Cannabis and Mental Health

 Exploring the Impact of Cannabis Use on Mental Health 

Cannabis, also known as marijuana, has been widely used for recreational and medicinal purposes for centuries. Over the past few decades, there has been a surge of scientific and public interest in understanding the relationship between cannabis use and mental health conditions. While cannabis has been praised for its potential therapeutic benefits, concerns have also been raised about its adverse effects on mental well-being. Exploring the complex relationship between cannabis use and mental health conditions with evidence-based information sheds light on the intriguing and ever more prevalent topic.

The Active Compounds of Cannabis

What exactly is Cannabis made of and why does it make someone feel “high”? Cannabis contains over 100 active compounds known as cannabinoids, the two main ones being delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). The answer lies in the difference: 

  • THC (Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol): THC is the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis and is responsible for the euphoric and intoxicating effects commonly associated with cannabis use. THC binds to cannabinoid receptors (CB1 receptors) in the brain and central nervous system, particularly in areas involved in mood regulation, such as the amygdala and prefrontal cortex. This activation of CB1 receptors leads to alterations in neurotransmitter release, including dopamine, which contributes to the sensation of pleasure and reward associated with THC consumption.
  • CBD (Cannabidiol): CBD is the other prominent cannabinoid found in cannabis, but unlike THC, it is non-psychoactive. CBD does not produce the same intoxicating effects as THC and may even counteract some of THC’s effects. CBD interacts with various receptors in the endocannabinoid system, including CB1 and CB2 receptors, as well as other neurotransmitter systems, such as serotonin receptors. CBD is believed to modulate the effects of THC and may have potential therapeutic properties, including anti-anxiety, anti-inflammatory, and antipsychotic effects.

The sensation of being “high” when consuming cannabis is primarily due to the activation of CB1 receptors by THC, leading to changes in neurotransmitter release and neuronal activity in the brain. These alterations in brain function can result in various subjective effects, including euphoria, relaxation, altered perception of time and space, increased appetite, and impaired memory and coordination. The varying ratios and concentrations of these compounds in different cannabis strains contribute to the diverse effects of cannabis on mental health. 

So how can one reap the benefits of cannabis use with a mental health disorder? It’s a tricky question but one worth exploring. 

Cannabis Use and Psychiatric Disorders:

Cannabis can have both positive and negative effects on mental health, depending on various factors such as the individual’s genetics, mental health history, pattern of use, dose, and the ratio of cannabinoids consumed. Here’s a breakdown of how cannabis can be beneficial and detrimental to mental health:

Positive Effects:

  • Potential Therapeutic Benefits: Certain cannabinoids, particularly CBD, have been studied for their potential therapeutic effects on mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, and substance use disorders. CBD has shown promise in reducing anxiety and stress, mitigating psychotic symptoms, and aiding in substance abuse treatment.
  • Pain Management: Cannabis, particularly strains high in THC, is commonly used for pain relief, including chronic pain conditions such as neuropathic pain, arthritis, and cancer-related pain. By activating cannabinoid receptors in the brain and peripheral nervous system, cannabis can modulate pain perception and provide relief for individuals suffering from various pain disorders.
  • Mood Enhancement: Some individuals report using cannabis to alleviate symptoms of depression and enhance mood. THC’s ability to stimulate dopamine release in the brain can produce feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and pleasure, which may temporarily alleviate symptoms of depression and improve overall mood.

Negative Effects

  • Psychiatric Disorders: Heavy or long-term cannabis use has been associated with an increased risk of developing psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, psychosis, bipolar disorder, and depression. THC, the psychoactive component in cannabis, can exacerbate symptoms of psychosis in susceptible individuals and may precipitate the onset of psychotic disorders, especially in those with a family history of mental illness.
  • Cognitive Impairment: Chronic cannabis use, particularly during adolescence when the brain is still developing, has been linked to cognitive impairments, including deficits in memory, attention, and executive functioning. These cognitive impairments can interfere with daily functioning and academic or occupational performance, leading to negative outcomes in individuals who use cannabis regularly.
  • Addiction and Dependence: While cannabis addiction is less common than addiction to substances like alcohol or opioids, some individuals can develop a cannabis dependence, characterized by compulsive use despite negative consequences. Cannabis withdrawal symptoms, including irritability, anxiety, insomnia, and decreased appetite, can occur in individuals who abruptly stop or reduce their cannabis use after prolonged use.
  • Exacerbation of Mental Health Symptoms: In some cases, cannabis use can worsen symptoms of underlying mental health conditions, such as anxiety, paranoia, and mood instability. For individuals with pre-existing mental health disorders, cannabis use may exacerbate symptoms and interfere with treatment efficacy.

