by Mattias Sommers
Through scientific study and psychological approach, many professionals have come to recognize the favorable medicinal properties that the cannabis plant possesses. With cannabis, we have to remember that everyone is different, so what works for one person may not necessarily work for the other. Although more research is necessary to understand precisely what disorders and symptoms benefit from this treatment method, common mental health disorders and symptoms have shown positive responses to cannabis treatment such as anxiety and depression! Source It is important to remember that cannabis, like other psychotropic drugs, can have side effects that require awareness when choosing to implement cannabis treatment strategies to battle mental health symptoms. This article will primarily focus on three primary diagnoses that have shown treatment potential, which are anxiety, depression, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. While you may be wondering if cannabis is a treatment option for you, we must provide you information concerning cannabinoids, compounds such as CBD and THC, that interact with the brain to give relief to distressing symptoms. So if you are curious about the use of cannabis in treating mental health, understanding how the compounds work within the plant to provide the effects or if it may be an option for you or someone you know, keep reading to find out all about cannabinoids!
What are cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are compounds that naturally exist in the Cannabis sativa plant. The plant has over 400 compounds, out of which over 60 belong to this class of cannabinoids. Source The two most well-known cannabinoids are cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). One of the essential qualities of cannabinoids that make them critical to the treatment of mental health complications are its psychoactive qualities. Source The endocannabinoids throughout the human body are where cannabinoids from cannabis interact with the receptors to produce the benefits to mental health symptoms. Cannabinoids, when consumed, quickly take over the endocannabinoid system by attaching themselves to the cannabinoid receptors. Source There are two types of receptors; CB1 and CB2, and when stimulated by the consumption of external cannabinoids through CBD consumption or smoking and ingesting cannabis, they interact with the properties within these substances to produce effects such as mood enhancement, pain relief, anxiety decrease and stimulation of appetite. Cannabinoids have been classified as having a very high therapeutic index, and no fatalities have occurred from them. Source So, what this means is that the cannabinoids are the properties within the cannabis plant that act on the cells in the human body to make you potentially feel better from the symptoms you may be experiencing. It is also good to know that these interactions are not fatal to the human body, which deems them safe in the aspect of overdose. That is why understanding cannabinoids help one to comprehend better what exactly is happening to their body and how it is producing the effects you feel after consumption.
Understanding Cannabinoids and Finding the Perfect Combination For Your Needs
Differences between cannabinoids primarily focus on the extent of how psychologically active they are. When referring to psychoactive, these are the substances that produce a “high-like” feeling. Cannabidiol (CBD), Cannabigerol (CBG), and Cannabichromene (CBC) have weak to no psychoactive effects when consumed, but that does mean they do not have significant benefit. Source For example, CBD makes up most of the cannabinoid content, and has been extensively studied for its anti-anxiety inducing effects. Source Overall, the only cannabinoid that we are aware of that causes an intense and noticeable psychoactive effect is THC. The other cannabinoids, such as CBD, may not produce psychoactive results as THC does. Still, the amount of CBD you consume mixed with THC has an overall effect on the CB1 receptors and, therefore, how cannabis affects a person. Source When consuming cannabis, different strains of the plant contain varying levels of THC and CBD. This is why you might have a positive experience with one strain, but another one does not produce the same results and may even cause you adverse reactions depending on your brain chemistry. This is comparable to finding the right antidepressant to treat depression, while Prozac may not work for you, that does not mean Zoloft will not. This is why it is essential to educate yourself on these chemicals and their effects on the mind and body. To put it into perspective, THC is the psychoactive cannabinoid that produces a “high feeling” but is accompanied by other cannabinoids that also interact with your receptors to deliver the outcomes you may experience. Different combinations may target various symptoms.
Use of Cannabinoids in the Treatment of Mental Health Illnesses
As mentioned above, cannabinoids are capable of reacting with the whole body in different ways. It is possible to use these compounds in various ways to come with the desired effects on the mental status of individuals. It is important to note that since 1937 when The Marijuhana Tax Act was passed, many governments and authorities have not permitted the use of the substances in the treatment of mental and physical illnesses. It was in 1996 that California became the first state to legalize the use of medicinal cannabis. Source Today, more than half of the states in The United States have allowed for therapeutic cannabis treatment concerning a limited list of medical conditions. Regardless of the legal status of cannabis, several people with diagnosed mental health conditions (depression, anxiety, ADHD, substance use, PTSD) report using cannabis and finding it improved their condition. Source CBD, on the other hand, is commonly found all over the United States, being sold at vape shops and gas stations and has been a critical cannabinoid that researchers conclude as beneficial for mental health. We will be focusing primarily on three disorders (Anxiety, PTSD, Depression) that have adequate research to support the use of cannabis for their symptoms, as some professionals still advise against the use of cannabis with some disorders with specific symptoms such as psychosis.
There are several different anxiety disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition, such as:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Social Anxiety Disorder
- Phobia Disorders
- Panic Disorder
Symptoms that characterize anxiety include:
- Feeling weak or tired
- Sleeping issues
- Difficulty controlling worry or fear
- Increased heart rate
Anxiety can be understood as persisting worry and fear that does not go away and disrupts one’s ability to function daily and different aspects of life. Although treatments are available for anxiety such as therapy and psychiatric medications, researchers have sought to study the effects cannabinoids have on decreasing anxiety symptoms.
