The overall attitude of lawmakers towards cannabis use is clearly changing, and many would say it’s about time! In addition to its desirability for recreational use, cannabis has been reported to help improve the lives and mitigate the symptoms of those living with various psychiatric disorders. The use of cannabis mental health and medical intervention isn’t new news, either: synthetic THC was already being used as an oral medication to reduce the nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy as early as the 1980s!
Cannabis and Mental Health
Demand for cannabis as a medicinal treatment is growing, and it is crucial that both psychiatric practitioners and their patients understand the relationship between cannabis use and mental health. While research on the uses of cannabis in the treatment of mental health disorders is still in the early stages, that doesn’t mean the growing body of evidence supporting its benefits should be ignored.
A study by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine reported substantial conclusive evidence that cannabis can be used effectively to treat chronic pain. Another study, published in the Journal of Health Affairs, reported that 62% of people who use medical marijuana do so to treat chronic pain. This puts relief from chronic pain at the top of the list of common medical uses for cannabis. It is also the use for which the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine reported the strongest evidence.
Insomnia and Sleep Disorders
According to the National Sleep Foundation, about 10 to 15 percent of adults will deal with chronic insomnia at some point in their lives. They also found that roughly 30 to 40 percent of the U.S. population will experience insomnia at some point in their lives, and that a whopping 50 to 70 million adults in the U.S. experience at least some symptoms of a sleep disorder. Overall, we in the States struggle to sleep.
With those facts in mind, people have begun to turn to cannabis as a potential cure. Long term use of any sleep aid is not recommended, and cannabis is no exception. However, some medical marijuana physicians have reported that marijuana helps to restore a patient’s natural sleep cycle. This mainly applies to strains higher in THC, which has been reported to induce sleep, though it can change the nature of your sleep so you end up getting less REM sleep throughout the night.
The study by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine mentioned earlier also found moderate amounts of evidence to support the positive effects of cannabis on short-term sleep outcomes in those suffering from sleep disturbances.
While there is less evidence to support cannabis use to treat PTSD than there is of its effectiveness on symptoms of chronic pain, various clinical reports and case studies have indicated potential benefits of cannabis use in treating certain symptoms of PTSD. Studies have reported decreased occurrence of symptoms such as hyper-arousal, reexperiencing, and avoidance.
The fact that THC decreases the length of REM sleep can also potentially be beneficial to patients with PTSD, as REM sleep is when dreams occur. One component of PTSD is often nightmares, so using cannabis with a higher THC component can help reduce their frequency.
Anxiety and Depression
Depression is incredibly common, affecting roughly 350 million people around the world. Anxiety often comes right along with it, as the two have a very high comorbidity. Unfortunately, many sufferers of anxiety and depression do not get the help they need, largely due to stigma surrounding mental health struggles.
Cannabis has been reported to help alleviate the symptoms of both depression and anxiety in distinctive ways. Researchers at the University of Buffalo have been looking into the effects of cannabis on brain chemicals called endocannabinoids, naturally produced chemical compounds that affect emotions and behavior. These scientists have so far found that chronic stress can reduce production of endocannabinoids, which can result in symptoms of depression. More research is needed, but they have found that use of cannabis can help restore normal endocannabinoid levels and ease the symptoms of depression.
As for anxiety, a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders by scientists at Washington State University found that smoking cannabis can reduce self-reported feelings of anxiety in the short term. One the other hand, they did not find repeated use to lead to long-term reduction of symptoms.
Learn More About Cannabis and Mental Health
More research is on the horizon, but the potential benefits of medicinal cannabis use are exciting. Just remember to do your research, and talk to a doctor or other professional to determine whether medicinal cannabis use is right for you and your symptoms.
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