Mental Health and Recreational Drugs: A Good Mix?

This week I was approached by several people who all had siblings with mental health issues, namely, bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, and schitzophrenia. Interesting, one thing they all had in common was regular recreational drug use, especially marijuana. Is there a causal connection between marijuana and mental illness?

Marijuana is now legal in Canada. Many people, especially teens, believe that it’s safe and approve its use. According to the 2015 Substance Abuse in Canada report, almost 25% of young people ages 15-24 reported using marijuana in the past year. Young people in Canada are the highest users of marijuana among developed countries, and they’re also the least informed about its risks.

How safe is marijuana?

The amount of THC in marijuana today is about two-thirds higher than it was 20 years ago. THC is the main intoxicant in marijuana that gives users a “high”.

What are some of the effects of smoking marijuana?

Besides getting high, the effects of smoking marijuana are:

  • impaired judgement
  • impaired short-term memory
  • impaired perception

Of even greater concern is that using marijuana negatively affects the developing brains of teenagers in areas of critical thinking, problem solving, and memory. If used daily, marijuana damages areas of the brain that govern memory and cognitive development, which can lead to a lower IQ. This effect can be permanent, even if marijuana is no longer used in adulthood. The younger you start, the greater the damage done to your brain.

Many young people believe that marijuana isn’t addictive. In fact, about 10% of regular users can become addicted to marijuana. Even worse, people who use marijuana early in life become more vulnerable to addiction to other substances of abuse, such as alcohol, later in life.

How does marijuana affect mental health?

Some people, especially inexperienced users, report having anxiety, panic attacks, and psychotic episodes after using marijuana. Regular long-term users report insomnia, anxiety, depression, and changes in appetite. Teens who use marijuana regularly also report having psychotic episodes, especially if they have a family history of psychotic episodes. Teens who are regular marijuana users are also twice as likely to report having psychotic episodes and to be diagnosed with schitzophrenia in adulthood than non-regular marijuana users.

Even though the risk of overdosing on marijuana is very low compared with other drugs, including alcohol, in 2011, 1600 people were hospitalized in Canada because of marijuana related disorders.

Even though there is still much research that needs to be done on marijuana, experts agree that it’s not safe for young people whose brains are still developing. It’s also not safe for people, especially young people, who have a family history of mental health issues.

The bottom line is that mental health and recreational drugs are not a good mix.

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