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How Does Marijuana Affect Mental Health?

Marijuana is generally seen as a safe drug. In fact, it is often used therapeutically to treat a variety of mental and physical health issues. However, research has shown that the relationship between marijuana and mental health is much more complicated than being entirely beneficial or entirely detrimental.

The potential for detrimental effects from marijuana use depend on two major factors. According to an IFL Science article entitled Does Cannabis Cause Mental Illness, “The first is the age at which you first begin to use cannabis, particularly if it’s before 18. Using cannabis during key stages of brain development can impact on synaptic pruning (when old neural connections are deleted) and the development of white matter (which transmits signals in the brain).” Using marijuana at an early age can lead to the exacerbation of mental disorders that may otherwise remain latent or come out at a much later age.

A 2003 Harvard Health Publishing article entitled Marijuana Use May be Harmful to Mental Health points to an Australian study that polled 1,600 14- and 15-year-olds, then followed up seven years later. According to the report, “A surprising 60% of the participants had used marijuana by the time they were 20. The researchers found that the young women who had used marijuana weekly as teenagers were twice as likely to have depression as a young adult than women who did not use the drug. Daily use as a teenager was associated with four times the risk of depression for young women.” Participants in other research studies regularly reported increased feelings of depression, boredom, and a lack of motivation.

The second major factor in regards to possible detrimental mental health effects of marijuana is one’s pattern of use. This refers to the frequency, dose, and duration of one’s use and how much THC they are ingesting. According to a 2017 University of Washington report entitled Effects of Marijuana on Mental Health: Anxiety Disorders, “THC appears to decrease anxiety at lower doses and increase anxiety at higher doses.” Many people report using marijuana to cope with anxiety, but when taken frequently and in high doses, as a person suffering from the disease of addiction is more likely to do, the effects may worsen symptoms of anxiety and other mental health problems.

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