With medical marijuana becoming legalized in most states and the movement for legal recreational use underway, understanding the implications of marijuana use is more important than ever. Because marijuana is a plant and considered a natural substance, many do not consider the use of the drug to be particularly dangerous. In fact, many people speak to the perceived benefits of use. Although marijuana can be used in treatment for certain medical conditions, the drug is not without side effects and risks. Marijuana and depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders have been linked and marijuana has been known to cause these issues. It has the potential to influence the development of mental health conditions and worsen preexisting conditions as well.

The availability of marijuana is increasing and the changing legal status of the drug is affecting public perception. Marijuana is one of the most widely used illicit substances in the United States and will certainly grow in popularity as it becomes legalized. While it is possible to use marijuana and not experience dramatic side effects, there are multiple risks associated with use, particularly concerning mental health. Depending on a person’s biology, family history, and mental health status, some may experience more dramatic effects than others. Understanding the implications of substance abuse and the risks to mental health can raise awareness about the reality of risks associated with marijuana use.

Marijuana and Mental Health

Marijuana use can cause both short and long-term changes to brain chemistry. When used, marijuana binds to receptors in the brain, leading to feelings of being “high” as well as other mood-altering side effects. For those who are more sensitive to the effects of marijuana, additional side effects may be experienced. This may include:

  • Aggression
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Panic
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Mania
  • Delusions

While more research must be done to better understand the effects of marijuana use, some links between marijuana and mental health have already been uncovered. This includes:

  1. Marijuana can increase the risks for certain psychiatric disorders’ development. In some cases, schizophrenia can develop and those with preexisting conditions may experience worsened symptoms.
  2. Using marijuana during adolescence can cause long-lasting changes to the way the brain’s reward system works. A person begins to only feel a sense of reward from using the drug. Marijuana use early in life can cause a person to experience trouble remembering and thinking.
  3. Symptoms of mental health conditions can manifest while a person is under the influence, but these generally fade away as the drug leaves the system. In some cases, it leads to the development of a long-lasting condition.
  4. It is possible to get “too high” using marijuana, especially if a person uses a stronger strain than they are accustomed to or if they consume it in a way that is different than what they are used to. For example, smoking marijuana can cause side effects within minutes of use while consuming edibles may take hours before effects are experienced. Sometimes, a person may consume too much because they do not “feel it” fast enough when using marijuana this way.
  5. Adults who are dependent on marijuana have higher rates of mental health disorders including anxiety, depression, PTSD, and ADHD. It can be difficult to tell whether the disorder existed prior to substance abuse or developed as a result.

Identifying Symptoms of Mental Health Disorders

Marijuana use has been linked to the development of some mood disorders (such as depression and bipolar disorder), anxiety, psychosis, and schizophrenia. While there are other factors that can play a role in the development of these conditions, studies show that use of marijuana increases these risks. These risks increase more with more potent strains and more frequent use.

Marijuana creates changes in the brain that are not always temporary. Research shows that marijuana alters brain structure, and specifically affects the areas of the brain responsible for regulating motivation, emotion, learning, and memory. In some cases, these changes may not be reversible.

Symptoms of marijuana dependence and co-occurring mental health disorders include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Low energy
  • Decreased motivation
  • Poor feelings of self-worth
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Withdrawal and isolation
  • Lack of interest in activities one once enjoyed
  • Lack of participation in relationships
  • Poor communication with others
  • Apathy

Treating Marijuana Dependencies and Mental Health

It is important to address both substance dependencies and mental health conditions simultaneously. If not treated equally, unresolved issues often lead to triggers that cause relapse. Understanding the relationship between marijuana use and mental health is critical in identifying existing issues and developing effective treatment plans to create a manageable, successful recovery experience.

Even though marijuana can be the reason a mental health disorder develops, some may continue to use the drug as an attempt to self-medicate for symptoms. This exacerbates symptoms of both conditions, worsening a person’s overall health and contributing to the cycle of abuse. Without proper treatment, these symptoms can decrease a person’s quality of life.

Marijuana addiction treatment is similar to treatment for any other form of addiction. Long-term treatment that is designed to address the unique needs of the person is most effective. Treatment that addresses both addiction and mental health needs simultaneously tend to produce the best outcomes because they equip a person with the tools necessary to support their sobriety independently.

If you or someone you know is struggling with marijuana or mental health issues, we are here to help. Give us a call at 888.855.6877 or send us a message below and one of our admissions counselors will do their best to get you the help you need.

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