Is cannabis good for mental health?

Aswan, Egypt. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
Aswan, Egypt. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

Cannabis has been smoked for psychoactive effects at least for 2,500 years.

Each day more than 400 Canadians are hospitalized because of harm from alcohol or drugs.

Every day 10 Canadians die in hospitals from harm caused by substance use. Cannabis accounts for nearly 40 per cent of hospital stays among youth for harm from substance use.

Incidence is high among youth age 10 to 24. Statistics show the heaviest users of cannabis consume a high proportion of alcohol as well.

Nearly 70 per cent of the hospitalizations for harm caused by substance use involve mental health conditions.

What is cannabis?

Cannabis, also known as marijuana among other names, is a psychoactive drug. Psychoactive drug changes brain function and perception, mood, consciousness, cognition, or behavior.

Cannabis can be used by smoking, vaporizing, within food, or as an extract.

Onset of effects is felt within minutes when smoked, and about 30 to 60 minutes when cooked and eaten. The effects last for two to six hours. Short-term side effects may include a decrease in short-term memory, dry mouth, impaired motor skills, red eyes, and feelings of paranoia or anxiety.

Long-term side effects may include addiction, decreased mental ability in those who started regular use as teenagers, and behavioral problems in children whose mothers used cannabis during pregnancy.

There is a strong relation between cannabis use and the risk of psychosis.

Is cannabis good for mental health?

A review of 40 years’ worth of studies suggests cannabis may not be effective in treating mental health disorders, but experts say that might have more to do with the lack of high-quality research than the drug itself.

A review article published in Lancet Psychiatry (Cannabinoids for the treatment of mental disorders and symptoms of mental disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis. October 28, 2019), looked at 83 studies dating back to 1980 on cannabis as a treatment for depression, anxiety, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, Tourette syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder and psychosis.

The study concluded there was “scarce evidence” to suggest cannabis improves the symptoms of any of these conditions based on 3,513 participants.

Not all experts agree with this study. Some felt the data from the studies examined in the review isn’t necessarily up-to-date. Some felt the data was of low quality. There was no discussion in terms of what people are actually consuming. Certainly, more research is needed on the medical benefits of cannabis in the treatment of mental health problems. For example, randomized controlled trials related to cannabis and psychiatric conditions would help to come to scientific conclusion.

Experts believe cannabis should not be the first line of treatment for psychiatric disorders as there are many unanswered questions. For example: How often should a person take it, dosage, and how long should they take it for? There is a risk that cannabis can make certain psychiatric conditions like schizophrenia worse.

It is not prudent for a physician to recommend cannabis for mental health disorders without first trying well tried therapies and other proven medications. Use of cannabis in mental health is an uncharted territory. For medical purposes, cannabis isn’t a proven treatment for mental health disorders.

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