We all hear stories of marijuana working wonders for people with chronic pain, seizures, and other physical health issues. But while research is limited and any conclusions must include all sorts of legal disclaimers, it may have some mental health value as well.
“Marijuana is frequently used as a Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) treatment for epilepsy, post- traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain, among other potentially debilitating illnesses,” said Dr. Jameson Lontz, a psychologist at Blue Mountain Psychology in Spokane. “Data shows that 2.8 million Americans use marijuana as CAM, and 22.2 million recreationally.”
But what about people who don’t use it for fun or physical ailments, but to try and treat mental health issues? It is commonly known that many people self-prescribe marijuana for anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and other reasons or health conditions.
The American Psychiatric Association has actually taken a firm stance, Lontz said, that there is no current scientific evidence that marijuana is in any way beneficial for the treatment of any psychiatric disorder. In fact, the APA emphasizes “…strong association of cannabis use with the onset of psychiatric disorders.”
The APA says standard marijuana use has been linked to an approximate 6 point decline in Intelligence Quotient (IQ), comparable to the effects of exposure to lead. Young people are the most affected by it; research says it can lead to under-developed cognition, delayed development of brain function, and difficulty dealing with stress and emotions. Over time, that can translate to low education levels, poor job satisfaction, and higher risk of emotional problems.
In general though, Lontz says there just haven’t been randomized, controlled, trial-based studies to scientifically back up claims that cannabis has mental or physical health benefits. So any reports of this are anecdotal at this time.
“No different from the guy who says ‘My father smoked until the day he died at 92 years old!’ while ignoring the fact that 440,000 Americans die annually secondary to tobacco use,” said Dr. Lontz.
So why haven’t these studies been conducted? Legal reasons, plus funding issues. Because marijuana isn’t legal at the federal level, federal funds can’t be used in studying it, which severely limits resources and opportunities to do so.
Another issue that makes answering the question ‘Is marijuana effective in treating metal health issues?’ is that self-prescribing it can be risky. Because cannabis isn’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, proper controlled dosing is an inexact science.
“For example, intensity and duration of an inhaled puff of marijuana as well as purity and potency of the drug in its smoked form would need to be controlled in clinical studies before making conclusions about how much or how little is safe and effective,” Lontz said. “This is in comparison to the label on the bottle of ibuprofen that says there are exactly 200 milligrams of active ingredient per pill.”
That is part of why Dr. Lontz recommends being open with your health care provider about your habits; this helps to ensure that any medications or treatments prescribed won’t negatively react with marijuana in your system.
“My A-Level recommendation is that you take a chance on being open and honest about everything you discuss with a healthcare provider. Especially tell your primary care provider about everything you take, prescribed or not, legal or illegal.”
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