Cannabis and mental health: What's the connection?
Cannabis and mental health are connected in many ways—and the relationship can be complicated. We all experience mental health differently and we all react to cannabis and other drugs differently. Before you choose to use cannabis, it's important to take stock of your own mental health and how you’re currently feeling, as well as your family history. Some users are more likely to have increased risks of side effects including negative impacts on mental health.
Mental health factors to consider
If you have a pre-existing condition with any mental illness, including psychosis, schizophrenia or depression, you're at significantly higher risk of having a negative experience with cannabis. The stereotype is that cannabis can calm you down, but that's not always the case, and if you have pre-existing mental health conditions, it could have the opposite effect. It could ultimately worsen symptoms such as depression or psychosis.
The same applies to your family history. While you may not experience mental health issues yourself, you're still at higher risk of negative effects if you have close relatives who have struggled with mental illness and/or addiction. In particular, a history of psychosis or schizophrenia puts you in a higher risk category for more serious unwanted effects.
According to Health Canada, scientific studies have demonstrated a connection between cannabis use and psychosis. If used heavily and regularly, cannabis is likely to trigger a psychotic episode. This doesn’t necessarily mean that cannabis directly causes this condition, but rather that it can activate an already existing condition because of the psychoactive effects.
Either way, know that a history of psychosis puts you at greater risk of another psychotic episode.
Those who are at a higher risk of developing schizophrenia (from a genetic predisposition or other factors) that start using high-potency cannabis at a young age are more likely to develop schizophrenia or experience psychosis than casual users.
Our brains don't finish developing until the age 25. Meaning that people under 25 are at a higher risk when using cannabis. The younger a person is when they start consuming cannabis, the higher the risk, especially if use begins before age 16. Risks also continue to increase based on the amount or frequency of cannabis use in people under 25.
Using cannabis daily, or almost every day, can affect your mental health. It’s also been linked with an increased risk of suicide, depression and other anxiety disorders. Cannabis use at a young age poses risks to brain development, such as your ability to pay attention, recall important details and other basic mental functions.
Many young people experiencing depression, social anxiety and general anxiety will self-medicate with cannabis, hoping to soothe their symptoms. Unfortunately, cannabis can worsen the symptoms of anxiety and depression, and make life far more challenging.
People suffering from depression and anxiety of any kind who use cannabis to address their symptoms are at a greater risk of developing cannabis use disorder and chronic mood and mental health challenges. Choosing to use a lower potency product less often can decrease those risks. Even better, talk to your doctor about your cannabis usage and the lowest risk way for you to use.