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Mental Health Treatments Lower in States With Legal Weed

Mental Health Treatments Lower in States With Legal Weed

A new study has found that states with legal weed have experienced a 37% drop in mental health treatments statewide. What does this statistic really mean and what are the real world consequences associated with them? Let’s dive in and explore the relationship between weed and mental health to understand how there could be such a large shift around one of our nation's fastest growing public health issues.

How Does Cannabis Affect Mental Health?

Understanding the relationship between cannabis and mental health is still beyond our current understanding. Mainly due to cannabis prohibition, which has only recently begun to be rolled back, studies on the benefits and consequences of cannabis use on our mental health have been limited and more research is still needed. Some studies have shown that cannabis can, “improve sleep, reduce the symptoms of stress and even have antidepressant qualities,”, while other studies have observed an association between the introduction of medical marijuana laws (MML) and a decreases in suicide rates. Still more studies have shown that the relationship between reduced suicide and MML’s is weak, while others have shown that recreational marijuana laws (RMLs) may have a negative impact on sleep and mental health, especially for young people. With so few studies available, and the existing studies presenting a wide range of findings, it’s very difficult to try and get a clear understanding of just how cannabis affects our mental health.

When We Don’t Know, We Guess

Despite contradictory findings, we are able to make some guesses, or hypotheses, about how cannabis affects mental health. We can draw two potential conclusions from the findings of these studies: The first is that cannabis is having a positive effect on people’s mental health, and reducing the amount of people who need to seek treatment for mental health issues. The second, is that people are choosing to self medicate with cannabis that is now easier to access. Because of data limitations, these findings are compelling, but present a mystery to researchers, who are still struggling to understand just how cannabis affects mental health in the long term.

Can Cannabis Treat Anxiety and Depression?

Cannabis is widely touted as being able to ease the symptoms of anxiety and depression, two of the most prevalent mental health issues in the United States. This could help to explain at least a portion of the 37% drop in mental health treatments, especially in more mild cases. But, this doesn’t answer the whole question, and for those people who experience paranoia and panic related to cannabis consumption, the answer becomes even murkier. Really, research into just how cannabis affects mental health needs to be expanded to include larger samples of the countries demographics and they need to be studied over time, something that the prohibition of cannabis has made impossible until very recently. 

Lack of Information ≠ Bad For You

The lack of information about the effect cannabis has on mental health can be scary for some people, especially those that are new to cannabis or looking to try it for the first time. Rest assured though, that the lack of information on this topic is just that, a lack of information, and it shouldn't lead you to make any lasting conclusions about the effect cannabis has on mental health. Like any intoxicant, prescription or otherwise, cannabis will affect everyone differently, and no two people are exactly the same, so the experience, like with alcohol or prescriptions, is unique to each person.

Let’s look for a moment at some of the other drugs used to treat mental health conditions, like Prozac, Zoloft or Lexapro. These drugs may work extremely well for some people, and can worsen symptoms to a dangerous level for others. These drugs were also studied extensively by the FDA before they were allowed to be prescribed to patients. The fact that they don’t work for some people doesn’t mean they’re bad, it just means that they don’t work for some people. This is true for cannabis as well. It may work wonders for some and worsen symptoms for others. Mental health issues can be notoriously tricky to treat, so we need to be patient while more studies are underway.

The Kids Are Alright

Despite the fear mongering around cannabis, one positive aspect that's been observed by researchers is that, while cannabis can have some negative effects for younger users, there has not been a rise in youth consumption of cannabis in states that ended prohibition. This is a huge win for the cannabis industry which has been the target of anti drug campaigns and propaganda for decades. 

Crossing the Line for Cannabis

The state line that is! While cannabis research has found that underage use has not increased with cannabis legalization, one phenomena they’ve observed is huge numbers of cannabis users in illegal states crossing the state lines into states with legal cannabis to purchase their weed. Researchers have found that 29% of cannabis users in illegal states source their weed from out of state while 42% of cannabis users overall report sourcing weed from out of state. With so many people going so far out of their way to access cannabis, it’s clear that cannabis is providing something to people that they are unwilling to go without.

More Questions Than Answers

There are still many questions about the long term effects of cannabis on mental health, and at this point, we have more questions than answers. Cannabis very well may be beneficial in helping to treat some mental illnesses, but until we know for sure, it’s best to use cannabis recreationally until you can find a doctor you trust who can advise you. 

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