The Complex Relationship Between Cannabis, Medicine, and Mental Health
In recent years, the landscape of cannabis usage has dramatically shifted. Legalisation efforts have gained momentum worldwide, with countries like the Netherlands leading the charge and others, such as Thailand, making surprising policy reversals from their previously stringent stances.

The application of cannabis in medical treatments has broadened, offering new hope to patients suffering from physical and mental health conditions, ranging from cancer-related pain management to the alleviation of anxiety disorders. The evolution in the quality and potency of cannabis products marks a significant advancement in its therapeutic potential.

However, the burgeoning acceptance of cannabis brings with it a critical consideration—while its medical use often falls under rigorous supervision, recreational consumption does not enjoy the same level of oversight. This distinction raises pressing questions about the implications of unsupervised cannabis use, especially given the increasing potency of today’s strains compared to those of decades past.

Cannabis Linked to Mental Health Concerns

The growing acceptance of cannabis has led to its more noticeable and broader usage. However, the cannabis available today, with its enhanced quality and greater potency, is distinct from what was available two or three decades ago, and it is now being sold to consumers, both through legal and illegal channels. 

The National Library of Medicine states, “Without any clear guidelines or regulations from government officials, the cannabis industry has taken a page from the tobacco and alcohol industries’ play book and developed strains of marijuana and concentrated marijuana products with much higher concentrations of THC, the psychoactive component that causes addiction.” Between 1995 to 2015, the THC potency increased by 212% (NlH). 

“There is absolutely no research that indicates this level of THC is beneficial for any medical condition,” the NIH added.

Unfortunately, the increased frequency and more open use of the drug worldwide, coupled with its improved quality and potency, has given way to a worrisome trend of psychiatric disorders, especially among teenagers and young adults. 

Recent research presents a rather alarming link: no less than 50% of psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia, may be linked to prolonged or excessive cannabis use. 

Furthermore, the study suggests that in cases of first-episode psychosis, cannabis impacts individuals equally, regardless of whether they subsequently develop schizophrenia or not. A separate piece of research from a 2017 study in the American Journal of Psychiatry showed that even a single episode of cannabis-induced psychosis can elevate the likelihood of someone developing schizophrenia or a lifelong bipolar disorder by a remarkable 47%.

This issue is particularly prevalent amongst teenagers and young adults, who are more inclined to use cannabis daily for recreational rather than medicinal purposes. The risk of cannabis-related mental health conditions is most pronounced in the 16–25 age group, surpassing the risks associated with other substances, such as amphetamines, hallucinogens, opioids, and alcohol.

These findings have ignited a pressing dialogue on the need for a comprehensive understanding of cannabis and its impact on mental health. The allure of cannabis, while understandable from a cultural perspective, begs a deeper exploration of the potential long-term consequences of its liberal use. As the fabric of societal norms continues to evolve, with cannabis becoming increasingly normalised in many parts of the world, the imperative to scrutinise and understand its effects on the younger generation becomes even more critical.

The stark reality presented by these studies cannot be overlooked. The potential for cannabis to exacerbate or even initiate serious mental health conditions necessitates a renewed focus on preventative measures, education, and support for those at risk. It is essential to balance the cultural and medicinal benefits of cannabis with the potential risks it poses to mental health, particularly in vulnerable populations such as the youth.

As we navigate this complex landscape, the conversation must expand to include not only the immediate effects of cannabis use but also the broader societal implications. By fostering an environment of awareness and open dialogue, we can begin to address the challenges posed by cannabis use and work towards safeguarding the mental health of future generations.

Modern Stress Exacerbating the Issue

We find ourselves in a paradoxical era. On one side, psychedelic research promises revolutionary treatments for PTSD and trauma, showcasing the potential of drugs like MDMA in psychiatric care. On the other hand, the stressors of modern life push younger generations towards substances like cannabis, perceived as harmless escapes but potentially leading to severe consequences.

The mental health crisis in our societies is escalating, with a significant portion of the population suffering from stress, depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders. These challenges are compounded by the under-treatment of mental health conditions, further exacerbating the situation. It’s evident that the rise in severe mental health ailments is not isolated but part of a broader issue linked to our lifestyles.

The state of mental health within our communities is deteriorating, evidenced by the rising rates of chronic stress, burnout, clinical depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders among the population. Data from the US in 2022 indicates that 19.86% of adults, which equates to nearly 50 million individuals, are grappling with these issues (AMI). Alarmingly, more than half of the adults suffering from mental health conditions do not receive treatment.

This neglect has led to a distressing surge in severe mental health issues. In the US, for instance, almost 5% of the adult population is reported to be battling a Serious Mental Health Condition (SMI). The situation globally, though uniquely characterised by each location’s own societal and healthcare system factors, reflects a similar urgent need for addressing mental health care provisions and accessibility.

Paving the Way For More Positive Outcomes

At Medix, we have seen a strong link pertaining to the relationship between physical health issues and untreated mental health problems, including the spectrum from autoimmune diseases to cancer. The current discourse on cannabis use and its regulation, particularly among younger individuals, is an extension of these concerns. It underscores the necessity for not only tighter control over cannabis sales and consumption but also a deeper understanding of the root causes driving people towards such means of escape.

Perhaps, more importantly, this moment calls for a collective effort to foster a more forgiving, authentic, slow-paced, and kinder world. One that addresses the underlying reasons our youth feel compelled to seek refuge in substances, offering them a reality they don’t feel the need to escape from.

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