Like any drug, marijuana is known to have side effects that can exacerbate or diminish certain mental health conditions.
Marijuana is a popular drug that is consumed in the United States and the rest of the world. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that 22.2 million people reported using the drug in the past month in 2015.
The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that as of 2019, 11 states have made recreational marijuana legal for adults. Twenty-six states have decriminalized set amounts of marijuana, which means that residents of these states will not immediately go to prison for carrying cannabis.
In January 2019, Scientific American explained that although cannabis comes from one plant, it contains up to 500 different chemical components, and not all of them cause the same effects. Cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are found in marijuana .
Data on the relationship between marijuana and mental illness seems conflicting because some studies focus on the effects of CBD, while others focus on THC. Taking this into account, it seems marijuana can both help and harm people with mental health disorders, depending on the chemical component and the mental health disorder in question.
According to a July 2014 article from Psychology Today, scientists discovered that the brain has cannabinoid receptors in 1989. Receptors in the brain explain why marijuana causes a high when used. Documented short-term effects of marijuana include:
Per the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), studies about the long-term effects of using marijuana are not yet conclusive. However, some studies show marijuana has these long-term effects:
A June 2014 case report published by The New England Journal of Medicine says a few factors may influence whether marijuana can influence mental health. These factors include:
Mental health issues span several conditions, but some have been strongly linked to marijuana use.
A January 2018 article from Psychology Today discusses a patient with schizophrenia. The patient was known to run away from the hospital where he was seeking treatment for the condition. He had started using marijuana when he was 14 years old.
Studies on exactly how marijuana and schizophrenia could be linked are still needed. But there is now a lot of evidence supporting the relationship between marijuana and the condition.
An April 2017 article on VICE explains that in another study, people who smoke marijuana every day are at a higher than average risk of experiencing suicidal thoughts. Researchers involved in this study say they are unsure if people who are already suicidal turn to marijuana for comfort. They stress that the findings do not mean marijuana can cause suicidal thoughts in otherwise healthy people.
In December 2018, the American Psychological Association (APA) published an article on how marijuana may still be able to help people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and pain. Studies on the effects of marijuana on these conditions show promise.
As many as 94 percent of people with a card for medical marijuana in Colorado cited pain as the reason why they wanted medical marijuana. People with chronic pain may be able to use medical marijuana for relief instead of opioids.
APA also says that people who have cancer sometimes seek medical marijuana because of nausea caused by chemotherapy treatments. It has been confirmed that marijuana can help patients in this situation.
Marijuana is also being researched for its effects on PTSD. Right now, people who are diagnosed with PTSD are primarily treated with therapy, but this may not be wholly effective for everyone.
APA also says that studying medical marijuana is not easy. The hope is that more research is conducted so everyone can make good decisions when it comes to marijuana and their mental health.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released data in April 2014 that explored who uses marijuana and other drugs.
SAMHSA’s research does not mention whether sex or gender is likely to affect mental health repercussions as a result of marijuana consumption. Other organizations that research marijuana may come up with answers to this someday.
Their hope is that using this data can result in better care for women and men in various treatment settings and across age groups. It can instill more understanding about the way women and men use marijuana differently.
While marijuana can potentially alleviate the symptoms of certain mental health disorders, it can trigger or exacerbate other mental health issues.
Ongoing research in the field will help to further illuminate exactly how marijuana affects mental health.
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(February 2016) Does cannabis cause mental illness? The Conversation. from https://theconversation.com/does-cannabis-cause-mental-illness-54890
(January 2019) Is Cannabis Good or Bad for Mental Health. Scientific American. from https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/is-cannabis-good-or-bad-for-mental-health/
(July 2014) 7 Short-Term Effects of Marijuana on the Brain. Psychology Today. from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/you-illuminated/201407/7-short-term-effects-marijuana-the-brain
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(December 2018) Marijuana and Depression: What’s the Link? Mayo Clinic. from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/expert-answers/marijuana-and-depression/faq-20058060
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(March 2019) Potent cannabis increases risk of serious mental illness, says study. BBC News. from https://www.bbc.com/news/health-47609849
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(July 2019) Marijuana Overview. National College of State Legislatures. from http://www.ncsl.org/research/civil-and-criminal-justice/marijuana-overview.aspx
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(April 2017) People Who Smoke Weed Every Day Have More Suicidal Thoughts, Study Says. VICE. from https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/vb4vqm/people-who-smoke-weed-every-day-have-more-suicidal-thoughts-study-says
(April 2014) Gender Differences in Primary Substances of Abuse across Age Groups. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/sr077-gender-differences-2014.pdf