Medical Marijuana and Mental Health

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    Medical Marijuana and Mental Health

    Legalizing marijuana is once again a hot topic. California and the federal government are making changes in how marijuana is viewed legally. For some states, this means residents can have not only legal medical access to marijuana; but also can legally possess small amounts without fear of criminal charges.

    For mental health patients, medicinal marijuana use might be appealing. States like California have shops where, under a doctor’s prescription, you can purchase customized marijuana in small amounts. If you are not a current marijuana user but have considered it for various reasons, you should be aware of the effects, both positive and negative, marijuana use can have on the brain and its cognitive functions. Please note that the author does not condone illegal marijuana use or abuse.

    The Positive

    Inhaling marijuana can cause a state of euphoria and relaxation. This is a widely known fact. The effects are almost instant. What is interesting is how that actually happens. Research performed in 1999 showed that THC, the active chemical in marijuana, mimics certain fatty acids like anandamides that inhibits body movement. Anandamides, when released by nerve terminals, block the neurotransmitter dopamine’s body movement commands. Manic patients or high anxiety patients might find this useful when racing thoughts and high-firing neurons are causing irritability and restlessness.

    The Negative

    Heavy marijuana use can cause significant cognitive impairment. A controlled study compared heavy users (smoking at least one joint 27 out of 30 days) to light users (less than 3 of 30). Both underwent the same battery of cognitive tests such as word memorization and organization tests. Heavy users performed significantly worse than light users, although the residual effects did not appear to be severe.

    Users also express side effects like paranoia. Extensive use can increase anxiety, depression symptoms and possibly exacerbate other symptoms as seen with schizophrenic and bipolar patients. Despite some claims that marijuana can cause mental illness, the National Institute of Mental Health reports that there are no direct causal links between marijuana and mental illness.

    There are also other significant risks, such as the toxins inhaled from the marijuana smoke, and lung damage that can occur from holding the smoke in the lungs for extended periods of time.

    Weighing It All

    Do the positives outweigh the negatives when it comes to medical marijuana use? It appears that many negative affects of marijuana use are the result of chronic smoking. One might also consider measuring marijuana use versus current coping methods. If, for instance, you are using prescription medications to deal with anxiety and you are having really negative side effects, infrequent marijuana use (when properly withdrawn from those medications) could be beneficial. But if you already abuse other substances and have little to no psychological or emotional support, the negatives could be very costly mentally and physically.

    October 23, 10:18 PMSF Mental Health Examiner Paul Bright

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