With the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana on the rise across the country, psychologists and scientists are speaking up about its effects on mental health.

Does marijuana help ease anxiety and depression?

The effect of marijuana on anxiety and depression has evidence both supporting and opposing its use. According to a Psychology Today article published in December 2021, marijuana has sometimes been found to relieve insomnia, anxiety, and depression, but in other cases, it exacerbated the conditions.

An article from Psychcentral.com explains similar findings; some people experienced alleviation of symptoms, while others had intensified symptoms. The article further explains that participants who initially reported benefits from consuming marijuana later came back and reported their depression had worsened over time.

Our addiction counselor, certified interventionist, and chemical dependency counselor, Bev Mueller, discusses the controversial evidence. Mueller explains, “In the case of medical marijuana, some people feel calmed when taking it. Others may feel more energy, and others yet may experience adverse or undesired reactions and side effects. It is important to work closely with your medical and mental health providers when searching for the correct medication, marijuana and otherwise, to make sure you are given the correct medication dosages.” Mueller recommends participating in ongoing counseling if you are taking any psychotropic medication, such as marijuana.

It’s hard to say in definite terms whether marijuana will help or exacerbate your anxiety or depression. This is due to the fact that every individual experiences mental health in a unique way. Everyone has different physical factors, genetic factors, and situational factors impacting their mental health situations. Thus, the use of marijuana may be experienced differently for each individual. Additionally, it’s a hard subject to study since marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, and this limits the research.  In the future, we hope to see more conclusive evidence on marijuana’s impact on anxiety and depression, but for now, it’s best to seek out medical or counseling services if you are curious about marijuana as a mental health aid.

Is marijuana addictive? 

Whether marijuana is addictive or not is still debated by the general population. Psychologists would like this myth to be officially debunked. Mueller explains, “It can be every bit addictive, particularly for those who are prone to addiction, or if addiction runs in their family.”

David Janeway D.O. writes in Psychology Today, “Individuals from traumatic backgrounds are at higher risk of developing this pattern and are four to seven times more likely to become dependent on alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs.”

Marijuana may be thought of as a “soft” drug, but the potential for addiction is real.

Is marijuana harmful to adolescents?

Research confirms that marijuana is particularly harmful for adolescents and young adults. “These substances can, and do, alter the brain of any individual, but in the growing adolescent it can hinder their growth and development and even stunt it,” Mueller explains.

Mueller does not recommend any mind- or mood-altering substances for adolescents for this very reason. However, Mueller might recommend marijuana use for adult patients, depending on the situation. “It can be a good add-on to prescription medications for pain. Not just because it can help to enhance the pain relief of the pain reliever, but many medications – such as chemotherapy and opioids – have side effects that marijuana can help with, including nausea and lack of appetite. It may help reduce the needed dosage of pain medications.”

At any age, the use of marijuana is a risk for triggering psychosis, but adolescents’ developing brains are particularly vulnerable. “Probably due to the higher potency of THC in marijuana today compared to the 1960s, there is a greater risk of it triggering psychosis, even in those without a genetic predisposition of schizophrenia,” writes Janeway.

Janeway also cautions that more discussion and education is needed when it comes to marijuana’s effects on adolescents. “Many parents wrongly feel that marijuana carries a much lower risk than alcohol and may adopt a casual, laissez-faire attitude when advising their kids,” Janeway writes.

Adolescents should avoid the use of marijuana for their own health and safety. As adults, marijuana should be used in a safe, controlled way. 

Is marijuana legal to use for mental health support?

According to the Marijuana Policy Project the use of marijuana in Florida is legal only for people with certain medical conditions, and must be certified by a doctor.  The list includes physical conditions like cancer, epilepsy and HIV/AIDS, but also includes the psychological condition of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is currently the only mental health issue which qualifies for a medical marijuana prescription. Once again, there is conflicting evidence around the effects of marijuana on PTSD. Psychcentral.com states, “There’s some evidence from 2018 and 2019 that CBD could help treat anxiety, particularly social anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”

As of March 2022, marijuana is only approved for medical use in Florida, though many counties are trending towards decriminalization. Eighteen states have formally legalized marijuana use, while thirty-eight states have decriminalized it, according to BusinessInsider.com. Whether or not it is ever federally decriminalized, access to marijuana will likely rise as more states embrace its legalization. It’s never been so important to be educated on marijuana’s effects. 

Should You Use Marijuana?

Mueller’s first step to mental health treatment involves alternatives to both prescription medications and marijuana use. Mueller says that certain natural supplements and amino acids can be effective treatments for anxiety and depression; however, other cases will require stronger interventions.

Mueller believes if marijuana consumption is monitored by a doctor and a therapist, it can be a valuable part of mental health treatments. Every person will have a different experience, which is why it’s so important to have professional support.

“The key is to work on achieving a balance since, like any drug, marijuana has side effects that can include lack of motivation and hinder concentration, amongst other things, including dependency,” Mueller says.

Whether it’s medical or recreational, if you use marijuana it’s important to understand the potential risks to your mental health. Seek out psychological guidance on the topic if you suffer from mental health issues and would like to know more about using marijuana. You can reach out to us at Family & Child Development.