Do a quick web search of marijuana and mental health. What you’ll find is entry after entry of the dangers of marijuana on the psyche. However, what many of them concede is that there is very little research available, due to laws restricting testing, which leaves much of the marijuana and mental health picture blank. With Mental Health Awareness month upon us, now is a good time to review the link between medical cannabis and mental health.
It seems obvious that a plant that has corresponding receptors in our brains that regulate mood, memory, appetite, and pain sensation should be a natural choice for ailments such as mood regulation and pain therapy, among other things. However, with the current stigma of marijuana, much of the plainly needed research is going ignored.
With over 421 chemical compounds found in cannabis, we need to stop looking at marijuana as simply a recreational substance, but as a natural resource with an abundance of beneficial properties and uses. Once we move past the stigma, we can start determining which compounds are beneficial to which ailments, and which properties are viable options for treating mental health.
One thing we do know is that there is a serious lack of evidence of marijuana having a harmful effect on mental health. The organization tasked with the project of studying the medicinal properties of cannabis, the National Institute of Drug Abuse, has been hard-pressed to come up with any substantial evidence to support the idea that marijuana has harmful effects on the psyche, stating “it is not clear whether marijuana use causes mental problems, exacerbates them, or reflects an attempt to self-medicate symptoms already in existence.”
One compound found abundantly in cannabis is cannabidiol (CBD). Cannabidiol is a non psychotropic chemical that has been found to treat a range of maladies, from epilepsy to schizophrenia. There is now indication of marijuana, and in particular, CBD used to treat mental health issues. CBD and its uses will be widely discussed in our upcoming CME approved conference.
In a previous UPG post, a father openly discusses his son’s struggle with bipolar disorder and their discovery of CBD as a ‘successful’ treatment for the debilitating mood swings. He takes special care to differentiate between what he calls “street pot” (marijuana high in tetrahydrocannabinol content) and high-CBD strains that are low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and can be employed to treat mood disorders.
While seemingly counter-intuitive, the author warns the reader of the possible psychosis-inducing effects of THC while promoting the therapeutic benefits of CBD. Although both compounds are derived from the same plant, they exhibit different effects and can be used for different purposes. This is something both the medical and political world need to understand and get behind if we’re to find possible cures for a wide range of ailments, from glaucoma to bipolar disorder.
The author also reminds the reader that medical marijuana is and should be treated just like any other medication – with caution and advice from a physician. Due to the mainly untested nature of CBD and medical marijuana, he documents the trial and error process by which he and his son discovered a low THC, high CBD daily treatment that reduced the symptoms of bipolar disorder.
While it’s not recommended to eliminate an administration of current medication for mental health issues, there is now research that proves that CBD can be just as effective in treating mental health ailments as certain other anti-psychotics. For example, Dr. Daniele Piomelli’s research into CBD and its effects on the psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia has proven that the compound is just as effective as the anti-psychotic drug, Amisulpride, but without any of the side-effects.
Another study, conducted by researchers at the University College London used a Pavlovian method of classical conditioning and extinction to determine the effects of CBD on the reduction of anxiety caused by stimuli. Researchers showed 48 participants a colored box and gave them an electric shock every time the box was viewed. Eventually the participants developed an anxious reaction to the sight of the colored box, even when the electric shock was not administered. To see if they could produce an extinction effect (a removal of the conditioned response) the researchers administered doses of CBD to participants. The result was an overwhelming yes to the question of whether or not they could remove the anxious response to the conditioned stimulus. The study proved that with the help of CBD, patients can overcome anxiety and fear.
CBD is fast becoming the poster child for medical marijuana, but there is also evidence of THC having beneficial properties for mental health as well. In 2006 the journal Addictive Behaviors published a survey of over 4,000 patients suffering from depression, some of which were marijuana users. The survey found overwhelmingly that patients suffering from depression were more likely to experience positive moods if they smoked cannabis daily or less then those who did not.
Another psychiatrist who backs cannabis as a treatment for mental illness is Dr. Julie Holland, MD. Dr. Holland, an expert on street drugs and intoxication states, will be speaking at our Medical Cannabis: The Science. The Truth conference about treating mental illness with cannabis products. She’s written a number of books and has studied the effects of various strains of cannabis as treatment for post traumatic stress disorder. Her new book, Moody Bitches: The truth about the drugs you’re taking, the sleep you’re missing, the sex you’re not having, and what’s really making you crazy focuses on women’s emotionality or “moodiness” as a source of strength, not weakness. She was also instrumental in provoking a nationwide discussion about CBD because of her work with Dr. Sanjay Gupta on the documentary “Weed.”
It’s important to recognize that mental illness is a malady that is far more widespread than people realize, due to the stigma and the subsequent silence when it comes to mental health discussions. Celebrities such as Lady Gaga, Sarah Silverman, and Demi Lovato have been outspoken in the media about struggles that they’ve faced with mental illness such as depression and bipolar disorder. To get involved with the movement for a better discussion about mental health, check out Be Vocal: Speak Up for Mental Health, and follow these hashtags to stay up to date with the latest information for Mental Health Awareness Month: #mentalhealthweek, #GETLOUD, #MHW2016.
And, don’t forget to sign up for our conference taking place at Dominican University on May 21st to May 22nd in San Rafael, Ca. We’ll be dispelling the rumors, spreading the science and the truth, and discussing the medical benefits of cannabis including treatments for various mental illnesses.