America’s germaphobes were ready for this — and have been for too long

America’s germaphobes were ready for this — and have been for too long

Health anxiety disorder is underreported, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, and possibly affects 12 percent of the nation’s population. (The group’s annual conference this week was nixed due to the coronavirus.) Those who suffer from the disorder are usually thought of as hypochondriacs or germaphobes.

The current alarm about the coronavirus could be hard on OCD sufferers, prompting them to overdo it even more than usual. However, some people with health anxiety may be coping better during the pandemic than individuals who aren’t used to worrying about sneezing and coughing and handshakes and other casual physical contact, says Andrew Rosen, who runs the Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Fla.

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COVID-19 banner across an image of the world

How COVID-19 Fears Can Fuel General Anxiety Disorders

COVID-19 (coronavirus) has officially been declared a pandemic. Across the globe, people are being quarantined, cruise ships are being denied entrance to ports, and social gatherings have been curtailed. This has resulted in a stock market free fall and panic buying as people hoard food and products in case of their own quarantining.

As the count of infected people rises, the unrelenting news coverage can make anyone feel helpless. It brings up worry, stress, and fear. This is even truer for those who already suffer from anxiety and its related syndromes, such as generalized anxiety disorder.

Anxiety Disorder Symptoms

In the face of a pandemic, the fear and anxiety about possible exposure to the illness can take on a life of its own.

If you are already someone who is anxious, you might find that you are having headaches or stomach problems. You may begin to have trouble sleeping or eating, or can even have a panic attack. And, if you have generalized anxiety disorder, your worries and fears can rapidly become overwhelming.

Your normal anxiety levels might ramp up to the point that you:

  • Worry about the virus on an hourly or daily basis and often find yourself consumed by fears during your day.
  • Find that your fears are significantly disrupting your work, relationships, or daily activities.
  • Automatically envision the worst-case scenario for the pandemic.

Anxiety can also manifest as psychological symptoms, such as:

  • Insistent worrying or fixating about your fears
  • Being easily startled and feeling like you are constantly “on edge” or keyed up
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Being irritable and continually on the edge of an argument with someone
  • Worrying that you are losing control

In addition to these psychological symptoms, there are physical symptoms of anxiety or generalized anxiety disorder. These can include:

  • A rapid heartbeat and/or shortness of breath
  • Insomnia and problems sleeping, which leaves you fatigued
  • Headaches or an increase in migraines
  • Nausea, sweating, muscle tension

Self Care For COVID-19-Related Anxiety

While it’s understandable to worry about catching COVID-19, you may be able to calm your fears and lower your anxiety levels by doing the following:

  • First – turn off the TV and stop reading or watching online news reports and social media. Make the conscious decision to limit your exposure to distressing news. Fear is addictive, so know that if you are constantly watching world events, you’ll keep your mind focused on the negative.
  • It is good to keep in mind that news organizations prosper when people are watching and paying attention to what they are saying. If you are keeping an eye on the news right now, you’ll notice that you can hardly find any news about anything except the spread of the virus. Why is that? Because the media is making tons of money on this outbreak, so that’s what they are focusing on. Remember that we live in a safer world than ever before. Experts are working to solve this new virus and the majority of people who contract it will recover.
  • Next, try to detach – again, obsessing about germs and catching the coronavirus will not solve the problem, but it will make you more anxious and upset. Remember that your distress is only yours – worrying that you will catch COVID-19 will not change anything or protect you from getting ill. Instead, try to focus on something else – a hobby, exercise, your loved ones – so you aren’t constantly preoccupied with the news.
  • Take care of yourself by eating nutritious foods, exercising regularly to help relieve stress, and trying to get enough sleep. In addition, meditation can help to calm your mind, as can something as simple as deep, rhythmic breathing.
  • As much as possible, try to continue doing the things you enjoy so that you feel more in control of the world around you. While we are working from home and avoiding public places, we can catch up on the movies we have missed (or watch favorites again), read the books on our list, clean out clutter, or start an online class in something we are interested in (classes can be found on websites such as Udemy). All these things will help to distract from the virus.

