Marijuana has long been used for medical purposes, and it is being increasingly recognized in particular for it pain management treatment and comfort qualities. As of May 2020, medical marijuana is legal in 33 states and Washington D.C., and almost all states are projected to legalize the plant for at least basic medicinal purposes by the end of the decade. And as understanding of the plant and its “cannabinoids” (THC and CBD) continues to grow, so too does evidence of its use as an effective mental health treatment.
This is especially true when it comes to anxiety, depression and general stress. While there are some studies exploring marijuana’s positive effects on other mental health illnesses, researchers have been noting cannabinoids’ ability to decrease stress and brighten mood for years.
A 2017 study from the University of Washington even managed to find that specific combinations of cannabinoids had significant effects on certain mental health illnesses over others. For example, the researchers found that products high in CBD and low in THC achieved the best outcome when it came to improving depression symptoms. Meanwhile, marijuana products containing both high CBD and high THC had the most positive relaxing effects on stress (not to be confused with anxiety). As for anxiety, any type of cannabis was deemed to have noticeable effects on both calming anxiety attacks and preventing them from happening in the first place.
Much of this comes as a result of marijuana’s proven mood-stabilizing effects. Cannabinoids prompt increased levels of serotonin to be released in the brain. This natural chemical neurotransmitter is best known for causing feelings of well-being and happiness, which of course go a long way in helping improve symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression.
Other mental health disorders may also be improved with marijuana treatment but are not as clear. For example, a 2016 study explored the possibilities of marijuana as a treatment for bipolar disorder. The researchers found that cannabis (when inhaled or eaten in edible form) resulted in a “substantial decrease” of the mood-swing symptoms of the disorder and also did not find any negative results.
That said, a conflicting study from the same time found that some patients with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia may actually exhibit psychotic disorder after consuming marijuana. It is therefore wise for these patients to consult with their doctor first and avoid use if it is deemed too risky. However, the National Institute on Drug Abuse states that these psychotic symptoms could also be a direct result of genetics.
Those using marijuana for its positive mental effects would also do well to make sure they are setting themselves up for as healthy an experience as possible. Those concerned about the possible carcinogenic effects of smoking should consider switching to oils or tincture (in edible form) or even clean vape methods. Drinking plenty of fluids and staying hydrated is always best both before, during, and after use. If any negative mental effects are noted during use, marijuana should be discontinued as a treatment. Teenagers and children suffering from mental health disorders should still avoid using marijuana, as it has been known to have some negative cognition effects in brains that are still developing.