develop a cannabis dependence. As Carl Hart, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Columbia University in New York, notes:“It has a lot to do with responsibility skills... It’s not perfect, but when you look at the people who are addicted and you look at people who have jobs and families - they have responsibilities, they’re plugged into their societies, they have a social network - the addiction rates within those kinds of groups are dramatically decreased from people who are not plugged in with jobs, families, [and] social networks.”It’s important for us to note that even though we’re claiming cannabis can be addictive, this isn’t a cry to avoid it
Alcohol is also extremely addictive, and the bulk of society allows for such consumption.
The overall purpose of this article is to illustrate the good and bad. While cannabis is often hailed as the perfect medication, it’s just not the truth. It has a lot of potentials, no doubt. But it also has the ability to harm in ways some may not expect.
By understanding the science behind cannabis, we have a much better chance of using it for its good. By keeping ourselves knowledgeable on what’s beneficial and what’s detrimental
Written and Published By Paul James in Weed World Magazine issue 151