Should Medical Marijuana Be Used For Anxiety and Depression?

Is smoking marijuana a good treatment for panic attacks and other anxiety disorders?

Medical marijuana has been approved in many states. Supporters of marijuana legalization are often in favor of its use in treating depression, anxiety and other affective disorders. They typically use the argument that cannabis is a safe alternative to traditional prescription drugs. Many people believe that drugs such as Xanax, Klonipin, Valium, and Ativan are unsafe when used long-term. There is also concern over other alternatives, such as Lexapro, Paxil and Zoloft. Marijuana supporters claim that smoking cannabis is a safer and more effective treatment for mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.

The problem with marijuana and THC.

THC is a mood and mind-altering psychoactive drug. It affects different people differently. In some cases, it can even cause anxiety symptoms or even a panic attack. Chronic marijuana users may even find that they are depressed due to their drug use. While there are some clear benefits to medical marijuana, such as for HIV wasting and chemotherapy-induced nausea, the use of marijuana for an anxiety attack or anxiety disorders is not so clear. Additionally, there are other risks that come with smoking marijuana, such as paranoia, psychosis, and addiction.

Cannabis is a drug.

As you may be aware, marijuana, a plant that contains THC, is still illegal as far as our federal government is concerned. It is classified as schedule I, which means that the United States government considers it to have no acceptable medical use. There is a strange situation in the US now where states are legalizing marijuana and the federal government is standing off, not enforcing its own laws for now.

CBD that does not contain THC is legal in all states.

You may have seen advertisements for CBD (cannabidiol) oils and similar products that come with various health benefit claims. These CBD products are legal in every state and do not require a doctor visit. They are completely free of THC. This form of CBD is derived from hemp, a plant that is related to the marijuana plant but does not contain Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

What is the best strain of marijuana for anxiety?

There are a variety of different cannabis strains. Medical marijuana dispensaries often carry different marijuana strains to be used for different medical issues. Granddaddy Purple is one particular strain that has been recommended for anxiety disorders. There are others that are recommended as well. How do they know which strains work best? Long before legal medical marijuana became a reality, people were self-medicating with cannabinoids for a variety of health conditions, from generalized anxiety disorder and PTSD to depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder and various other physical and mental health disorders. These strains may have slightly differing effects. When it comes to medical marijuana use, doctors are put in the position of recommending a drug that will be used in a relatively uncontrolled manner, outside of the realm of FDA approved medications.

Can teens get medical marijuana for anxiety?

In most states where marijuana is legal for medical or recreational use, it is mostly restricted to adult use. In some cases, children may have a disorder that is resistant to all other medical treatments and marijuana has been demonstrated to be effective. Seizure disorder is one example of such a use. Otherwise, marijuana is not safe for use by children, especially teens. This is because the developing brain is particularly susceptible to the damaging effects of marijuana. This includes negative effects on short-term memory and other health problems. Therefore, it is recommended that teens do not use marijuana as an anti-anxiety treatment.

Should medical marijuana be used at all for anxiety and depression?

The human endocannabinoid system consists of receptors that are involved regulating anxiety. While it is possible that THC and smoking marijuana may have beneficial effects, reducing anxiety and depressive symptoms, the use of marijuana outside of standard medical treatment where drugs are carefully studied and manufactured under strict regulations is problematic. When marijuana supporters point out that marijuana is safer than prescription meds, this is not necessarily true. While marijuana is clearly safer than alcohol when either is used excessively recreationally, this is not necessarily a good argument for legal recreational use. One serious consequence of legalizing marijuana is that young children often equate legal status with safety. If smoking cannabis is legal, they will often assume that it is safe and acceptable to do so.

Would it be better to use a prescription antidepressant for anxiety?

When it comes to mental illness, rather than jumping straight to marijuana use, it is better to consider traditional medical treatments that are well understood. For example, a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor, such as Lexapro, attaches to a receptor in the brain that causes reabsorption of the neurotransmitter, serotonin, to be blocked. Lexapro is an example of a relatively safe medication that works for many people and is well understood. It is carefully regulated by the FDA and comes in standard dosages. Doctors, physician assistants and nurse practitioners are all comfortable in providing this safe and effective medical treatment in conjunction with psychotherapy for anxiety and depression.

Is addiction a possibility with marijuana use?

As a mind altering and mood altering chemical, THC can be addicting. While not as addicting as opioids and many stimulants, drug abuse is definitely a concern with marijuana use. With addiction comes excessive cannabis use which can lead to serious long-term side effects. When it comes to medical marijuana, a doctor who recommends it should routinely screen patients who use medical cannabis for signs of becoming addicted.

Should federal laws be changed to allow for fully legal marijuana use?

This is a good question. Legalization does reduce the dangers of completely unregulated black market marijuana. Yet, it also conveys the belief that it is safe. An alternative to legalizing marijuana would be to decriminalize it. Then, it is important for extensive scientific studies to be performed to fully assess the risks and benefits of medical cannabis use and to better understand the side effects of cannabinoids. It is likely that medications can be developed that use cannabis and CBD for anxiety, depression, PTSD and other medical conditions. Eventually, it is possible that marijuana will be legal to the extent that alcohol is legal. Hopefully, at that time, we will have a better understanding of the risks involved in integrating legal cannabis into American culture.

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