Cannabis Effects on Mental Health and Substance Abuse


A research team of Canadian and American scientists recently published an illuminating new study on cannabis effects on mental health. The study was led by Zach Walsh, an associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and the paper was published in the journal Clinical Psychology Review. The results contradicted what many have been told about marijuana for many decades. As it turns out according to this study, marijuana is beneficial for people dealing with certain depression, anxiety and PTSD but is not good for people with certain disorders, such as bipolar disorder and psychosis.

Marijuana: The Exit Drug

Rather than a gateway drug, cannabis may actually combat addiction.

The team did a systematic review of 60 studies, analyzing the medical and non-medical cannabis effects in a large variety of circumstances. The researchers not only found it to be good for mental illness but also good in helping people get off opioids and alcohol. This drastically changes the reputation of the plant, from being a gateway drug, to essentially being an “exit” drug. “Research suggests that people may be using cannabis as an exit drug to reduce the use of substances that are potentially more harmful, such as opioid pain medication,” Walsh explains. It was successful as a non-addictive replacement substance to help addicts detox and recover.

Using Cannabis Effects to Treat Mental Health

Cannabis may be used to treat depression among other mental health disorders.

Cannabis effects may influence cognitive functions while a person is intoxicated or in people who are acute users. Short term memory may also be affected. But all studies indicate that marijuana consumption does not increase the risk of harm to the self or anyone else. Much more research is needed in order to understand the best ways for physicians to use marijuana to help patients with mental health issues and substance abuse. Currently opioid abuse is at an all-time high, with tens of thousands dying each year from opioid overdoses. The potential for a solution to the epidemic is greatly welcomed. Walsh said, “We are really excited about the potential substitution effect. If people use cannabis as a replacement for opioid medications, or to get off of opioids or cut back, we could see some pretty dramatic public health benefits. The level of opioid overdoses is so high right now.”

Places such as Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal have already begun to report a decrease in opioid related deaths. Opioid use is down as a whole, illustrating the benefits of marijuana to help addicts recover.

Spreading Understanding to the Medical Community

Legalization may be as close as next year for Canada while the U.S. continues to legalize both recreational and medical marijuana across the country. 8 states plus D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana and 28 states have legalized medical marijuana. This study was aimed to help mental health care professionals get an understanding of the plant and it’s affects in order to best understand how to move forward with both policy and medical treatment.

Walsh’s study was also conducted alongside UBC’s Michelle Thiessen, Kim Crosby and Chris Carroll, Raul Gonzalez from Florida State University, and Marcel Bonn-Miller from the National Centre for PTSD and Center for Innovation and Implementation in California.



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