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Today cannabis became legal across Canada; seems like a good time to talk about it in relation to mental health. Let me state up front that I support legalization for many reasons, but that doesn’t mean I support it as a treatment for mental health. And it doesn’t mean that I don’t either. I’m curious. And cautiously optimistic.
I set out today to fact-check some of the messages about mental health and cannabis. I read the standard information seen on the Canadian government and Canadian Mental Health Association websites and I went on a journey through my online library connection and found a number of recent academic journal articles that were relevant. I would have to write a lengthy post to summarize everything I read. Thankfully, churning out academic papers isn’t required here. Here I muse.
My research geek summary thoughts on this controversial subject:
- Most research about cannabis does not meet the highest level of research rigor in large part due to the challenges working with a previously illegal substance: self-selecting participants, funder bias toward proving negative health impacts, to name a couple.
- Few studies have been designed to eliminate co-morbid factors between mental health and marijuana use: for example, persons with mental illness using weed to self-medicate doesn’t mean the weed caused the mental health issue.
- Research that separates the psychoactive component (THC) from the non-psychoactive component (CBD) is lacking.
- Anecdotal evidence of the benefits of CBD for anxiety and depression needs to be tested by rigorous research.
Given the gaps in our information, how should one proceed? For adults without any mental health issues, I support the approach the Canadian government has taken in treating it the same as alcohol: as an intoxicant sold only to adults in special locations.
However, if you have a mental health issue, I think this should become a discussion point with your doctor. If it seems to be something worth trying, I think it would be prudent to obtain and treat marijuana as a prescription drug.
Seem like a huge pain? There is a possibility of having it covered by your health insurance or health spending account. There are current reports of coverage with certain companies or in special cases.
Now that weed is legal in Canada, I think this will be a growing area of much-needed research and discussion.
Peace & progress,