How does cannabis influence your mental health? Have you never heard of Reefer Madness? Science, sociology, and government forces have never quite gotten past the stigma attached to cannabis, marijuana, and hashish in the 1930s.
Amid The Great Depression and just after the end of Prohibition, there was a need to blame something for all the country’s ills. World War I had changed the nation’s character deeply and broadly. There had been great shifts in wealth, big moves in ethnic and racial migration, and increasing distrust in the ability of the government to govern.
So, cannabis would bear the brunt officially and unofficially thereafter.
The negative outcomes
The most negative result has been the restriction on significant research. Without it, you have two problems:
- The government position on research invites a bias to seek and find negative implications.
- The restriction on research discourages funding and encourages anecdotal conclusions.
But, some science findings on the effect of cannabis on the brain raise concerns even cannabis advocates should address.
- The British Journal of Psychiatry (2001) says, “An appreciable proportion of cannabis users report short-lived adverse effects, including psychotic states following heavy consumption, and regular users are at risk of dependence. People with major mental illnesses such as schizophrenia are especially vulnerable in that cannabis generally provokes relapse and aggravates existing symptoms.”
- A study in the British Medical Journal (2002) raised concerns about use of cannabis among adolescents whose brains have not fully developed. Their “findings contribute to evidence that frequent cannabis use may have a deleterious effect on mental health beyond a risk for psychotic symptoms. Strategies to reduce frequent use of cannabis might reduce the level of mental disorders in young people.”
- The Royal College of Psychiatrists (2017) reported, “research has strongly suggested that there is a clear link between early cannabis use and later mental health problems in those with a genetic vulnerability - and that there is a particular issue with the use of cannabis by adolescents.”
Additional research reports the same targets. Heavy use among adolescents may affect their brain development. And, people with genetic predisposition to depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and addiction are at risk when using cannabis products.
The positive outcomes
You can cherry-pick research to make just about any point. (That’s why I have linked only to primary research sources.) But, without dismissing the negative concerns just mentioned, you can find an increasing body of research indicating positive results from moderate and selective use of cannabis.
- Psychiatric Times (2017) advices, “Regardless of the legal status of cannabis, many patients with psychiatric disorders use cannabis and report improvement in their symptoms. Patients use cannabis for symptoms of PTSD, anxiety disorders, depression, ADHD, bipolar disorder, chronic pain, insomnia, opiate dependence, and even schizophrenia.”
- A study published in the European Neuropsychopharmacology Journal (2013) claims, “THC activates the endocannabinoid system naturally found in the brain to alter our response to negative images or emotions.”
- And, a study in Translational Psychiatry (2012) acknowledges the effects of THC, but it advocates the use of CBD for its increase in serum anandamide levels which “may contribute to the antipsychotic effects of cannabidiol potentially representing a completely new mechanism in the treatment of schizophrenia.”
These studies and others find that, where the THC level of certain strains may induce levels of psychotic reaction, CBD and its entourage effect may contribute to reduction of neuropathic pain, depression, anxiety, mood swings, spasticity, and PTSD symptomology.
What you can learn
It is obvious to any user that cannabis affects the brain and body. Both recreational and medical use influence the human systems. They affect your neurological, muscular, glandular, respiratory, endocannabinoid systems, and more.
Each stain affects each user differently, and frequency and dosage can trigger the “right” systems for your enjoyment or therapy. But, heavy use of high doses of THC-dominant strain runs some risk.
The risk of heavy use in adolescent years appears to affect the development of the brain and its cognitive abilities. And, there is evidence that heavy use in those year can increase the potential for psychosis, depression, social anxiety, and schizophrenia. The risk increases for users who have a genetic predisposition to these problems and/or addiction.
Responsible use by adults presents fewer concerns. Again, people genetically predisposed to mental health problems should be reserved in their selection of strain and dosage. For example, choosing a THC-dominant strain may provide a euphoric experience, you may be inclined to react with hallucinations and/or panic. Likewise, if you opt for CBD-dominant or balanced hybrids, they can manage the reaction because the CBD will offset the THC impact.
Until research clarifies or completes significant studies, there remains some debate on how cannabis influences mental health. There is no argument that cannabis interacts with the brain. The mechanics of cannabinoids directly or indirectly affect neuro-receptors to stimulate or sedate responses. You are not certain of more than that because, for instance, the restricted research has not isolated interactions nor has it examined the depth of the entourage effects that integrate any number of other cannabinoids.