Have you ever wondered about the mental health benefits of cannabis? There are literally thousands of medical cannabis products lining the shelves, and all touted as beneficial for various illnesses. But, many of these products provide little evidence at the point of purchase, and we, as customers, are often left wondering if it’s beneficial.
Cannabis is currently being used by many patients as a form of medical treatment, but is it safe? This article seeks to shed light on the facts, whether cannabis is an effective form of treatment for one’s mental health, and the benefits it may provide. The lack of well-controlled scientific study has led to wild medical claims. These claims have unfortunately been outpacing science, which means we are in uncharted territory.
According to Clinical Psychologist Jonathan N. Stea, “The reality is that cannabis cannot be pigeonholed as strictly helpful or harmful.” At the moment, there have only been a small number of clinical studies performed on controlled groups. We need more scientific research to paint a clearer picture of the effects of Cannabis on one’s mental health.”
And he is right. There haven’t been many studies on large groups of human participants under well-controlled conditions. There are many hypotheses, but most lack robust data. The following are a few important details to note if you are going to use cannabis for mental health concerns.
How to Use Medical Cannabis Wisely for Mental Health
Many patients report positive mental health improvements from the use of cannabis. In fact, most patients report mental health conditions as the main reason they use cannabis. According to one patient survey, that means close to 40 percent of patients use cannabis for mental health concerns, including anxiety, depression, stress, and other mood disorders.
Part of cannabis’ charm for mental health is its complex cannabinoid profile. Those are the different molecules that lend themselves to medical benefits. Susan A. Stoner from the University of Washington wrote, “Aside from THC, the most studied phytocannabinoid is cannabidiol (CBD). CBD has been described as nonpsychotropic due to the fact that it appears to be non-intoxicating and non-reinforcing, but it does appear to be psychotropic insofar as it appears to have pharmacological benefits with regard to anxiety, schizophrenia, addiction, and depression.”
Some people also find that cannabis helps them avoid drugs or alcohol. Cannabis is already getting intense scientific attention for its potential in addiction treatment. In one new study, CBD helped reduce the cravings associated with heroin addiction.
Since there are different types of cannabis, each has unique medicinal qualities. Different strains will have different therapeutic effects, and this can even vary based on the individual. It’s all about finding the right balance for your unique mental health condition, medical history, and life. There are, however, more factors at play than just the THC and CBD balance.
According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, “While THC and cannabidiol (CBD) are the main chemicals of interest in cannabis, dozens of terpenes, flavonoids, and minor cannabinoids are also present that could influence their effects. Future studies would benefit from using whole cannabis extracts (that include all these chemical compounds) to more accurately reflect the biological impacts of its use.”
They go on to say, “Marijuana may have some therapeutic benefits. Some research suggests that cannabis can be used effectively to manage symptoms of a range of health problems, including chronic pain, some mental illnesses and diseases such as epilepsy and cancer. Consult a medical professional to ensure that cannabis is the right choice for you.”
According to Psychology Today writer Jerome Sarris Ph.D.: “It should, however, be firstly realised that the plant contains a complex range of natural chemicals and that the amounts of these (and the ratios) may cause different physical and mental effects.” Depending on your unique situation, you may benefit from what cannabis has to offer, and it may help you return to normal.
It’s up to you whether you choose to use cannabis products at all, of course. With so many varieties available, you may want to be informed about the cannabinoid profile and potency to make an educated decision. Cannabis affects everyone so differently that it’s well worth taking the time to self-titrate to see how it affects your mental health condition. Self-titration means starting with a low dose and increasing slowly until positive impacts or adverse reactions are felt.
Cannabis for Anxiety, the Most Common Mental Health Disorder
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America confirms that anxiety is the most common mental health condition today. During any given year, roughly 18 percent of adult Americans will experience this condition. If you’ve ever had it, you know just how debilitating chronic anxiety can be to your daily life.
In 2011, researchers in Brazil created an experiment to test the anti-anxiety powers of CBD. They created a simulated public speaking test and asked a group of participants with a social anxiety disorder to perform. After receiving a dose of 300 mg of CBD before public speaking, the results of CBD treatment were astounding.
Compared to a control group, CBD measurably reduced both experienced and physical signs of anxiety. Even among a set of healthy control participants, who didn’t have any diagnosed anxiety disorder, the researchers also found anti-anxiety effects of this cannabinoid.
Since then, CBD has been under investigation all around the world for a new all-natural treatment for anxiety disorders. Researchers have continued to replicate similar anti-anxiety results with ongoing studies over the years. Given more time and more clinical trials, it could become a safe alternative to the current anti-anxiety pharmaceuticals on the market today.
A Word of Caution: Cannabis and the Risk of Psychosis
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information,”Using a case-control design of 410 patients with first episode psychosis and 370 population controls, Di Forti et al. (2015) showed that first-episode psychosis patients were more likely to have lifetime cannabis use, more likely to use cannabis every day, and to mostly use high- potency cannabis as compared to the controls. The cases were also more likely to have used cannabis before the age of 15. Duration of use did not differ between patients and controls, nor did other drug use. After adjusting for a variety of confounders, including use of other drugs and alcohol, the researchers found an increased risk of developing psychosis in subjects who used cannabis daily.”
It seems that if you have been a chronic cannabis smoker since you were quite young (earlier than age 15,) than you are at higher risk for psychosis if you continue to smoke cannabis daily. Beyond early adolescent use, a family history with psychosis and schizophrenia is another risk factor. Fortunately, this does not apply to everyone, as everyone’s unique situation is different. Cannabis has many benefits, but as with any medicine, patients need to use it wisely.
Every Patient is Different. Every Treatment Must Be as Well
Using cannabis for mental health is almost as common as using cannabis for chronic pain. While there is an urgent need for more clinical studies exploring the many possible applications — that many patients can’t be wrong.
There is substantial preliminary, qualitative, and anecdotal evidence for the power of cannabis to treat a myriad of different mental health conditions. Despite the lack of clinical trials, early scientific support about the effects of cannabis on mental health conditions is growing.
If you have experience with anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders, cannabis might be worth a shot — but always under the careful guidance of your doctor.