On October 17, 2018 (the day recreational weed became legal across Canada) I posted a blog on cannabis and mental health. I want to do a few follow-up posts offering more about research in this area and my personal experiences. Since recreational cannabis edibles became legal on October 17, 2019, the update seems (relatively) timely.
DISCLAIMER: The material and information contained in this blog are for general information purposes only. You should not rely upon the material or information on the website as a basis for making any medical, business, legal or any other decisions.
Know Your Cannabis
Before diving into the topic of cannabis and mental health, it’s important to touch on cannabis use. Hexo, a Canadian cannabis provider, offers basic information about weed on its website. Obviously, the company has a vested interest in the sale of cannabis. That said, I appreciate the inclusion of information to consider prior to purchasing cannabis:
“Effects vary between individuals. Age, gender, mental and physical health as well as your past experiences all play a role.”
“THC vs CBD. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the main active compounds in cannabis. THC is psychoactive, meaning that it creates an intoxicating effect. CBD is not intoxicating, but it can offer a range of benefits for the body and mind.”
“THC percentages can be very low (1% for a micro dose powder, for example) to very high (22%) . . . THC’s possible effects may include relaxation, improved mood and energy, as well as better sleep. It can also produce side effects such as red eyes, increased appetite, drowsiness and anxiety.”
“CBD is being studied for its role in relieving muscle pain, promoting better sleep and reducing anxiety. It can also moderate THC’s psychoactive effects.”
“Terpenes are volatile aromatic compounds found in the essential oil of all plants, but notably cannabis. Terpenes may affect your aromatic or taste experience depending on the strain.”
“If you smoke or vape, you may feel the effects quickly. Ingesting cannabis through oils or edibles may result in a slower onset, but the effects may last longer. Either way, start with a low dose and go slow. If ingesting, wait at least an hour before trying more, to manage your experience and avoid negative side effects.”
Cannabis and Mental Health
I began researching this topic by identifying individual journal articles using a library database which is a fairly time-consuming activity. Then, I hit the proverbial jackpot with a simple Google search: I found a 2019 report by a reputable source that reviewed 1,047 research studies:
Mental Health Commission of Canada. (2019). Cannabis and Mental Health: Priorities for Research in Canada. Ottawa.
The essential message of the report is that we just don’t know enough about how cannabis may hurt or help persons with mental health concerns. For example:
“Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey . . . Participants in 2013, 2015, and 2017 who used cannabis at least once in the past year reported poorer mental health than those who never used cannabis . . . results might suggest that cannabis use contributes to poor mental health, that it is used more often by people with poor mental health, or even that social factors are contributing to both cannabis use and perceived mental health — but they cannot help us conclusively determine whether any of these hypotheses are true.”
If you are thinking of trying cannabis to combat symptoms of mental health conditions, there are further considerations not included in the industry supplied information above. Here are a few other things you may want to consider:
It’s important to determine whether any medications, psychiatric and otherwise, have the potential to interact with cannabis. You can search online but a discussion with your primary care doctor is advisable.
You will be experimenting on yourself. Every person’s experience with cannabis will vary just as individual responses to antidepressant medications vary. Journal your response to cannabis to help you identify whether or not it is helpful to you. Here’s how to track.
Going to a medical cannabis provider to obtain a prescription for medical cannabis will give you guidance from a specialist physician on how much to take and by what route as well as what kind of cannabis may help you.
In addition to medical support, I would suggest you have a person you trust with you when you use cannabis and that you know how to get emergency assistance if you react badly. Counteract too much cannabis with these 8 tips.
Evidence suggests it may be prudent to begin with low dose cannabis containing both THC and CBD, perhaps a strain with less than 10% THC and more than 10% CBD. Further, vaping rather than edibles is a less risky starting point. I have a personal bias against edibles: I don’t think they are a good idea for the treatment of mental health concerns. It is very easy to take too much, especially with homemade edibles.
I know it is starting to sound complex and scary. However, many people share my experience of not being able to find a safe pharmaceutical treatment for their mental health concerns. In my next posts, I’m going to go deeper into cannabis terpenes and personal anecdotes.
Peace & Progress