CBD is the main cannabinoid that research has suggested a potential benefit for anxiety conditions. CBD has been found to have interactions with many receptors that relate to anxiety behaviors, including CB1, and work to regulate them. Source In proper doses, it appears that CBD reacts with specific receptors in the brain to decrease the distressing anxiety symptoms one may experience. In some cases, THC may negatively affect anxiety by increasing it in an individual, but CBD has shown in these cases to decrease this side effect. Source Although high doses of THC appear to exacerbate the symptoms of anxiety in some individuals; it has shown to improve mood and sociability, which pertain to anxiety and its symptoms. Source Further research needs to be conducted to determine whether it is beneficial for all compounds in the cannabis plant to be used in conjunction with proper dosing for anxiety disorders, or if CBD is the main cannabinoid for fighting this disorder.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that develops when an individual experiences a traumatic event, such as:
- Near-death experiences
- Major disaster
- Mental, emotional or physical abuse
Symptoms of this disorder include:
- Anger outbursts
- Sleep issues
- Negative self-image
- Distorted feelings
- Loss of interest in once enjoyed activities Source
As previously mentioned, cannabinoids appear to have a positive effect on mood and emotional regulation that is a vital problem for those with PTSD. Sleep is also heavily associated with this disorder, in which cannabis is commonly used for regulating.
Those who experience the debilitating side effects of PTSD commonly report being unable to receive adequate sleep or sleep through the night and experience nightmares and flashbacks that can make the individual feel as if they are re-experiencing the traumatic event. These nightmares may cause one to avoid sleep out of fear and anxiety. They will have to endure the painful experience in their dreams once again. Like anxiety and a myriad of other disorders, CBD has shown to be effective in treating symptoms of PTSD, especially by working to regulate sleeping patterns, lower anxious responses to sleep disturbances and increase the duration and depth of sleep. Source
In some studies on animals, cannabinoids have shown to regulate sleep, prevent stress from affecting memory processing and emotional functioning, and produce anti-anxiety effects. They have even shown to prevent the development of the PTSD phenotype if the treatment is administered shortly after the individual experiences the traumatizing event. Source It is believed that when delivered after a traumatic event, the cannabinoids work to interfere with the person’s consolidation of the memory concerning the event, therefore, lessening the mental impact it creates as time progresses. Source
Although research findings that are tested using rats give us a good indication of what benefits the compounds may provide for humans, it is essential that (with safety measures in effect) that studies are eventually tested on humans to solidify the findings. One clinical study found that human patients with PTSD who received oral CBD along with routine psychiatric care showed improvement in the frequency of nightmares, improvement in sleep quality, decreased anxiety, improved focus and mood enhancement. Source When using cannabinoids, especially CBD and possibly THC, PTSD appears to have an overall positive response to this form of treatment. However, researchers need further research to make that conclusion fully.
Depression is a common mental health condition that impairs one’s ability to function in work, school, relationships, and day-to-day activities. Some commonly experienced symptoms when one is diagnosed with depression include:
- Depressed mood most of the day or nearly every day
- Loss of pleasure in things once enjoyed
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Fatigue, loss of energy
- Insomnia or hypersomnia
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Diminished ability to concentrate
- Recurrent thoughts of death Source
THC has been found to influence neurotransmission, neuroendocrine, and inflammatory processes, which are commonly understood to be linked to depression. Source Pain relates to depression as a majority of those with depression also experience physical pain symptoms. The endocannabinoid system seems to be altered in those patients that experience depression, so when THC is consumed, it works to stimulate the CB1 and CB2 receptors and decreases symptoms one may experience by relieving pain. Source
Mood enhancement is also a commonly described benefit of cannabis consumption. As depression is a mood disorder, regulating emotion is vital to treating it. Pharmacological studies have indicated that disrupting certain parts of the endocannabinoid system, such as the reward system in the brain, leads to depressive symptoms where cannabis has been speculated to regulate these areas and balance mood. Source Euphoria and calmness are commonly reported amongst cannabis users as an effect of consuming the substance, which helps to alleviate feelings of depression. Although cannabis has been shown to improve mood, there are certain factors such as duration and quantity of cannabis use that needs to be better understood to ensure the most favorable outcomes are reached to treat symptomatic patients.
Are Cannabinoids the Answer For Treating Mental Health?
Now that we have learned about cannabinoids, how they work, and the impact they may have on treating mental health, we now have a clearer understanding that treating mental health with cannabis is not just rolling a joint and smoking all day. Several factors shape the foundation for using this plant as a way to curb the distress that results from mental health issues, including; duration, dose, cannabinoid contents, or which cannabinoid is suitable for what conditions. We have just begun diving into the world of cannabis when it comes to medicinal use, and much more needs to be done to understand how we can achieve the most favorable outcomes. Also, it is essential that even with this evolving concept to remember that medication and therapeutic approaches that exist today are just as relevant and useful to treating the symptoms you may be experiencing. It is still vital for those struggling to talk to their doctor about what options they have available, continue practicing self-care, and further educating themselves on the subject of cannabis and mental health.
Additionally, there are many other posts we have available here at The Calm, Cool & Collected to read through and gain more information:
- Treating Depression With Cannabis
- Cannabis for PTSD: What You Need To Know
- CBD: What You Need To Know About The Cannabinoid
Although this type of treatment has not yet been considered approved by the FDA, we must continue to research the benefits it may have from those suffering from different diagnoses. This type of treatment may be available in your state, country, or your region in the future, and it is useful information to have when considering it as a treatment option for mental health symptoms. It should also be recognized that when using it medicinally, it is best to be supervised by a physician to prevent adverse outcomes.
About Mattias Sommers
Mattias Sommers is a Mental Health Advocate who’s a strong supporter of the use of cannabis and CBD to treat mental health. Leading with empathy and understanding, Mattias hopes to educate others to help those struggling to overcome hardships live a more fulfilling life. Mattias’ self-care routine includes art, poetry, photography, and caring for her dog Josie.
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