Cannabis, Mental Illness and Contributing Factors

Marijuana AbuseCannabis, mental illness and all contributing factors are not nailed down yet. We have a lot to learn. Legalizing weed is going to give scientists who study addictions a lot of research material, but what do we know right now? At the moment, we believe that smoking cannabis alone is not the primary causative element in mental disorders. We know that cannabis can make many psychological disorders worse. Disorders that affect perception of reality are particularly susceptible to exacerbation by chronic pot smoking. Schizophrenia, particularly can be made worse by regular cannabis use. Any person who has a mood or affective disorder and has had at least one psychotic break is also vulnerable to cannabis in general making things worse.

There’s also another relationship between pot and mental illness. Some disorders, like anxiety and panic disorder, seem to be helped for a while by the calming properties of THC. Even young teens use weed for this reason. However THC has no ability to actually help the disorder. It can only suppress symptoms. What we’ve found is that the earlier people start using weed daily, the worse their pre-existing condition becomes over time. It may be several years before those problems become evident. This is due, in part, to people not getting help for a mental issue early on.

THC, the active ingredient in weed, tends to act as a central nervous system depressant. Does that mean in and of itself it is a harm to the brain? Research indicates that in small and irregular doses, no. That’s the problem. If addicts could moderate their use, or used a drug rarely, it’d not be an addiction. Neurologically, cannabis does the most damage to the developing brains of people from the early teens through the early 20s. However, people who suffer from moderate to severe mental illness are far more affected by weed than those without such disorders. The impact of pot doesn’t have to happen during a psychotic episode. Daily, weed impairs the production of dopamine and acetylcholine, although on a minute level.  If a person’s neurological functioning is good, such a tiny change wouldn’t matter. However, the brain chemistry of a person suffering from a disorder of reality is already out of balance, struggling to return to steady state that approximates good functioning.

Anything that works against the brain’s own natural attempts to recover, along with physician prescribed medication, will make things far, far worse.