The Lowdown on Cannabis and Your Mental Health

Lacey Davis
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According to the National Alliance of Mental Health, approximately 43.8 million Americans experience mental illness in a given year. That’s a significant amount of people. Mental illness takes many forms, including depression, anxiety, addiction, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Bipolar Disorder, and Schizophrenia.

In my personal journey, I’ve struggled with depression – I was diagnosed with Clinical Depression with suicidal tendencies when I was 16. Like most who have sought treatment for their mental illnesses, I was faced with many different options from pharmaceuticals to natural remedies.

After years of going through the gamut of pharmaceuticals and therapists, I started to lean towards the natural remedy side of things.

I was already aware of the healing properties of cannabis when it came to pain management, inflammation, and cancer symptoms, but it was a new discovery to find that cannabis could also improve mental health.

Recommended Read: Yoga For Anxiety: Practice These 8 Poses to Reduce Your Anxiety in Minutes
 

How Cannabis Affects Us

To really get into the nitty-gritty of cannabis and how it affects our mental health we must first understand the essentials of cannabis. Cannabis is known for the intoxicating effects of THC (just one of its more than 500 chemical substances).
 
Cannabinoids are other compounds that have been discovered related to THC. They affect the endocannabinoid system, which is a network of receptors categorized into the two most well-known receptors: CB1 and CB2. These are located throughout the body, like in the brain, organs, glands, muscles, tissues, and cells.
 
The endocannabinoid system plays a role in creating homeostasis in the body. CB1 and CB2 receptors maintain balance within the brain, organs, glands, muscles, tissues, and cells by intaking cannabinoids. When this balance is thrown off by poor diet, environment, or sickness, it can disrupt our systems and cause both physical and mental illness.
 
The endocannabinoid system has been found to have a profound effect on regulating mood, calming anxiety, reducing stress responses in the body, and lifting depression.
 
Aside from THC, the most studied compound within Cannabis is Cannabidiol (CBD). CBD doesn’t get you high like THC. It has been described as non-psychotropic and has been proven to have a pharmaceutical effect on certain parts of the body, just like THC. But more on that later . . .
 
THC and CBD assist one another in distributing cannabinoids to CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors lie abundantly in the brain and central nervous system while CB2 receptors are throughout the organs, muscles, tissues, and cells.
 
CB1 plays an important role in stress response, coping, and retaining information. CB2 is found throughout the immune system and plays an important role in pain management and regeneration.
 

 

The Role of Cannabis in Your Mental Health

The endocannabinoid system’s role in regulating our mood and its effects on our stress response is complex. The system is interactive with so many areas and pathways in the body. One of those being the dopamine system, which is a group of nerves with pathways that play a major role in reward-motivated behavior.
 
Research shows that cannabis elevates dopamine levels and helps to establish a balance between distress and contentment.
 
Much like exercise, cannabis produces a state of calmness, euphoria, and contentedness, hence the laid-back attitude of someone who just puffed a bit of ganja. This mood elevation represents the rise of dopamine levels in the brain.
 
CB1 receptors can become blocked by illness, environment, or diet, causing a drop in dopamine levels. This is where cannabis comes in. Turns out that cannabis has antidepressant-like effects. CBD and THC work together to raise dopamine levels and establish equilibrium in the endocannabinoid system.
 

Cannabis has antidepressant-like effects.

 
Cannabis has been shown to help ease the symptoms of depression, PTSD in veterans, all types of anxiety disorders, and addiction. THC activates CB1 receptors and increases serotonin levels in the brain – a chemical that controls mood, sleep, and appetite – treating the symptoms of depression.
 
People with PTSD have been found to have an endocannabinoid deficiency, making cannabis the perfect treatment due to its ability to boost the endocannabinoid system. This, and research shows CB1 receptors signal the deactivation of traumatic memories when stimulated by cannabinoids.
 
A study found that CBD can treat anxiety by inducing a relaxed state and increasing serotonin levels naturally. When it comes to addiction, a study published in the Clinical Psychology Review by Zach Walsh from the University of British Columbia discovered that marijuana can be used as a way of freeing oneself from an opioid addiction.
 
“If people use cannabis as a replacement for opioid medications, or to get off of opioids or cut back, we could see some pretty dramatic public health benefits. The level of opioid overdoses is so high right now.” Zach Walsh.
 

Medicating Mindfully

Now, just as with all remedies, cannabis should be used with awareness and respect.
 
Be aware of state laws. Marijuana is currently legal for medical use in 29 states plus Washington D.C. and, of those, only 9 states are legal for recreational use. Know what’s happening in your state.
 
Be aware of consumption. Overuse of a particular strain can lead to a higher tolerance of its most beneficial components. There are lots of different types of ganja to try from Indica to Sativa, and hybrids too. There are also a lot of ways to consume it. Smoking, vaping, dabbing, eating, drinking, applying. Experiment mindfully for what works best for you.
 
Have respect for yourself and others. Always know that no treatment can replace the love of yourself. Dealing with a mental illness is hard, and is never a “one method works for all” scenario. Give yourself the grace to find the solutions that work best for you while always remembering that you are never alone, always loved and always worthy.
 
 
This article and all included information is not intended as medical advice and does not treat or diagnose. Please consult your doctor for any health-related questions or concerns.
 

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Lacey Davis

Lacey Davis is a meditating, holistic living, homeschooling, stay at home vegan yogi mamma of 3 crazy fun kiddos in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Her holistic lifestyle came about recently due to an extreme need to naturally treat her clinical depression. Finding peace and grace in this lifestyle, she’s constantly searching for love and light to share and spread.

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