By Regan Williams
“Marijuana is a weed that grows into a flower in your mind.” The message from that bumper sticker has resonated with me ever since it hung on the wall of my dorm room in the ‘70s.
Marijuana’s euphoric properties never failed to elevate my mood, reduce my anxiety or lift my depression, albeit temporarily. It definitely improved my mental state of mind.
Decades later when qualifying conditions for many states with medical marijuana include mental health disorders like anxiety and PTSD, the flower has grown into many derivatives. There are now pills, oils, tinctures, extracts, topical and edibles to help with these mental health issues.
But for those patients who find relief with marijuana from other mental disorders like bipolar, depression and schizophrenia, none of the 33 states with MMJ list these as qualifying conditions.
As an advocate for medical cannabis, I have to admit that there seems to be a very good reason for these condition omissions. Despite popular belief and anecdotal evidence, psychiatrists and other behavioral health professionals actually know very little about the therapeutic effects of marijuana.
The relationship between cannabis and mental disorders is little known because there has not been much research available to better understand the association. Some research results are favorable for MMJ use for depression and mania, while other studies were not favorable to the cannabis cause. Studies have linked marijuana use to increased risk for psychiatric disorders, including psychosis (schizophrenia), depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders.
Through my own personal MMJ research, the flower in my mind continues to ease and heal my mental and physical health. And it works for millions of others. The Marijuana Policy Project estimates that more than 2.8 million people in the United States are using marijuana as medicine. Recreational use is even higher, with more than 22.2 million users.
With or without the science to justify self-medicating, according to the Marijuana Policy Project patients use cannabis for symptoms of PTSD, anxiety disorders, depression, ADHD, bipolar disorder, chronic pain, insomnia, opiate dependence, and even schizophrenia,
One thing is certain, as legal use of MMJ and recreational marijuana is being considered by more states, scientists and health care professionals need to better understand the relationship between cannabis and mental disorders. If they don’t, they can’t respond appropriately to increasing medical and recreational marijuana use among their patients.
Here in Pennsylvania, the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board had an appropriate response when they added anxiety as a qualifying condition for MMJ last year. They advised that marijuana should be used only in addition to existing therapies, such as psychological counseling.
In less than a month, 3,000 people were certified to buy medical marijuana in PA because of anxiety disorders, state health officials said. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. affecting 40 million adults in the US every year, or 18.1% of the population, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Anxiety disorders are highly treatable with conventional medications, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment.
While cannabis has great therapeutic potential, all drugs/medications come with possible side effects or risks, so it is great advice to have a mental health professional as part of your health care team. There are free resources available.
Cannabis has been used as medicine for centuries throughout the world and when more researchers take a closer look at how and why it helps with the symptoms of mental illness, I believe the results will be notable.
Unquestionably, additional scientific evidence is needed before millions more can find relief through MMJ. Patients with mental health disorders may find more peace of mind and a greater quality of life. And the hippie sentiment of my bumper sticker can come true — the clouds in the mind will be replaced by flowers.
These are high expectations for this lowly weed. I personally know it can deliver.
If you or a loved one are struggling with depression, you can contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.
The Philadelphia Inquirer published this list of free resources for mental health support during this challenging time: Where to find free and low-cost therapy and support right now.