What are the Pros and Cons of Medical Marijuana for Mental Health?

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Medical marijuana is legal in much of the country, and many states have also recently made adult, recreational marijuana use legal. 

This has brought with it legal and health considerations.

On the legal side, marijuana is still illegal at the federal level. There are also issues coming up with how to deal with situations like driving under the influence of cannabis. Local police departments are trying to figure out how they can test drivers, which isn’t as simple as doing a breathalyzer for alcohol.

Beyond that, not everyone agrees marijuana is entirely safe.

One of the biggest areas of controversy as far as medical marijuana is its use in psychiatry.

One in four people in the world are affected by a mental health or neurological disorder at some point in their lives, and medications for these conditions can have serious side effects, which is why some people might want to turn to medical marijuana.

Is that a good idea, however?

What to Know About Medical Marijuana in General

There are both pros and cons of using medical marijuana in general, not just for psychiatric disorders.

Marijuana has been shown effective with certain things. For example, it’s effective at relieving vomiting and nausea, and it can help reduce some of the symptoms of multiple sclerosis. It may boost appetite in people who have conditions like certain cancers and HIV/AIDS, and it can help relieve certain types of chronic pain.

As compared to other treatments for chronic pain, like opioids, most agree medical marijuana has a greater safety profile.

While smoking cannabis can be harmful to your lungs, there are other ways to use it, including oils, topical pain relievers, and edibles.

There are downsides, though, and especially if you do opt to smoke medical marijuana. If you smoke it, it may increase your risk of cancer, and it can damage the tissue of your lungs.

Marijuana is often linked to car accidents, and there’s a potential for abuse and addiction.

Currently, available and clinical trials are limited as well.

Marijuana and PTSD

An increasing number of states have made medical marijuana available for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and this is a move that’s gotten the support of many veterans.

There have been clinical trials in rats showing marijuana may work well as a treatment for PTSD, but there aren’t currently any completed studies in humans.

Marijuana and Anxiety

Some people self-medicate with marijuana when they have anxiety, and self-medicating can lead to a serious negative cycle. For example, self-medication with marijuana can lead you to believe that you need to continue using it to feel a certain way, even in the face of possible consequences.

Medical marijuana for anxiety is a little different than that because you are following a plan set by your doctor rather than just reaching for it when you want to feel a certain way.

Scientists at Washington State University published a study in the Journal of Affective Disorders and found that the use of cannabis significantly reduced self-reported levels of stress and anxiety in the short-term.

However, they also found that repeated, ongoing use didn’t seem to lead to long-term symptom reduction.

Marijuana’s psychoactive properties also come from THC, and THC can increase your heart rate. That effect can, in turn, make your anxiety symptoms seem worse, and if you use too much marijuana, it can also lead to paranoia.

There’s even something called hyperemesis syndrome that leads to nausea and vomiting.

Many care practitioners don’t recommend the use of marijuana for anxiety because of the possible paradoxical effect. It could be better for people with anxiety disorders to explore options like medication or instead use cannabidiol oil.

Cannabidiol oil or CBD is a marijuana extract that doesn’t have THC, so it doesn’t have those psychoactive properties but may help with anxiety.

Of course, psychotherapy tends to be one of the most important components of treating anxiety too.

What About Marijuana and Depression?

Researchers are really just starting to look at the potential use of marijuana for depression.

Scientists at the University of Buffalo looked at the use of marijuana as a potential treatment for depression linked to chronic stress. The studies were on animals and not humans, but they did find that the use of cannabis did help restore some normal levels of certain brain chemicals that could alleviate depression symptoms.

However, it also has to be considered that there are reports showing marijuana actually causes depression.

There is research pointing to the fact that heavy use of marijuana is linked to greater rates of depression.

There are other mental health conditions potentially linked to marijuana that were cited above, such as psychosis. Psychosis can lead to delusions and hallucinations.

Traditional depression treatments include psychotherapy, and if depression is mild, that alone may be enough without medications. If not, antidepressants are used in more severe cases and may include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and tricyclic antidepressants.

Understanding the Risks

Image by Julia Teichmann from Pixabay

It can’t be overemphasized how important it is for people with any health condition, including a mental health condition, to speak with their doctor before they use any form of treatment, and this includes medical marijuana.

Medical marijuana can have serious risks, particularly when it’s used outside of a standard medical protocol.

There are also risks of long-term cognitive impairment and memory problems.

Most experts, even if they see the use of medical marijuana as promising, are still reluctant to sign off on it in a major way because there are limited controlled studies, and not much known about dosing either.

It does also have to be kept in mind that it is federally illegal, and it’s illegal to use it when you’re behind the wheel.

If you’re experiencing any kind of mental health symptoms, your doctor may have a more effective and less risky treatment plan for you, such as therapy.


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