It’s also good to remember that fear sucks the pleasure out of everything. Living in fear keeps you from enjoying your life – and it won’t change what happens in the world.

However, you are the only one who can choose whether to focus on the negative or whether you will look for ways to turn this into a “positive”. Be kind to yourself and don’t permit yourself to get wrapped up in negative news stories and worries about COIVD-19.

If, however, you use these ideas and are still stressed and fearful about the coronavirus, it might be time to speak with a professional to discuss more specific steps. Many offices, including ours, now have virtual options available, so that you can speak to someone without having to leave your home.

Virtual Options For Anxiety Treatment

For more information on our virtual (or in-office) help for your anxiety about COVID-19 or for a generalized anxiety disorder, please contact Dr. Andrew Rosen and The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida at 561-496-1094 or email Dr. Rosen and The Center today.

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Telehealth

A Message About Telehealth Amidst COVID-19

We hope that you, your children and families are doing well in the midst of this unprecedented time. After carefully considering the CDC guidelines, we at The Center for Treatment of Anxiety & Mood Disorders have decided that we will no longer be conducting therapy in our office at this time.

In good news, we have the capability to conduct appointments either over the phone or via Telehealth. We are happy to keep all appointments during this time. If you already have a scheduled appointment but you would prefer to postpone your to a later date or an alternate time, we are happy to do that as well.

We greatly appreciate your understanding during this difficult time. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or to schedule an appointment at (561) 496-1094.

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How Meditation Benefits Mental Health

Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years by cultures across the globe. It is only recently that Western medicine has discovered that the practice actually has physical and mental benefits, aside from just making you feel less stressed.

Studies done on meditation have shown that, physically, it can:

  • Aid your quality of sleep
  • Help you better cope with the emotional effects of chronic pain
  • Possibly reduce age-related memory loss
  • Manage or reduce symptoms of high blood pressure, heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and tension headaches, among other things.

In fact, a 2014 meta-analysis done by Goyal, MD, et al., looked at over 18,000 meditation studies, eventually finding 47 that met their criteria for studies that were well designed, had good controls, and were  not based solely on participants who already felt that meditation had a positive benefit.

The results of this meta-analysis showed that the 3,515 participants experienced improvement in anxiety, depression, and pain, especially in those who practiced daily mindfulness meditation.

Meditation is also great for an individual’s well being and emotional intelligence. In fact, studies are showing that this ancient practice can have a positive impact on your mental health by actually changing the structure of your brain.

How Does Meditation Change The Brain?

In the brain, the amygdala controls the “fear centers” and triggers the body’s fight or flight response.

To find out if meditation changes the brain or if it only affects a person while they are meditating, a 2012 study by Debordes, et al, used magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) to look at the brains of study participants. The researchers wanted to see “how 8 weeks of training in meditation affects amygdala responses to emotional stimuli in subjects when in a non-meditative state.”

The subjects underwent an MRI at the start of the study, so the researchers had a baseline to compare to. They then took part in an 8 week session of “either Mindful Attention Training (MAT), Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT; a program based on Tibetan Buddhist compassion meditation practices), or an active control intervention.”

At the completion of the study, the participants underwent another MRI to look at their amygdala responses. While there was no effect in the control group, the researchers found:

  • A reduction in right amygdala activation when viewing positive images for those in the MAT sessions.
  • An increase in right amygdala response to negative images in the CBCT participants, which is associated with a decrease in depression.

The researchers stated that, “This finding suggests that the effects of meditation training on emotional processing might transfer to non-meditative states. This is consistent with the hypothesis that meditation training may induce learning that is not stimulus- or task-specific, but process-specific, and thereby may result in enduring changes in mental function.”

Can Meditation Help With Anxiety?

Anxiety begins with our fears about the future or our worries about our relationships and our daily lives.

One way that meditation can help with anxiety is by allowing you to stop focusing on the past or the future and permitting you to concentrate on the immediate present. In fact, being present in the here and now is the basis of mindfulness meditation.

By being mindful, we can learn to calm the emotion behind our worries and fearful thoughts and begin to stop reacting to them.

