Marijuana and Mental Illness
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 concerningly, 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 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 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.