Mental Health Risks Of Marijuana
As more states legalize the possession and use of marijuana, we are beginning to get a clearer picture of the effects it can have on mental health. While more research is needed, we know there has been an upswing in suicides and mental health disorders in the states that have legalized the drug. So, what are the mental health risks of marijuana use?
Long Term Side Effects Of Marijuana Use
The short term effects of marijuana use have been known for years. They include:
- Altered judgement
- Weakened motor skills
- Impairment of short term memory, along with an associated difficulty in learning and retaining information.
However, with long term use or with heavy use of cannabinoids, people are developing more serious mental side effects. This is particularly if the drug was initially used early in adolescence.
A 2016 study by Volkow, et al, found:
- Addiction (in about 9% of users overall, 17% of those who begin use in adolescence, and 25 to 50% of those who are daily users)
- Altered brain development
- Cognitive impairment, with lower IQ among those who were frequent users during adolescence
- Increased risk of chronic psychosis disorders (including schizophrenia) in persons with a predisposition to such disorders
- Diminished life satisfaction
- Symptoms of chronic bronchitis (*we are now seeing this in the current vaping crisis, which has been linked to the use of THC pods)
This is especially concerning because the study also reported that, “Currently, marijuana is the most commonly used “illicit” drug in the United States, with about 12% of people 12 years of age or older reporting use in the past year and particularly high rates of use among young people.”
Marijuana And Psychosis: Are They Linked?
Today’s marijuana is not the same strength as what people were familiar with in the past – cannabis is now much stronger. A review of the negative health effects of pot in the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine reported that, “Current commercialized cannabis is near 20% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive constituent of cannabis, while in the 1980s concentration was <2%. This 10-fold increase in potency does not include other formulations such as oils, waxes, and dabs, which can reach 80–90% THC.” And, as the potency of marijuana increases, so do the rates of mental health disorders and psychosis.
Age at first use of the drug also makes a big difference in developing mental health issues. A 5-year study by Di Forti, et al, that was published in The Lancet in 2019 compiled data from across 11 sites in Europe and in Brazil and discovered that the occurrence of first-episode psychosis increased exponentially in those who used marijuana daily or in high potency form.
Although the study authors reported that “Use of high-potency cannabis (THC ≥10%) modestly increased the odds of a psychotic disorder compared with never use… those who had started using high-potency cannabis by age 15 years showed a doubling of risk.” And, they said that, “daily use of high-potency cannabis carried more than a four-times increase in the risk of psychotic disorder.”
Cannabinoid Induced Psychosis
USAToday recently published an article highlighting the debate over cannabinoid induced psychosis. In it, they detailed the downward spiral of a young man who had once been a star high school athlete. After months of vaping a highly potent form of THC, he showed up at work on his day off, disoriented and speaking incoherently. Upon hospitalization, doctors diagnosed him with “cannabis use disorder” and “psychotic disorder, unspecified.”
If the young man stays off pot for a year and has no further psychotic symptoms or episodes during that time, he will join the growing number of pot smokers who have been identified as suffering from cannabinoid induced psychosis. The diagnosis takes a year to confirm in order to ensure the psychotic episode did not stem from another reason.
This person is not alone. For their story, USAToday also “interviewed a dozen parents whose children suffered psychotic episodes – some of which led to schizophrenia – related to their marijuana use. Several of the children died by suicide. “
The USAToday article went on to say that, “In May, more than 40 Massachusetts doctors, psychiatrists, pediatricians and other public health professionals urged the state to add psychiatric risk warnings to marijuana packaging and to prohibit most advertising.”
Be Cautious Before Using Marijuana
In addition to concerns about marijuana use and the associated mental health risks are the recent vaping illnesses and deaths that dominated the news this summer. THC-containing vaping products and e-cigarettes have been implicated in almost all the cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending that people “should not use THC-containing e-cigarette, or vaping, products, particularly from informal sources like friends, family, or in-person or online sellers.”
At this point, it is obvious that more research and time are needed to understand how marijuana affects the brain. Clearly, though, the drug isn’t as innocent as some people believe.