  • To begin a mindfulness meditation, focus on your breathing.
  • Take notice of the sensations you feel. Be aware of your breath flowing through your nose and into your lungs as you inhale and exhale. Feel your chest expand and contract as you breathe.
  • Take note of the room’s temperature, listen to the sounds humming around you, notice the smells or fragrances in the room, and your physical reactions (sweating, pulse rate, etc).
  • If you have an anxious thought, give it a name, but don’t focus on it. Instead, think “that is a fearful thought” or “that is a sad thought,” then take three deep breaths.
  • After releasing the last breath, try to gain perspective about the anxious thought. Was the worry or fear valid or was it actually something you might be making more of than it deserves? Could you possibly be jumping to conclusions with that thought? 
  • As you gain perspective, you’ll have a few seconds of calm that will allow you to release the anxious thought, so simply let it go and focus on your next breath.
  • Don’t judge yourself for having anxious thoughts. Once you notice them, gently return your attention to your breathing and repeat these mindfulness steps.

Each time you focus solely on the present, your mind gets a chance to relax so you can see things from a new perspective.

Although it’s likely that you won’t experience a total release of anxiety the first time you try mindfulness, you should get some relief from your worries. If you keep practicing, you will improve over time.

Is Meditation Good For Depression?

Depression is triggered by stress and anxiety and how we react to them, so anything that can help reduce these conditions should also help ward off depression.

Since even a short meditation can help prepare you to face a stressful situation (example: by closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths to calm yourself before going into a business meeting), it can also be helpful for tamping down the anxiety and stress that can lead to depression.

In an article from Harvard Men’s Health Watch, published by Harvard Medical School, Dr. John W. Denninger, director of research at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital said, “Meditation trains the brain to achieve sustained focus, and to return to that focus when negative thinking, emotions, and physical sensations intrude — which happens a lot when you feel stressed and anxious.”

He added that, “When you meditate, you are better able to ignore the negative sensations of stress and anxiety, which explains, in part, why stress levels fall when you meditate.”

As with anxiety, you won’t get total relief from depression after just one meditation session. “But with practice, meditation can help many people control how they react to the stress and anxiety that often leads to depression,” Dr. Denninger noted.

When Meditation Isn’t Enough

Although meditation can be helpful for keeping stress, anxiety, and depression at bay, if you find that your anxiety or depression are impacting your life on a daily basis it’s time to seek help. For more information, contact The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at 561-496-1094.

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Mindfulness Therapy Can Help With Anxiety Disorders

Mindfulness – The Secret To Being Happier Throughout Your Day

Most people go through their lives in reaction-mode. They respond to something that happens in their environment – a conversation, a changing traffic light, the boss calling a meeting – but they often aren’t truly aware of the world around them. They can be so focused on the distractions of life that they aren’t actually experiencing life.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “be more mindful” or “be present in your day,” but do you know what that really means? Is it simply paying attention to your surroundings or is there some deeper concept to be explored? Are there benefits to being mindful?

What Does It Mean To Be More Mindful?

Strictly speaking, mindfulness is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as, “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.”

In practice, being mindful does encompass an awareness of your surroundings, but being present also means to stay focused on the here and now. For example, worrying about a work trip that will happen next week distracts from the joy you might take in playing catch with your son right this minute. Because you are absorbed by something other than playing with your child, you are denying yourself the full experience of being with him.

To be mindful, you might focus on the sound of the ball hitting your glove when you catch a ball he has thrown. You may enjoy the warmth of the sun on your skin or hearing your son exclaim, “yes!” when he catches a difficult toss of the ball. Or, you might listen to a bird chirping in the tree or smell your neighbor’s freshly mown lawn.

When you choose to be mindful, you experience your life more richly instead of just cruising through it.

Benefits Of Staying Present

In today’s high-paced, digital world, slowing down and just taking in the world around you can be challenging. Not many of us are able to fully relax: we’re always thinking of the next task we have to do, checking texts and emails, or planning the next activity. This stressful way of living can lead to health concerns, as well as to emotional and psychological issues.

