Marijuana Can Actually Hurt People Struggling With Mental Illness

Last week’s historic election took aim at not only the House, the Senate, and the Presidency, but at the decriminalization of marijuana as well.

By Gwen Farrell2 min read
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Shutterstock/Canna Obscura

“Marijuana is safer than other drugs.” “There really aren’t that many risks.” “Look how much it’s helped other people.”

I’ve heard all of these said about marijuana, and you probably have too. But if we’re so focused on only discussing the benefits, we neglect our due diligence on the very real potential harm that users are facing, whether they’re using legally or illegally.

Marijuana and Other Drugs Have Been Recently Decriminalized in Several States

Oregon notably decriminalized the possession and use of all drugs, including heroin, cocaine, and LSD. 

Other states’ propositions were less extensive but still significant. Mississippi’s Measure 1, which passed, legalized the medical use of marijuana and gave deserving patients more access to the drug. Arizona, Montana, South Dakota, and New Jersey all legalized marijuana for the purposes of recreational use. These new additions to legalization alone are projected to grow the national market by $9 billion. 

We’re encouraged to look at marijuana as the “safe” drug. 

20 years into the new millennium, we’re encouraged to look at marijuana as the “safe” drug. Its benefits, especially in medical capacities, are well touted and well researched, and this isn’t to deny the great strides that have been made in those environments. 

But what’s less evident, or less advertised, is what these new legalizations could do for users and their mental health, a less discussed but no less important concern.

Marijuana Could Make Your Anxiety Worse

Many users viewing the benefits of marijuana over its risks will inevitably arrive at how the drug affects anxiety. 

In fact, users are likely to say that getting high helps rather than harms their anxiety. But others are not so lucky, especially if they’re consuming marijuana with high levels of THC as opposed to CBD (as found by a comprehensive study at the University of Washington, sponsored by the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute).

Frequent users are likely to experience anxiety and paranoia instead of a comfortable buzz.

For many frequent users and those using stronger strains of the drug, they’re likely to experience anxiety and paranoia instead of a comfortable buzz. Anxiety, which can lead to panic attacks, often lands users in the emergency room. 

Dependence on marijuana is also common, and anxiety can increase if a user begins withdrawal, typically within one to three days but lasting up to two weeks. These symptoms of anxiety-related withdrawal can include nervousness, restlessness, insomnia, and irritability. 

Marijuana Users Are at Increased Risk for Psychosis

It’s not just anxiety that marijuana users are at risk for. In fact, a report from Harvard Medical School found that teenagers who smoke pot face an increased risk of developing psychosis later in life. 

Psychosis is an umbrella term, but it includes medical disorders like schizophrenia, which is characterized by a loss of connection to reality. 

Teenagers who smoke pot face an increased risk of developing psychosis later in life. 

In the U.S., marijuana is the most commonly used drug of abuse. A 2015 National Survey on Drug and Health found that 22.2 million people, aged 12 and up, have used marijuana. 12 and up. Meaning a large percentage of those users are teens or even pre-teens, and have yet to develop fully. 

These Medical Studies Could Be Bad for Business

There’s more. Legalizing marijuana makes really good money. Taxing it creates viable revenue streams for states, ones they would definitely notice if they weren’t there. 

In 2012, Colorado was one of the first states to legalize recreational use. It’s now a $6 billion dollar industry for the state, with 40,000 people employed in related businesses and 3,000 licensed businesses. With a 15% tax levied on recreational purposes, other interested parties were quick to notice the profit that legalization offers.

Marijuana is a $6 billion dollar industry in Colorado alone.

But studies, like the ones from Harvard Medical School and UW, are bad for business. Medical reports allow anti-legalization critics to take notice, and lobby for heavier restrictions, or stall the process altogether. 

Closing Thoughts

Money and political interests aside, the drug (whether it’s legal or not) presents very serious risks that we aren’t discussing.

And the situation doesn’t have to be black and white. It’s neither completely bad nor completely good—marijuana has and continues to benefit patients who are suffering and others seeking relief from medical issues. 

But it’s not untouchable, not yet anyway. With increased legalization looking imminent in more states within the next decade, the potential risks should be just as evident as the proposed benefits.