As of this writing, 30 states, Guam, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico all have approved the broad use of medical marijuana. Additionally, other states allow limited medical use and 8 states (and the District of Columbia) allow recreational use of the drug. Even though the use of pot and weed is becoming more acceptable, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) still considers marijuana to be a Schedule I substance, meaning it is likely to be abused and it completely lacks medical value. This classification also means there hasn’t been much research into the efficacy of the drug for medical conditions and, in particular, we lack long-term studies that would tell us whether it is safe and/or effective when used over a long period of time.
What we do know is that, in clinical practice – both in our practice and in discussions with colleagues in other practices – mental health professionals are seeing an increase in the number of incidents of anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and even psychotic reactions now that marijuana use has become more mainstream.
Did you know that:
- THC, the primary chemical in marijuana, is believed to stimulate areas of the brain responsible for feelings of fear.
- According to available scientific literature, people who use weed have higher levels of depression and depressive symptoms than those who do not use cannabis.
- Frequent or heavy use in adolescence can be a predictor of depression or anxiety later on in life – especially for girls.
- Even if using cannabis seems to alleviate symptoms in the short-term for some users, it can lead to delay in getting appropriate treatment.
- Scientific evidence suggests cannabis use can trigger the onset of schizophrenia and other psychoses in those already at risk of developing it.
- A 2015 study found that university-aged young adults are more likely to have a higher risk of developing depression from heavy marijuana use.
- Numerous research studies show that marijuana is an addictive substance. The more you use it, the more you need to use in order to get the same “high.”
Medical Marijuana vs. Recreational Marijuana
Whether it’s used recreationally or medicinally, both forms of pot are the same product. The medical version contains cannabinoids just like recreational marijuana. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the main chemicals found in the medical form.
Although medical marijuana is used for many conditions (among them: multiple sclerosis (MS), cancer, seizure disorders, and glaucoma), its efficacy hasn’t been proven. “The greatest amount of evidence for the therapeutic effects of cannabis relate to its ability to reduce chronic pain, nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy, and spasticity [tight or stiff muscles] from MS,” says Marcel Bonn-Miller, PhD, a substance abuse specialist at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.
Mental Illness and Psychoactive Substances
As noted above, there aren’t many studies on the relationship between marijuana use and mental illnesses, such as anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder yet. However, research done in 2017, examined marijuana use in conjunction with the depression and anxiety symptoms of 307 psychiatry outpatients who had depression (Bahorik et al., 2017). This study found that “marijuana use worsened depression and anxiety symptoms; marijuana use led to poorer mental health functioning.” In addition, the study determined that medical marijuana was associated with reduced physical health functioning.
Part of the problem with using marijuana either recreationally or medically is that there is no way to regulate the amount of THC you’re getting, because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t oversee the product. This means not only the ingredients, but the strength of them can differ quite a lot. “We did a study last year  in which we purchased labeled edible products, like brownies and lollipops, in California and Washington. Then we sent them to the lab,” Bonn-Miller says. “Few of the products contained anywhere near what they said they did. That’s a problem.”
Another area of concern is that, as we know from regulated psychiatric medications, one dose may affect you differently than it affects your sibling or a friend. People are unique – each person’s reaction to a medication will vary, which is why psychiatric medications are monitored by the prescribing doctor so that the dosage can be adjusted for your specific needs.
Be Careful with Marijuana Use
In summary, if you choose to use marijuana either medically or recreationally, be careful. Talk to the doctor who authorized it, or speak with a mental health professional if you find yourself experiencing the symptoms of depression or anxiety, or if you have panic attacks that begin or worsen while you are using pot. Additionally, be sure your doctor knows your psychiatric history before they authorize medical marijuana for you, especially if you have been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, panic attacks, bipolar disorder, or psychosis.
Do You Have Questions?
We can help! The mental health professionals at The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida can answer your questions about how medical or recreational marijuana use can affect your anxiety, depression, or other condition. For more information, contact us or call us today at 561-496-1094.
Resource: Bahorik, Amber L.; Leibowitz, Amy; Sterling, Stacy A.; Travis, Adam; Weisner, Constance; Satre, Derek D. (2017). Patterns of marijuana use among psychiatry patients with depression and its impact on recovery. Journal of Affective Disorders, 213, 168-171.