Mindfulness, however, can:

  • Make you happier and feel more peaceful – According to a study by Keng, et al, “mindfulness brings about various positive psychological effects, including increased subjective well-being, reduced psychological symptoms and emotional reactivity, and improved behavioral regulation.”
  • Help you stay healthier – In a study of HIV-positive patients, an 8-week study on the effects of mindfulness meditation training showed that mindfulness “can buffer CD4+ T lymphocyte declines in HIV-1 infected adults.” Further, a study by Hughes, et al, on the effects of mindfulness in pre-hypertension patients showed a reduction in both diastolic and systolic blood pressure readings as compared with those who only did progressive muscle relaxation exercises.
  • Minimize the negative impact of illness – A study by Davidson, et al, showed that an 8-week mindfulness meditation program caused “significant increases in antibody titers to influenza vaccine among subjects in the meditation compared with those in the wait-list control group.”
  • Teach you how to regulate emotions through experiencing thoughts as they happen. This allows us to label and categorize these thoughts and emotions instead of letting them become overpowering.
  • Improve relationships – A 2016 meta-analysis by McGill, et al, (published in the Journal of Human Sciences and Extension) found that “the association between mindfulness and relationship satisfaction is statistically significant, indicating when an individual is more mindful they are more satisfied in their romantic relationship.”
  • Enhance the quality of your sleep – “Sleep disturbances pose a significant medical and public health concern for our nation’s aging population. An estimated 50% of persons 55 years and older have some form of sleep problem, including initiating and maintaining sleep,” according to a 2015 study by Black, et al. This study showed that mindfulness meditation promoted better sleep quality and reduced daytime impairment in older adults who had sleep disturbances.
  • Help you eat healthier – Instead of rushing through a fast food lunch at your desk, being mindful of how your food contributes to your health will allow you to reach for more nutritious foods. In fact, choosing to take small bites, chewing your food thoroughly, and savoring the flavors not only reduces stress, a study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says it can also help you lose weight without counting calories.

What Are Some Ways To Be Mindful?

Mindfulness is done by keeping your attention on the present – on what you are experiencing in that particular moment. It doesn’t matter where you are or what you are doing, you simply tune in to the experience of the here and now.

An article from HelpGuide.org says, “You can choose any task or moment to practice informal mindfulness, whether you are eating, showering, walking, touching a partner, or playing with a child or grandchild. Attending to these points will help:

  • Start by bringing your attention to the sensations in your body
  • Breathe in through your nose, allowing the air downward into your lower belly. Let your abdomen expand fully.
  • Now breathe out through your mouth
  • Notice the sensations of each inhalation and exhalation
  • Proceed with the task at hand slowly and with full deliberation
  • Engage your senses fully. Notice each sight, touch, and sound so that you savor every sensation.
  • When you notice that your mind has wandered from the task at hand, gently bring your attention back to the sensations of the moment.”

Mindfulness can also be done as part of practices such as yoga, aikido, and tai chi training, as well as being a form of meditation in its own right.

How To Practice Mindfulness For Anxiety

Anxiety is connected to our thoughts and triggered by our reaction to them.

By being mindful, we can learn to calm the emotion behind these thoughts and begin to stop reacting to them.

  • Start with focusing on your breathing.
  • Zero in on the sensations you feel. Notice the sensation of your breath flowing through your nose and lungs as you inhale and exhale. Feel your chest expand and contract with each breath.
  • Notice the room’s temperature, the sounds around you, any smells or fragrances, and your physical reactions (sweating, pulse rate, etc).
  • If you have an anxious thought, label it, but don’t get caught up in it or reject it. Instead, think “that is a fearful thought” or “that is a sad thought,” then take 3 deep breaths.
  • After taking these breaths, try to gain perspective about the anxious thought. Ask yourself if the worry or fear was valid? Or, was it actually something you might be making bigger than it deserves? Or, could it be that you are jumping to conclusions? 
  • Experiencing those few seconds of calm as you gain perspective allows you to release the anxious thought, so let it go and focus on your next breath.
  • Don’t judge yourself for having anxious thoughts. Once you notice them, simply return your attention to your breathing and repeat these mindfulness steps.

