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Is Medical Marijuana Use Linked to an Increase Anxiety and Depression?

As of this blog post, 30 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico have all approved the broad use of medical marijuana. In addition, several other states allow limited medical use and 8 states (plus the District of Columbia) allow recreational use of pot. Even though the use of marijuana is becoming more acceptable, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) still classifies pot and weed (marijuana) as a Schedule I substance, meaning it is likely to be abused and it completely lacks medical value. Because of this classification, there hasn’t been much research into the efficacy of the drug for medical conditions. 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 our clinical practice – and in those of colleagues in other practices – we have seen an increase in the number of incidents of anxiety, depression, panic attacks and even psychotic reactions since 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.
  • 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.”
  • Frequent or heavy use in adolescence can be a predictor of depression or anxiety later on in life – especially for girls.
  • According to available scientific literature, people who use weed have higher levels of depression and depressive symptoms than those who do not use cannabis.
  • Scientific evidence suggests cannabis use can trigger the onset of schizophrenia and other psychoses in those already at risk of developing it.
  • Even if using cannabis seems to alleviate symptoms in the short-term for some users, it can lead to delay in getting appropriate treatment.

Recreational Marijuana vs. Medical 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), seizure disorders, cancer and glaucoma), its effectiveness 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 we’ve said, right now there aren’t many studies out there on the relationship between marijuana use and mental illnesses, such as anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder. However, there was a study done in 2017 which examined marijuana use in conjunction with the depression and anxiety symptoms in 307 psychiatry outpatients who had depression (Bahorik et al., 2017). The results of this study showed that “marijuana use worsened depression and anxiety symptoms; marijuana use led to poorer mental health functioning.” In addition, the research found that medical marijuana was associated with inferior physical health functioning.

A big part of the problem with using marijuana either medically or recreationally is that there is no way to regulate the amount of THC you’re getting in the product, because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t oversee it. This means that both the ingredients and the strength of them can vary quite a lot. “We did a study last year [in 2016] 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 recreationally or medically, be careful. Talk to the physician 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 marijuana. 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, experience panic attacks or have bipolar disorder or psychosis.

Do You Have Questions?

We can answer your questions about marijuana use and how it affects anxiety, depression, or other conditions. The mental health professionals at The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida are here to help. For more information, contact us or call us today at 561-496-1094.

Reference:  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).

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