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Within the past five years there has been an increase in availability for marijuana and an increase in attitudes for marijuana. 20 states have legalized marijuana for medical use (NORML). 8 states have legalized marijuana for medical and recreational use (NORML). Fifty-seven percent of American adults support the legalization, and 69% of American adults believe alcohol is more harmful to your health than marijuana (pewsearch.org). Due to the increased interest of marijuana, it has raised some questions especially concerning mental health. Medical marijuana is used to aid certain mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, PTSD and ADHD (American Psychiatric Association). On the other hand, marijuana has been linked to increased risk of psychosis, depression, anxiety and substance use disorders. In my paper, I will determine the link between marijuana use and mental illness disorders by discussing the medicinal potential and benefits of cannabis, how cannabis impacts specific mental health disorders, as well as whether or not cannabis increases the risk for mental health.
Cannabis has a variety of compounds, both psychoactive and non-psychoactive (Fichtner and Howard). There are 483 compounds unique to marijuana and CBD (Fichtner and Howard). Many patients use cannabis for symptoms of PTSD, anxiety disorders, depression, ADHD, bipolar disorder, chronic pain, insomnia, opiate dependence and even schizophrenia (Fichtner and Howard). Marijuana is also helpful for neurological condition like multiple sclerosis, dementia, seizures, as well as reducing nausea and anorexia, and useful in helping cancer chemotherapy patients (Fichtner and Howard).
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According to an article in Time Magazine, cannabis can likely benefit people dealing with depression, social anxiety, and PTSD (Sifferlin). Cannabis has best potential for treatment of PTSD and substance use disorders (Walsh et al., 2017). Cannabis has been exponentially helpful in the role of replacement for opioid medication, to go off opioids or cut back (Sifferlin). This maybe confusing since marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, due to its high potential for abuse. In 2015, a study analyzed 79 different studies and found there was a 30% or greater reduction in pain from cannabinoids as compared to a placebo (Whiting, Wolff, and Deshpande). In 2014, a study discovered states with medical marijuana available had a 25% decrease in opioid overdose deaths (Bachhuber, Saloner, Cunningham, and Barry). In fact, using THC to decrease opioid withdrawal during detoxification found patients who continued to use marijuana were more likely to complete their treatment (Fichtner and Howard).
Psychologists have studied the influence of cannabis on mood and behavior for years. Mental health conditions are among the reasons for cannabis use (Walsh et al., 2017). Cannabis has been used to ease anxiety, calm nerves and reduce impulsive and negative thoughts. Cannabis has also been found to be an alternative to anti-depressant medication by boosting moods and energy, offering a peace of mind, increasing appetite and fighting insomnia. Marijuana helps decrease depression and PTSD in the brain by releasing dopamine and anandamide (Smith, M.). A growing concern regarding mental health is whether or not those with mental illness are using cannabis to help with symptoms or are they using it as a result of having a mental illness (Lev). Researcher Lev-Ran conducted a study in 2013 and found people with mental illnesses are over seven times more likely to use cannabis weekly than those without a mental illness (Lev). Lev-Ran also found that individuals with depression were at a higher risk to start using cannabis compared to those with no depression (Lev). Marijuana has been found useful in coping with depression and anxiety. Marijuana’s anxiolytic and mood-enhancing effects enhance the desire and risk for depression and anxiety (Grunberg et al., 2015).
There are still negative consequences to marijuana. These consequences are impaired short-term memory, impaired judgment, coordination and balance, along with increased anxiety and paranoia (NIDA). Long-term users may face marijuana addiction, impairments in learning and memory with potential loss of IQ, increased risk of chronic cough, risk of other drug and alcohol use and increased risk of schizophrenia (NIDA). In a recent study, they found Canadian adolescents are among the youngest and most frequent users of marijuana in the developed world (Thompson, Merrin, Ames and Leadbeater). In this study conducted at St. Francis Xavier University, they found chronic users had more behavior problems such as ADHD, defiant disorder and conduct problems more often than depressive symptoms (Thompson, Merrin, Ames and Leadbeater). However, cannabis does not appear to increase risk of harm to self or others but may be used to help cope with social problems (Walsh et al., 2017).
It is difficult to determine whether marijuana affects mental health. In fact, there are both benefits and harms regarding marijuana and mental health care. Some associations have not remained when other variables associated with depression and marijuana use were considered (Grunberg et al., 2015). These differences could be due to the temperament affect the relationship between marijuana and depression (Grunberg et al., 2015). Some marijuana users with or prone to depression appear to experience a degree of benefits from using marijuana. The effects also depending between how long users had been consuming marijuana, when they first began to use marijuana, the frequency, dose and duration of marijuana or if their mental health existed before marijuana consumption. When treating mental illness with marijuana, it may take a while to find a strain with the right prescription and dosage just as you would with an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication (Lev).
All medications have benefits and side effects. Hopefully people begin to use marijuana and become less critical of the stigma surrounding marijuana. In conclusion, there needs to be more future research on the topic. Examining gender differences, childhood trauma, age, and state legalization. Other things to consider is emotional sensitivity related to marijuana use. As marijuana becomes more available and accepted, it is important to consider motivation for use, benefits and risks of using marijuana for therapeutic purposes.
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