When it comes to the medical properties of marijuana, we know cannabis has been linked to many benefits. Especially, in terms of mental health. However, there’s also the flipside of the coin – when cannabis causes mental health complications, such as psychosis.
The goal of this article is to discover everything there is to know about cannabis and mental health. We’ll look into a variety of different mental disorders and see how cannabis plays a role in either relieving or producing problems. At the end, we invite you to ask questions.
How Does Cannabis Effect the Brain?
In order to understand cannabis and mental health, we must first know how cannabis affects the brain. It all begins with a little chemical known as tetrahydrocannabinol or “THC” for short.
THC has a very similar structure to a naturally occurring chemical in our brain, anandamide. Both work within the brain as neurotransmitters – the function of sending chemical messages between nerve cells throughout the nervous system. In turn, these chemicals work their way up to the brain and affect areas responsible for:
- Sensory perception
- Time perception
Since THC has a similar chemical structure to anandamide, it’s able to attach itself to cannabinoid receptors on neurons within the brain. Inevitably, this interferes with the brain’s natural way of creating anandamide and leaves the user feeling “high”.
So, how does this chemical functioning play a role in mental health?
It’s quite simple. Since marijuana causes a heightened experience within the brain, mental illnesses will, likewise, be intensified.
Mental health is unique in two ways:
- The way in which each disorder effects people.
- The way in which it affects people on an individual level.
With that in mind, it’s important to look at each mental illness to get an idea of how it affects the user.
When you ask people about their marijuana experience and anxiety, they’ll tell you one of two scenarios:
- Cannabis alleviates their anxious feelings.
- Cannabis perpetrates paranoia.
But why is this?
It all has to do with the amygdala – a receptor in your brain that is responsible for feelings of fear and other emotions. When you intake THC, the chemical naturally attaches itself to your amygdala. In turn, you either are relieved from fear or you have large amounts of it.
This is why people who experience a “bad trip” due to their cannabis experience often find it extremely difficult to reverse the effect. With this information, you might ask yourself, can cannabis relieve my anxiety?
The answer to that question isn’t given. The truth of the matter is some people with an anxiety disorder enjoy the feeling while others simply don’t.
Maybe you haven’t tried cannabis and are trying to figure out how it’ll affect your anxiety?
If you’re in this position, it’s in your best interest to simply give it a try. Take into consideration a few factors before doing so. Make sure you’re in a safe environment surrounded by people you trust. Don’t smoke too much, take a hit or two and see how it makes you feel.
If you don’t like it, you don’t have to try it again. But if you do, you may just have found the medication for your anxiety.
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
People with ADHD often have difficulty concentrating. The same can be said for people who are stoned. Yet, when it comes to hyperactivity, some may wonder whether marijuana can “chill out” this factor of ADHD.
Most people with the disorder are prescribed stimulant medication, such as Adderall. Marijuana has the opposite effect. Leaving the user to feel sedated.
With that in mind, it’s important to note there’s only been so much research done for marijuana and ADHD.
In a study conducted by PLOS One, 25% of participants claimed cannabis helped with their ADHD symptoms. Particularly, these participants found that marijuana allowed them to manage their symptoms better. However, even the study claims their findings are definite.
When it comes to ADHD, many medical professionals believe the symptoms have to do with a lack of dopamine. Many people who smoke weed believe their dopamine levels are boosted.
In research published by Nature journal, these beliefs were confirmed to be true. Particularly, marijuana has a way of creating pleasurable feelings within the user which may be necessary for ADHD.
However, there are tests which say otherwise. The journal Brain published an imaging study where they found no connection between dopamine and ADHD.
At the end of the day, there isn’t enough research to back up whether marijuana can relieve this mental disorder. People should be open to giving it a try, yet, they shouldn’t conclude it as their only possible answer.
People suffering from bipolar disorder might be wary of cannabis for one reason. The plant has a tendency to leave the user in a psychedelic state. This frame of mind holds potential for hallucinations. As people with bipolar disorder know, it’s one of the strongest symptoms of the illness.
Still, there are some aspects of cannabis which can relieve certain bipolar symptoms. These symptoms include:
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle control complications
But what do the studies say?
For the most part, research for bipolar disorder and cannabis vary. In one 2016 study, it was found that those with a bipolar disorder didn’t feel significant effects from marijuana in comparison to those who didn’t take it. However, the study did find that cannabis helped people’s moods.
Another study published in 2015 similarly found that marijuana helped with mood. In fact, the study believes THC has a positive impact on how people with bipolar disorder view life. Yet, it’s important to note, the researchers found that people were more likely to use cannabis only if they were already having a good day.
Still, it should be noted, there is research out there that says marijuana causes further symptoms of mania in people with bipolar disorder. A 2015 study claims it made some of their test subjects more depressed and feel manic tendencies.
Depression (Major Depressive Disorder)
Earlier, it was mentioned how cannabis can raise dopamine levels within individuals. With that in mind, people with depression might be curious as to whether or not cannabis can treat their symptoms.
A 2014 study¹ found that “preclinical data… has shown that elevated endocannabinoid signaling is able to produce behavioral and biochemical effects as [well as] conventional antidepressant treatment, and that many antidepressants alter endogenous cannabinoid tone.”
Though research isn’t conclusive, many people with depression have found cannabis to give them a more positive outlook on life. Often, people find it to be a mood enhancer and help them handle certain life stressors.
There are some risks to cannabis and depression. The first is depressed individuals are more likely to abuse cannabis than those who aren’t suffering from the mental health condition. The second is some studies have found that cannabis may cause depression in individuals who don’t suffer from mental illness.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Though it isn’t the case for everyone, many who suffer from PTSD produce a low amount of cannabinoids. This is due to the amount of stress which has built up from their traumatic experience.
In turn, cannabis can reproduce those endocannabinoids they’re missing out on.Still, there are instances where PTSD symptoms can hyper arouse certain emotions including anxiety. And as mentioned, adding cannabinoids upon cannabinoids can cause paranoia.
If you suffer from PTSD and are wondering whether or not cannabis can help you, it’s in your best interest to give it a try.
As discussed in the introduction, cannabis can cause psychosis. This means, for certain individuals, cannabis may lead to schizophrenia rather than alleviating it. However, this isn’t a conclusive statement. And a person’s personality plays a large role in whether or not this is true.
Often, people who do experience psychosis from marijuana do so in the moment of their high. As THC enters the brain, there’s a disruption in its perception, interpretation, and processing reality. So, some people might experience a “bad trip” which can feel as though they’ve entered a schizophrenic state.
It’s unlikely someone will either receive or worsen schizophrenic symptoms simply from smoking pot once. Rather, the question is whether or not they do so over a period of time?
The truth of the matter is it all depends on circumstances. These include:
- A family’s history of schizophrenia
- Growing up in an urban environment
- Past child abuse or neglect
People in the above scenarios are more likely to adopt schizophrenic tendencies with or without cannabis. However, chronic cannabis use can speed along the process.
Truly, it’s best if people with schizophrenia don’t use marijuana. However, a lack of research can’t determine whether it’s good or bad for the disorder.
Still have further questions? Feel free to ask them in the comments below. If you have more information or advice in terms of mental health and cannabis, we’d also love to hear from you.
¹Matsunaga M, Isowa T, Yamakawa K, Fukuyama S, Shinoda J, et al. (2014) Genetic Variations in the Human Cannabinoid Receptor Gene Are Associated with Happiness. PLoS ONE 9(4): e93771. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0093771