Marijuana in Psychiatry: An Overview

According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug. With debates across the nation regarding legality, marijuana is widely used by teens and adolescents. Many advocates defend their stance on the controversial subject by citing health benefits of the drug, and others find that it does more harm. Furthermore, there are controversial claims for the effects of marijuana in psychiatry.

An Overview of Marijuana in Psychiatry

Patient Use

Many people view marijuana as a harmless mood-altering drug. It is very common to hear advocates state that it helps people manage their anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and other psychiatric conditions. While using the drug may make them feel better, physicians are very reluctant to prescribe medical marijuana in psychiatry. There are studies in which marijuana seems to benefit those suffering from anxiety and depression, as well as studies that show a link between using and developing disorders.

Evidence from both animal and human studies indicate that marijuana use in developmental years can cause adverse changes in the brain. When diving into more specific situations, there are conflicting findings. Many studies find that the level of cognitive impairment depends on many factors including the age at which the subject began using, and how long he/she used.

Psychiatric patients who use marijuana are at a higher risk of developing drug use disorders as well as dependency. It is critical that Psychiatrists work with patients and acknowledge their use of marijuana.

Treating Patients Who Use

It is important for Psychiatrists to work with and attend to their patient if they are using marijuana. Since there is research leading in many different directions, Psychiatrists should be looking for influences on patient symptoms and not ignore the fact that they may be self-medicating. A collaborative approach to treating psychiatric disorders as well as addressing the use of marijuana in psychiatry will prove to show the greatest benefits for patients.

Marijuana in psychiatry can be very dangerous and more harmful than helpful. Psychiatrists should educate themselves on the components of cannabis and what actually causes the mind-altering feelings. Most medical marijuana is advertised with CBD: THC ratios around 20:1, which is relatively high. Samples of illegal marijuana are said to have low ratios, in which psychedelic effects are maximized. With this being said, it can be important to know the source and characteristics of the marijuana your patient is using. In addition to educating yourself as the Psychiatrist, educate your patient about the perceived risks.

The Link to Psychiatric Disorders

There are several studies that have linked marijuana use to an increased risk for developing psychiatric disorders. These disorders include psychosis, depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders. Although there are studies that show the link, it is difficult to determine cannabis use’s real role in these conditions.

Some findings show that there is no correlation between marijuana use and mood/anxiety disorders. In regards to psychosis, marijuana’s effect on developing the condition later in life greatly depends on genetic makeup. Those with certain variants of specific genes have a greater vulnerability for marijuana use leading to psychosis.

Research on cannabis for health purposes is still conflicting. While there are great benefits for some medical conditions, marijuana might not be the best treatment for everything. Specifically, marijuana in psychiatry is becoming very controversial, as researchers are still unsure of the risks to benefits ratios. There are many different types of cannabis, which can affect each person’s brain differently.


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