Cannabis – and more specifically, the myriad of compounds contained in this wonder plant, has been touted in recent years as beneficial for everything from pain relief and skincare to chronic inflammation and epilepsy – and everything in between.
So what about cannabis and mental health?
At this point, the verdict is…mixed.
While commonly cited as a potent anti-anxiety medicine with benefits for those with insomnia and other ailments, cannabis (and CBD specifically) look promising. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that the cannabis plant is a complex thing – it contains more than 500 known chemical properties. Over 100 of these are cannabinoids, the compounds that, when consumed, interact with the body’s own vast endocannabinoid system. As such, varying doses and strains have the potential to affect countless mental and physical processes in our bodies – such as increasing hunger, affecting memory, blunting pain, and reducing inflammation.
But as yet, very little scientific research has been conducted on the veracity of cannabis treatments on mental health conditions.
Anecdotally, however, it is another ballgame. We regularly hear people describe cannabis as vital for treating or managing depression, for example. And we do know that the endocannabinoid system plays a role in mood regulation. What we don’t know is much about the clinical management of such conditions with cannabis. There’s a lot to learn.
The Psychiatric Times weighed in on just how often cannabis is relied upon for self-management of health issues: “Regardless of the legal status of cannabis, many patients with psychiatric disorders use cannabis and report improvement in their symptoms. Patients use cannabis for symptoms of PTSD, anxiety disorders, depression, ADHD, bipolar disorder, chronic pain, insomnia, opiate dependence, and even schizophrenia. In addition, patients use cannabis for neurological conditions such as the spasticity of multiple sclerosis, agitation in dementia, and specific seizure disorders that are unresponsive to standard therapies. Patients also use cannabis to reduce the nausea and anorexia of cancer chemotherapies and to improve their mood and outlook-frequently with their oncologist’s approval.”
Item 9 Labs’ own Tyler Hurst has a long history of using cannabis to treat and manage his Complex PTSD symptoms. He describes a long journey with rage, anxiety, and difficulty coping – until discovering plant medicine.
While he had initially begun using cannabis after surgery as a trade-off for painkillers that were making him nauseous, he later discovered that after consuming some cannabis, he was less angry and used social media less obsessively.
After his therapist recommended he use cannabis more regularly, he found that while it offered relief from some of his worst symptoms, painful memories continued to surface. “I started to research how to best stay medicated all the time (a combination of microdosing edibles made from flower and live resin), which I found always soothed, but did not erase, the emotional pain.” Tyler explains, “I noticed that I could almost control my moods with it as if softened me when angry, boosted me when sad, like it was always trying to get to equilibrium.
But as Tyler discovered, his treatment wouldn’t be complete with cannabis alone. He saw a therapist and utilized yoga and other wellness tools to cope and unearth some of the underlying causes of his symptoms.
“I knew I needed more than just marijuana, and in February 2017 I joined a Medicated Mavens yoga class, immediately falling in love with canna yoga. Being able to use cannabis helped with my anxiety while also acting as psychological lube for when certain movements would trigger tough memories. Since then, I’ve incorporated other alternative and plant-based medicines into my routine to make big jumps in my recovery while continuing to use cannabis to help smooth out the integration issues in between.”
Indeed, some psychologists pose that how you use cannabis as a mental health treatment can be the decisive factor. If used just to numb uncomfortable feelings, many report those symptoms ultimately worsening. Research has shown that when people use cannabis to escape from difficult feelings, it can create issues with mental health and addiction.
If you are considering using cannabis as part of a mental health treatment plan, it is recommended to develop such a plan in consultation with a professional trained in mental health care.
The reality is that cannabis is a complex and potent medicine. At this stage, it is unwise to make blanket claims about it as a mental health cure-all, even though it appears to offer some legit benefits in many cases. Instead, meaningful discussion and substantive research about its potential benefits and harms are needed, along with a humble attitude. After all, there’s always more to learn!