The Mental Health Benefits of Medical Marijuana
More than half of the United States has legalized marijuana for medical purposes, and the general public’s support for it remains at an all-time high. A 2017 CBS poll found that 88% of Americans favor the legalization of medical marijuana.
Though the benefits of using medical marijuana for pain and physical ailments have been well-documented, what isn’t discussed as often are the benefits of using it to relieve the symptoms of mental illness. From insomnia and depression to anxiety and PTSD, medical marijuana can help treat a variety of mental health issues.
“I personally think PTSD is the most important condition to treat with medical marijuana,” said Dr. Matthew Roman, a medical marijuana physician at Nature's Way Medicine, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Wilmington, Delaware.
While he acknowledges that he has seen adverse effects from marijuana in some patients, he has also witnessed amazing results, particularly for those struggling with PTSD.
When asked why some people opt to use medical marijuana instead of traditional prescription medications, Dr. Roman noted the long-term side effects of those medications, such as dependency, seizures, and/or irregular heartbeat.
He pointed out that there are short-term side effects that come with using prescription medications, such as drowsiness and fatigue, and he added that “some patients have more and more medications added to their lists,” which contributes to the issue of overmedication.
I use medical marijuana to help alleviate the symptoms of my depression and anxiety. I’ve been using it for about a year now, and I’ve found that it significantly calms me when I’m stressed out. It allows me to sleep when I’m feeling anxious and my mind is racing, and it lifts my mood when I’m feeling depressed.
However, because I was interested in hearing about how it affects those with other mental illnesses, I decided to reach out to other medical marijuana users. I am using first names only to protect their identities, because marijuana is still illegal under federal law, even for medical use.
Here’s what they had to say:
Lynn – Massachusetts
40-year-old Lynn is a survivor of the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing.
A medical marijuana user of a little over a year, she first sought out a medical marijuana license after suffering from severe side effects of her prescription medication. Unfortunately, those side effects resulted in both surgery and irreparable organ damage. Lynn struggles with PTSD and has found relief in using medical marijuana.
“Medical marijuana is not only as effective as the prescription drugs I used to have to take, it is better for me, too,” she said.
Lynn also appreciates the fact that she can microdose – meaning she can use an extremely small amount of marijuana to reap its benefits without having to deal with any major side effects – if she experiences a sudden panic attack, and can return to work immediately.
She noted that medical marijuana is sometimes the best choice of treatment due to its relatively harmless side effects, the ease of breaking it down into small doses, and the variety of ways it can be ingested.
“Don't believe the lies and buy into the stigma of ‘reefer madness,’” she said when asked about what she would like to say to those who are still on the fence about supporting medical marijuana.
Monnette – California
Monnette, a 26-year-old woman from California, has a history of depression, anxiety, OCD, and PTSD.
She has been using medical marijuana since 2015, although she said she was once extremely against it. In the past, she got angry with her boyfriend for using cannabidiol (CBD) products - products that come from cannabis compounds that carry significant medical benefits without getting the user high - despite the fact that they are completely non-psychoactive.
However, when she eventually tried CBD products herself, she was amazed. She found relief from her migraines, and over time, she was able to wean herself off Prozac. She opened up about how she saw a psychiatrist for a long time, tried a variety of different prescription medications, and dealt with multiple suicide attempts.
Now, Monnette refuses to use pharmaceuticals and, instead, educates herself about holistic health to figure out what’s best for her body and brain.
She credits medical marijuana for saving her life and has seen a reduction in suicidal thoughts, depression, and anxiety – all of which were once daily occurrences. These days, if she feels anxious or depressed, she tries to meditate and think rationally.
“If I feel I need further help, I will take a THC edible,” she said. “Shortly after, I feel uplifted, happy, and sometimes even creative enough to channel those negative thoughts into positive writing.”
Monnette wants others to educate themselves before passing judgment about medical marijuana users. She did her own research, asked her doctor a lot of questions, and took some free medical marijuana education classes at her local dispensary in order to become more knowledgeable about the subject matter. She hopes that other people will do the same.
Erin – Massachusetts
22-year-old Erin is a medical marijuana user living in Massachusetts.
She began using medical marijuana about two years ago in the hopes of treating her depression and anxiety disorder. Prior to that, she had been self-medicating for a long time. However, she wanted to get on board with a legitimate medical program to learn about what she was actually getting and how it was going to help with her conditions.
Erin said that using medical marijuana to help treat her mental health issues has helped her “feel like a person again.” It has allowed her to go out and enjoy herself and helped her become more talkative in spite of her social anxiety.
Now, Erin works at a medical marijuana dispensary in her state and enjoys speaking to other patients about how medical marijuana has helped her change her life. Like Monnette, she spoke fondly of CBD products and said that they have helped a lot with her anxiety.
Erin wants others to know that using medical marijuana isn’t just an excuse for people to get high.
“The cannabis plant is an incredible thing,” she said. “[It] has helped so many people with conditions much worse than mine.” She also noted that she has seen medical marijuana make a significant difference in the lives of “a lot of patients suffering from mental health issues.”
Looking to the Future
As support for the legalization of medical marijuana continues to grow, so does the number of registered medical marijuana patients throughout the country. According to the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), it is now estimated that over 2 million Americans are registered with their states’ various medical marijuana programs.
I know that, for me, medical marijuana has been largely helpful in allowing me to manage my various mental illnesses. I’m glad I sought it out, and I hope that, within the next few years, the whole of the United States will afford people the option of using medical marijuana as a legitimate mental health treatment.
Tweet us questions and comments @caredash.
About the Author
Jacqueline graduated Cum Laude from Southern New Hampshire University where she earned her BA in Creative Writing and English. Her work has been featured in Essig Magazine, The Penmen Review, and The Mighty. All of her work, both published and unpublished, can be viewed on her website.
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