A growing number of consumers are interested in using cannabis to treat depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental health conditions. This interest includes using not only cannabis, but the organic compound CBD as well, leading many to wonder: how does cannabis affect your mental health?
The expanding public fascination between cannabis and mental health has been encouraged by celebrities like Kristen Bell and Pete Davidson that endorse the mental benefits of cannabis and CBD. But all the intrigue has quickly outpaced science and research, leaving many to wonder if cannabis actually affects your mental health in any way. And if it does, in what way?
Let’s take some time to review cannabis in further detail. After doing so, we’ll tackle this tricky question to determine how cannabis affects your mental health, and if it can truly be used to treat widespread mental health conditions.
A Cannabis Refresher Course
Before we delve into this popular query, let’s take a brief moment to review the basics of cannabis.
Also known as marijuana, pot and weed, cannabis is a plant that’s been promoted for its psychoactive and healing properties for thousands of years. Contained within the cannabis plant are organic compounds known as cannabinoids that interact with our body’s endocannabinoid system in numerous ways. Of the many cannabinoids that exist, we pay special attention to THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, and CBD, or cannabidiol.
THC is the cannabinoid that gets you high, while CBD possesses its own special properties that may help individuals manage pain, inflammation, anxiety, and more. As states across the country continue to pass legislation that legalizes recreational and medicinal cannabis, millions of Americans are turning to this powerful plant in search of relaxation and relief.
But what is the relationship between cannabis and mental health?
Cannabis and Your Mental Health
The relationship between cannabis and mental health is one that’s neither helpful nor harmful. While cannabis users often report finding mental relief through cannabis, research suggests there’s mixed evidence to support any link between THC, CBD, and the treatment of mental health conditions.
For example, with respect to depression, it’s clear that our endocannabinoid system plays an integral role in mood regulation; this biological system that operates between the mind and body controls mood, anxiety, stress, fear, and more. Cannabis users will happily tell you that cannabis can help with depressive symptoms to alleviate any bad mood, illustrating the relationship between cannabis and our body’s emotion-regulating procedure. But no randomized trials have been conducted thus far that support the use of cannabis, or cannabinoids, as a means of treating depressive disorders.
In fact, any research that has been conducted on the relationship between cannabis and mental health is mixed at best. Data suggests that ingested cannabis can lead to the development and worsening of depressive symptoms. But these findings aren’t straightforward simply because research also suggests we manufacture cannabis-based medicines for depression while issuing caution against self-medicating with cannabis to treat depression. It’s a pot-induced paradox that has no clear answer.
Yet this topic grows even more confusing when we take a closer look at those two primary cannabinoids that were mentioned above, THC and CBD. While THC has been shown to produce anxiety and psychotic episodes in higher doses, CBD produces anxiolytic and antipsychotic effects. We know that certain cannabinoids contained within the cannabis plant are helpful when treating mental health conditions, but others might be less helpful if abused.
Keep in mind, however, that everyone is different, and we all react to cannabis differently. Whether you experience an increase or decrease in anxiety can be influenced by the concentration of THC, the strain of cannabis you’re consuming, your frequency of use, and your prior experience with cannabis.
Consuming Cannabis with Care
How should you navigate this confusing cannabis conundrum?
For starters, keep in mind that cannabis is relatively safe. While you may experience short-term anxiety or paranoia during a cannabis high, these effects will dissipate with time and may not reflect a normal high if you’re new to cannabis. Consider following low-risk guidelines that have been developed by the research community that seek to help you consume cannabis responsibly.
Next, take some time to reflect and determine why you’re using cannabis. Research has shown that people who use cannabis to escape uncomfortable emotions often experience mental health difficulties. While cannabis may alleviate short-term stress or anxiety, it’s no substitute for professional medical help if need be. Substances like THC can be positively reinforcing or negatively reinforcing depending on how you choose to use them.
This essentially means that cannabis can reward by enhancing positive feelings and removing negative ones. But it can also act as an avoidant substance that allows you to circumvent those uncomfortable emotions, which is never healthy in the long term. Using cannabis as a mind-altering therapy to find relief from a mental health condition runs counter to therapy itself, so don’t assume cannabis will act as a substitute for professional help.
Mixed messaging about cannabis has become more common over time. Discussions surrounding this powerful plant have become polarizing and politically charged in many ways. If you’re new to cannabis, take your time to determine what it means to you, and how much you should consume. From there, start with small doses and work your way up. Don’t be afraid to use cannabis if you’ve had a stressful day or simply wish to enhance your experiences. If treated with thoughtfulness and consideration, the many benefits of cannabis will far outweigh the potential drawbacks.