“Practice makes perfect,” as the saying goes. You probably won’t experience a total release of anxiety the first time you try mindfulness, but you should get some relief from your concerns.

If you keep practicing, you will improve over time. Each time you focus on the present, your mind gets a chance to relax so you can see things from a new perspective.

Learn More About Mindfulness Here

If you or a loved one are struggling with anxiety, we can help. For more information, contact The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at 561-496-1094.

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What Is Overcontrol And Is It Contributing To Your Social Anxiety?

What Is Overcontrol And Is It Contributing To Your Social Anxiety?

One of the most quickly growing areas of clinical research and treatment implementation is for people who are considered to be overcontrolled. What does being overcontrolled mean, and what does it have to do with feeling socially anxious? The concept of self-control refers to the ability to inhibit problematic behaviors. This is generally accepted by our society as a positive thing to have! It is true that to an extent, being overcontrolled can be very adaptive and helpful. Overcontrol is associated with the ability to delay gratification, follow rules, and valuing accuracy and fairness. However, when these traits are very pronounced and overemphasized, they can become problematic and affect our mental health. It’s like having too much of a good thing.

Social and Emotional Impact of Overcontrol

There are common difficulties with people who have maladaptive levels of overcontrol. The first is low receptivity and openness. This can result in avoidance (a hallmark of anxiety disorders) and an aversion to having new or novel experiences. Also, there tends to be a strong need for order, structure, and rules. There is a focus on right and wrong, which we know is not conducive for more flexible thinking (which is important for decreasing anxiety symptoms). The third feature is reduced emotional expression and emotional awareness. This means that people who are maladaptively overcontrolled may not display emotions that one would expect (having a flat face when someone tells a joke), making it difficult for others to feel connected to them. The final trait that tends to cause difficulties for people is feeling a lack of closeness to others, and/or feeling different from other people. Loneliness and isolation are often experiences of those who are overcontrolled.

Given these features, it is not uncommon for people with chronic social anxiety to also be overcontrolled. The reliance on emotional and situational avoidance makes it difficult for people to learn new things (challenging their social anxiety) and feel connected to others. Their difficulty in successfully social signaling to others often results in them being disliked or rejected (a self fulfilling prophecy). People who are more overcontrolled also tend to engage frequently in social comparisons, which is also frequently observed in the socially anxious population.

Learning to Open Up and Connect

The most effective treatment for disorders of overcontrol (which include chronic depression, treatment resistant anxiety, obsessive compulsive personality disorder, and anorexia nervosa) is called Radically Open Dialectical Behavior Therapy. It is a skills-based protocol to help people struggling with overcontrol to be more open to experiences, and more emotionally expressive in order to connect with others in a more meaningful way. We are a social species, and when we feel disconnected from others, this impacts our mental health. RO-DBT is conducted both individually and in thirty-week classes. For more information, check out www.radicallyopen.net.

How to Get Help for Social Anxiety

For more information, contact The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at 561-496-1094.

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woman typing on a laptop

How Much Is Too Much? Technology, Screen Time, And Your Mental Health

It’s no secret that people are somewhat “addicted” to their screen time. Just look around you at any restaurant and you’ll see families and friends interacting more with their phones than with each other. The same hold true for almost anywhere you go: some people can’t even take their eyes off their screens when driving or walking, which has resulted in numerous accidents and deaths.

In a 2018 study done by the Pew Research Center, 54 percent of teens aged 13 – 17 said they were concerned about the amount of time they were spending online and on their phones. In fact, they were so alarmed about it that “Some 52% of U.S. teens report taking steps to cut back on their mobile phone use, and similar shares have tried to limit their use of social media (57%) or video games (58%),” according to the researchers.

Parents don’t do much better. The study reported that, “36% say they themselves spend too much time on their cellphone.”

Because of all the time spent watching screens, research is being done to find out the physical and emotional effects it might be causing for us.

What Does Too Much Screen Time Do To Your Brain?

