What Effect Does Cannabis Have on Mental Health?

By Joan Eberhardt

Who Benefits?

Advocates for veterans will tell you that many vets use cannabis as a way of coping with the negative effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). There’s plenty of data to back up that more veterans are using cannabis to cope with PTSD, but while studies are underway to determine what effectiveness cannabis might bring, there isn’t yet a lot of good supporting data. Department of Veterans Affairs under the current administration has taken a hardline stance against authorizing cannabis use among veterans. Interestingly, the authors of the page concerning cannabis consumption as treatment for PTSD on the Department of Veterans Affairs website was written by Marcel O. Bonn-Miller, Ph.D. and Glenna S. Rousseau. Ph.D. Bonn-Miller is employed in the pharmaceutical industry and Rousseau is an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Dartmouth Medical school.

Advocates for veterans are keeping a close watch on research supporting or refuting the effectiveness of cannabis for treatment of PTSD. Until science chimes in, advocates are pushing forward to get legal access to cannabis for veterans who find that cannabis use helps them to sleep, with a reduction in negative reactions regarding PTSD, and they’re working to help veterans obtain the necessary relief they may not be able to find with prescription medications. Veterans are testifying before court and legislatures across America to demand laws they say will help save veterans lives, see the video below.

It Can’t All Be Good, Can It?

One thing Drs. Bon-Miller and Rousseau are right about is that there is not enough good evidence to support the claims veterans’ advocates make. There is very little good science regarding what effect cannabis can and cannot have regarding certain medical symptoms or conditions. Because cannabis is federally illegal and considered a Schedule 1 drug, the most restricted and therefore hardest to study. In states that have access to legal medical marijuana, some hospitals are running small, controlled trials, but good scientific studies often take years to get good results. According to Harvard, at this time there is more information known about the negative psychiatric effects cannabis can have, but that consensus exists that cannabis could be used to treat certain conditions and that descheduling cannabis at a federal level would help make studies easier to perform.

The medical school notes that common negative psychiatric effects of cannabis are addiction, anxiety, mood disorders and psychosis. For many people cannabis is relaxing, or beneficial but it does not affect everybody the same way all the time. Panic attacks are the most commonly associated negative effect of marijuana, enough to turn anyone off. It can have strong negative effects of people who suffer from bipolar disorder and exacerbate the manic and depressive cycling, and it can worsen the symptoms of patients diagnosed with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. Cannabis use, especially among adolescents, can lead to an increased risk of depression later in life, but the science on that is a little muddy.

What do you think of cannabis as treatment for mental illness? Comment below and tell us your thoughts.

Also, check out this excellent testimony fromJoshua Littrell of Veterans for Cannabis.

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