While cannabis may offer therapeutic benefits for certain individuals, it also carries risks, particularly with heavy or long-term use. 

Things to consider

The connection between cannabis use and psychiatric disorders is important to consider when seeking out its therapeutic benefits. Depending on the individual it can do more harm than good. It’s essential for individuals considering cannabis use to weigh the potential benefits against the potential risks and to use cannabis responsibly, ideally under the guidance of a healthcare professional, particularly if they have a history of mental health issues. Some key points regarding the relationship between cannabis use and psychiatric disorders are:

  • Schizophrenia and Psychosis: Mounting evidence suggests a link between cannabis use and an increased risk of developing psychosis and schizophrenia, particularly among susceptible individuals. Longitudinal studies have shown that regular cannabis use during adolescence can double the risk of developing psychosis in adulthood. THC’s psychoactive properties are believed to play a crucial role in this association by altering brain development and increasing the vulnerability to psychiatric disorders.
  • Depression and Anxiety: The relationship between cannabis use and depression or anxiety is complex and not well understood. While some users believe that cannabis can alleviate symptoms of these conditions, research findings are mixed. Some studies indicate a potential association between heavy cannabis use and an increased risk of depression and anxiety disorders, especially among individuals with a predisposition to these conditions. However, more research is needed to establish a clear causal link.
  • Cannabis Use and Substance Abuse: Cannabis is often categorized as a gateway drug since its use has been associated with an increased likelihood of experimenting with other substances. Substance abuse, including cannabis use disorder, can have detrimental effects on mental health and exacerbate existing conditions. It is crucial to assess the potential risks and benefits of cannabis use, particularly in individuals with a history of substance abuse or addiction.
  • Individual Variations and Personal Factors: The impact of cannabis on mental health can vary depending on individual factors, including genetics, age of initiation, frequency of use, and co-occurring conditions. Some individuals may be more susceptible to the adverse effects of cannabis, while others may experience little to no negative repercussions. 

Cannabis use and medication

It is generally advised to use caution or avoid combining cannabis with certain mental health medications such as antidepressants and stimulants. This can be a defining answer in the decision to use cannabis or not. Some side effects to consider are: 

  • Potential Interactions: Cannabis can interact with certain medications, including antidepressants and stimulants, altering their effects or causing adverse reactions. The combination of cannabis with these medications may lead to increased sedation, drowsiness, dizziness, confusion, or other unwanted side effects. Additionally, cannabis can affect the metabolism of certain medications, potentially leading to changes in their blood levels and efficacy.
  • Increased Risk of Side Effects: Both cannabis and certain mental health medications can cause side effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, blurred vision, and impaired cognitive function. Combining cannabis with these medications may increase the risk and severity of these side effects, impairing one’s ability to function safely and effectively.
  • Exacerbation of Psychiatric Symptoms: Cannabis use can exacerbate symptoms of certain mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, and psychosis. Using cannabis while on antidepressants or stimulants may worsen psychiatric symptoms or interfere with the effectiveness of the medication in managing these symptoms.
  • Potential for Substance Abuse: Individuals with mental health disorders, particularly depression and anxiety, may be at increased risk of substance abuse or dependence. Using cannabis alongside psychiatric medications may heighten the risk of developing problematic patterns of cannabis use, potentially worsening overall mental health outcomes.

An Ongoing Conversation

Due to the evolving legal landscape surrounding cannabis, individuals have easier access to the substance. However, this accessibility often comes without adequate information. Users must rely on evidence-based information from reputable sources. While there is growing interest in the potential therapeutic uses of cannabis for mental health conditions, research on the safety and efficacy of combining cannabis with psychiatric medications is still limited. The lack of standardized dosing, formulations, and regulation of cannabis products makes it difficult to predict how they will interact with specific medications and individual characteristics.

Consulting healthcare professionals here at Relief Recovery can help individuals make informed decisions about cannabis use and its potential effects on mental health. Contact us here to learn more.