Since phones and computers have only been easily accessible and affordable for people in the last thirty years or so, we don’t yet know the long term effects of screen time on the brains of kids or adults. But, we do know that, because children’s brains are still in the process of developing and growing, it seems likely that they would be affected by this technology.

The Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study by the National Institutes of Health agrees. It has been following more than 11,000 kids, ages 9 and 10 years old, at 21 different areas throughout the United States. According to an article on Healthline, the initial results of the research show that:

  • MRI scans found significant differences in the brains of some children who reported using smartphones, tablets, and video games more than seven hours a day.
  • Children who reported more than two hours a day of screen time got lower scores on thinking and language tests.

The scary thing is that it will take many more years to discover whether these effects are the result of too much screen time or whether the differences were from something else.

So, does that mean adults are safe from the adverse effects of too much screen time? Actually, no.

Today’s adults have been estimated to spend more than 10 hours a day in front of screens (Harvard T. H. Chan School Of Public Health). Because the activity is sedentary, this exposure has been linked, in part, to higher obesity rates (which can lead to diabetes) and sleep problems.

Additionally, when asked, 15 percent of adults reported that they were more likely to lose focus at work due to checking their cellphone, which is double the number of teens who have trouble focusing in class for that same reason.

And, the Pew Research study indicates that more than half of teens (51 percent) say their parents are “often or sometimes” distracted by their own phones while in conversation with their child, leading to feelings of unimportance in the child.

What Are The Emotional Effects Of Too Much Screen Time?

For kids, anxiety, depression, and loneliness are often the result of too much screen time. A 2018 population-based study by Twenge and Campbell showed that after an hour of screen time per day, “…increasing screen time was generally linked to progressively lower psychological well-being.” The researchers also noted that, “High users of screens were also significantly more likely to have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression.”

But maybe screen time isn’t bad if kids are texting or gaming together? After all, they are interacting with each other and developing social relationships, right?

Again, the answer is ‘no’. According to a Psychology Today article by Victoria L. Dunckley M.D., “…many parents mistakenly believe that interactive screen-time—Internet or social media use, texting, emailing, and gaming—isn’t harmful, especially compared to passive screen time like watching TV. In fact, interactive screen time is more likely to cause sleep, mood, and cognitive issues, because it’s more likely to cause hyperarousal and compulsive use.”  

In addition to the physical and psychological effects, too much social media time can lead to problems with social skills and their application, as well as a decrease in self-esteem – in both children and adults. Furthermore, kids can be bullied online while sitting right next to their parents and they can’t get away from it.

How To Limit Screen Time

For parents who are wondering how to limit their child’s screen time, the American Academy of Pediatrics set out updated media guidelines based on the latest research. They suggest:

  • For children under 18 months old, no screen time.
  • For children 18 to 24 months old, parents should choose only high-quality media and watch it with their child.
  • For children 2 to 5 years old, less than one hour per day of high-quality programming is recommended, with parents watching along.
  • Don’t use screen time as a way to calm your child down or as a babysitter.
  • No screens 1 hour before bedtime, and remove devices from bedrooms before bed.
  • Keep bedrooms, mealtimes, and parent–child play times screen free for children and parents. Parents can set a “do not disturb” option on their phones during these times.

For adults who are trying to limit their own screen time:

  • As with the suggestions for kids: Keep bedrooms, mealtimes, and parent–child play times screen free
  • Use phone apps to remind you when it’s time to stop using the phone
  • Turn off the majority of your notifications
  • Delete your social media apps
  • Stop using your phone as an alarm clock because it’s too easy to get caught up in checking for updates from friends, scanning texts, and reading emails if you pick up the phone to turn off the alarm

We Can Help Break The Screen Time Cycle

If you are concerned about your teen or ‘tween’s screen time amount – or your own – we can help you take steps to “disconnect.” For more information, contact The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at 561-496-1094.

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marijuana plant

Mental Health Risks Of Marijuana

As more states legalize the possession and use of marijuana, we are beginning to get a clearer picture of the effects it can have on mental health. While advocates feel that the drug can do no harm, critics of legalization feel that there is nothing beneficial in marijuana – and the truth probably lies somewhere in between. However we do know that there has been an upswing in suicides and mental health disorders in states that have legalized the drug. So, what are the mental health risks of marijuana use?

