Cannabis And Mental Health

a young woman using cannabis as she researches mental health relations between cannabis and mental health disorders

Psychosis Effects and Risks of Cannabis on Mental Health

Marijuana is not the innocuous herb it was once regarded as being.  Marijuana today is up to 70% more potent than it was in the 1970s.  The potency, coupled with the powerful (and discrete) new forms of ingestion plus legalization efforts have created an entirely new situation with regards to cannabis use.

One in ten marijuana users will become addicted to the substance. For those who begin using the drugs as a teenager, the number is higher: 1 in 6.  For daily cannabis users, the number may be as high as 1 in 2.

Most concerning, this new high-test marijuana shows a direct, negative link to the mental health of the user.  Youths who use marijuana are exposing themselves to even higher levels of risk.  Cannabis interferes with the brain’s production of white matter (which acts as a neuronal conductor) and reduces neuronal pruning (where the brain self-eliminates old pathways).  Moreover, it’s known that for users with certain genes (AKT1) cannabis use nearly doubles the likelihood of schizophrenia and psychosis.  For youths predisposed to psychosis, marijuana lowers the average diagnosis age by 2.7 years.  The potential for psychosis is six times higher in marijuana users.

It is not necessarily the drug, per se, that causes psychosis. Rather, it catalyzes pre-existing conditions and brings them to the surface. Additionally, the behavior surrounding marijuana use contributes to depression.  The lack of motivation causes a lack of achievement which can induce depression.

Further complicating the situation is marijuana’s increasingly mainstream position in society. Twenty states have legalized cannabis for medical use.  Eleven states, plus the District of Columbia, have legalized the drug for recreational use.  Ironically, the rising acceptability and accessibility of marijuana coincide with our deepening understanding of the drug’s distinct risks. If you or a loved one are in need of mental health or addiction treatment, Chicago Rehab Center is here to help.

Reviewed by Dr. Beth Dunlap

Dr. Beth Dunlap, a board-certified addiction medicine and family medicine physician, is the medical director at CRC Institute, where she is responsible for overseeing all the integrated medical services at the Institute. Beth completed medical school, residency, and fellowship at Northwestern University, where she continues to serve on the faculty as a member of the Department of Family and Community Medicine. She has extensive experience in addiction medicine at all levels of care, and her clinical interests include integrated primary care and addiction medicine, harm reduction, and medication-assisted treatment.

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