Cannabis and mental health


The Cannabis plant is a member of the nettle family that has been growingin the wild throughout the world for centuries. People have used it for several reasons, other than its popularly known relaxing effect.

When one smokes cannabis, the active compounds quickly reach the brain through the bloodstream. They then bind/stick to a special receptor in the brain. This triggersthe nerve cells to release different chemicals, and subsequently causes the effects that one feels. These effects can be either enjoyable or unpleasant.

Often, the unpleasant effects take longer to appear than the pleasant ones.

Good/pleasant effects:

  • Feeling relaxed and talkative,
  • Colours or music may seem more intense.

Unpleasant effects:

  • Feeling sick/panicky,
  • Feeling paranoid,
  • Hearing voices,
  • Feeling depressed and unmotivated.
Unfortunately, some people may find cannabis so addictive that they may find it troublesome to stop using it even when its effects are not pleasant.

Using cannabis can either trigger mental health problems in people who seem to be well before usage, or it can worsen any mental health problems that one already has.

Research has shown that people who are already at a risk of developing mental health problems are more likely to start showing symptoms of mental illness if they use cannabis regularly. For example, if someone in your family suffers from depression or schizophrenia, you are at higher risk of getting these illnesses when you consume cannabis.

The younger you are when you start using it, the more you may be at risk. This is because your brain is still developing and can be more easily damaged by the active chemicals in cannabis.

If you stop using cannabis once you have started to show symptoms of any mental illness such as depression, paranoia or hearing voices, these symptoms may go away. However, not everyone will get better just by stopping to smoke cannabis.

If you go on using cannabis, the symptoms can get worse. It can also make any treatment that your doctor might prescribe for you, less effective. Your illness may come back quickly and more often if you continue to use cannabis once you get well.

Some people with mental health problems find that using cannabis makes them feel slightly better for a while. Unfortunately, this feeling does not last, and it does nothing to treat the illness. In fact, it may delay you from getting the help you need and the illness may become worse in the long run.

Cannabis usage and its effects on various mental illnesses like depression, anxiety-baseddisorders, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia is complex. This has been studied and researched upon for decades.

To summarize, the relationship between cannabis and anxiety is complex, as is therelationship between cannabis and depression. Factors such as cannabis use history, cannabispotency, predisposition to an anxiety disorder, and consumers’ ability to titrate dosage, may affectthe extent to which an individual experiences the acute effects of cannabis as being either anxiety provoking or relaxation inducing.

There is convincing evidence from studies that the use of cannabis is related to an increased likelihood of developing psychosis in subgroups of the population or worsening existing symptoms of psychosissuch as paranoia, suspiciousness, hallucinations etc.Those with mental disorders are most vulnerable to the negative effects of cannabis use.

Surveys done amongst students in America show that atleast 60% of the students admit to experimenting with cannabis. Only a small percentage of this end up as regular long termusers and for an even smaller percentage it may lead to mental health issues like mood disorders and psychotic disorders.Theones who do not develop tangible mental health issues remain at a risk of Amotivational syndrome, which in turn evolves into a pattern where an individual loses the natural zeal and motivation to strive, achieve and reach onespotential. It can lead to the development of a pseudo philosophical attitude, which leads to no productive activity.

Unfortunately, in recent times there is a growing acceptance of cannabis use in India, particularly in the urban centres aided by the medias biased portrayal of cannabis as a relatively safe drug. Various arguments are used to justify this attitude including the legalisation issue that has been seen in US and Europe.However, the reasons for its legalisation are very complex and this does not mean that it is a safe drug to use.

Image source-Google

Dr Vinod Kumar
Head-Mpower-The Centre,Bengaluru
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