Long Term Side Effects Of Marijuana Use

The short term effects of marijuana use have been known for years. They include altered judgement, weakened motor skills, and impairment of short term memory, along with an associated difficulty in learning and retaining information.

However, with long term use or heavy use of cannabinoids – particularly if the drug was initially used early in adolescence – people are developing more serious mental side effects. A 2016 study by Volkow, et al, found:

  • Addiction (in about 9% of users overall, 17% of those who begin use in adolescence, and 25 to 50% of those who are daily users)
  • Altered brain development
  • Cognitive impairment, with lower IQ among those who were frequent users during adolescence
  • Diminished life satisfaction
  • Symptoms of chronic bronchitis (*we are now seeing this in the current vaping crisis, which has been linked to the use of THC pods)
  • Increased risk of chronic psychosis disorders (including schizophrenia) in persons with a predisposition to such disorders

This is especially concerning because the Volkow study also reported that, “Currently, marijuana is the most commonly used “illicit” drug in the United States, with about 12% of people 12 years of age or older reporting use in the past year and particularly high rates of use among young people.”

Marijuana And Psychosis: Are They Linked?

Today’s marijuana is not the same strength as what people were familiar with in the past – cannabis is now much stronger. A review of the negative health effects of pot in the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine reported that, “Current commercialized cannabis is near 20% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive constituent of cannabis, while in the 1980s concentration was <2%. This 10-fold increase in potency does not include other formulations such as oils, waxes, and dabs, which can reach 80–90% THC.” And, as the potency of marijuana increases, so do the rates of mental health disorders and psychosis.

Age at first use of the drug also makes a big difference. A 5-year study by Di Forti, et al, that was published in The Lancet in 2019 compiled data from across 11 sites in Europe and in Brazil to reveal that the occurrence of first-episode psychosis increased exponentially in those who used marijuana daily or in high potency form. Although the study authors reported that “Use of high-potency cannabis (THC ≥10%) modestly increased the odds of a psychotic disorder compared with never use… those who had started using high-potency cannabis by age 15 years showed a doubling of risk.” And, they said that, “daily use of high-potency cannabis carried more than a four-times increase in the risk of psychotic disorder.”

Cannabinoid Induced Psychosis

USAToday recently ran an article about the debate over cannabinoid induced psychosis. In it, they detailed the downward spiral of a young man who had once been a star high school athlete. After months of vaping a highly potent form of THC, he showed up at work disoriented and speaking incoherently. Upon hospitalization, doctors diagnosed him with “cannabis use disorder” and “psychotic disorder, unspecified.”

If the young man stays off pot for a year and has no further psychotic symptoms or episodes during that time, he will join the growing number of pot smokers who have been identified as suffering from cannabinoid induced psychosis (the diagnosis takes a year in order to be sure the psychotic episode did not stem from another reason).

This person is not alone. For their story, USAToday also “interviewed a dozen parents whose children suffered psychotic episodes – some of which led to schizophrenia – related to their marijuana use. Several of the children died by suicide. “

The USAToday article went on to say that, “In May, more than 40 Massachusetts doctors, psychiatrists, pediatricians and other public health professionals urged the state to add psychiatric risk warnings to marijuana packaging and to prohibit most advertising.”

Be Cautious Before Using Marijuana

In addition to concerns about marijuana use and the associated mental health risks are the recent vaping illnesses and deaths that have been reported. THC-containing vaping products and e-cigarettes have been implicated in almost all the cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that people “should not use THC-containing e-cigarette, or vaping, products, particularly from informal sources like friends, family, or in-person or online sellers.”

At this point, it is obvious that more research and time are needed to understand how marijuana affects the brain. Clearly the drug isn’t as innocent as some people believe. Until the results are in, think through the risks before deciding to use pot or vape THC.

Find Help Here

For more information about how we can help if you or a loved one are struggling with marijuana use and mental health concerns, contact The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at 561-496-1094.

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