Cannabis can have psychological and physiological effects on us, which means it can alter the state of mind either way. Depending upon how we use cannabis, it can either be your friend for life or your worst enemy. Around 500 identified constituents, also known as cannabinoids, trigger very complex reactions in our mind and body. The endocannabinoid system, a naturally occurring communication network in our body, connects with cannabis and affects different bodily functions like pain, hunger, memory, state of mind, body movement, and overall immunity. Many claims have been made, especially about the benefits of cannabis on its ability to improve our mental conditions. How true are these claims, and to what extent should you believe them? In this article, we shall discuss the effect of cannabis on our mental state.
Let’s dive in!
Good & bad things about cannabis
The good part is that cannabis, which humans have been using for thousands of years, is still very much a big part of our life. Researchers in the 21st century are digging in deep to find its hidden secrets, which they believe can cure many critical diseases. The bad part is all the hoopla around its medicinal properties is at a nascent stage as per the current standards. Mostly, tight regulations by governments, anti-cannabis lobbying by certain corporates, and lack of funding for research are to be blamed for this. Despite these roadblocks, there are countless anecdotal claims — read online forums — that suggest cannabis has all the properties to cure mental health issues like depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, among others, provided it’s studied properly.
No black and white boxes for cannabis
The truth is you can’t categorize cannabis in just two boxes — white or black, or good or bad, or helpful or harmful. There lies a grey area, and most of the discussion should happen around it. Cannabis, being a complex plant on earth, needs to be understood more carefully. As rightly pointed out in a 2018 review paper, Cannabis regulatory science: risk-benefit considerations for mental disorders, by Jacob Borodovsky and Alan Budney, “any meaningful discussion and evaluation of the effects of cannabis on mental disorders must explicitly specify what cannabinoid compounds are being evaluated, how much of and for how long the compounds were administered and evaluated, the potential conflation of reinforcing properties and therapeutic utility, and the cannabis use history of the persons included in the evaluation.”
And that’s where we lack right now. Tight laws in most countries are making it difficult for scientists to move ahead with their research, and it’s becoming difficult to match personal claims with facts. It also becomes difficult for rational people to go for it based on anecdotal experiences. For example, science says the endocannabinoid system in our body regulates our mood. So, if cannabis has all the properties to interact with it and change our state of mind, it should work well against mental health problems. All that is fine, but there’s little research to back these claims.
Cannabis’ effect on the mental state
Based on what we know as facts and what we know as “anecdotal experiences, ‘’ certain things have come out.
Firstly, cannabis users are at the risk of developing mild depression. A 2013 study, in its research on the association between cannabis use and depression published in Cambridge University Press, concluded that “heavy cannabis use may be associated with an increased risk for developing a depressive disorder.” However, there’s a need for “longitudinal exploration.” Another 2014 study on the association between anxiety disorders and cannabis use published in BMC Psychiatry volume found “anxiety is positively associated with cannabis use.”
Interestingly, both these studies lacked two main variables — demographic status and family environment. Researchers say if these variables are included, the relationship between cannabis and depression and anxiety becomes more complex. Thus, it becomes difficult to assess the overall impact of cannabis use on the mind.
The relation between cannabis and psychosis, also called schizophrenia, however, is well-established. It has been found “cannabis abuse” can cause impaired memory and hurt the ability to process thoughts.
In an analysis of around 83 studies from 1980-2018 on cannabis use and its ability to treat mental health conditions, it was found that two main compounds of cannabis may have little impact on mental state.
Secondly, despite all this evidence, there’s still a lack of clarity on the overall effect of cannabis use on mental health. The cannabis proponents say it can’t be solely attributed for causing mental illness as not all who consume cannabis develop schizophrenia or depression. However, mental health experts say, one becomes more prone to developing mental health issues if they use cannabis.
What do psychiatrists say?
Experts think it’s not just cannabis but other conditions that determine whether a person will develop psychotic symptoms or not. For example, suppose a person is consuming cannabis for a long time, apart from the dosage. In that case, its potency level, effects of each cannabinoid, frequency, environment, and family history will decide if they will develop psychiatric symptoms. Also, there’s a debate going on within the medical science community that cannabis should replace opioids as a “less harmful” addiction. They also think that using cannabis to treat those addicted to very harmful opioids can also result in “withdrawal” symptoms. That’s why people think that despite hypothetical claims, cannabis may be more useful in the role of treatment of addiction.
Science suggests if you are one of those occasional users, cannabis should relatively be safer for you. One can follow all the guidelines laid down by the researchers’ community, which suggest ways to make cannabis consumption low-risk. However, if you think mental health issues are a big concern for you, cannabis may not be a good idea. If you can’t take your mind away from cannabis, just be a part of groups into the “ethical” use of cannabis. You can also take the help of a medical expert in finding a middle path for you, the one that’s not very risky.