MARIJUANA AND ITS IMPACT ON MENTAL ILLNESS Katherine BUrns and Ross CRistantiello

Kenzy Peach is a junior at Emerson College and says she self-medicates with marijuana for her depression and anxiety. She is currently prescribed Cymbalta, but says marijuana helps her focus and even get through the day.

"Over the last year I've been the happiest and most productive I've ever been, and also I've smoked weed like almost twice a way. I'm sure there are other factors but I've definitely noticed a significant difference between when I've smoked and when I haven't smoked."

"I wish there was more research, I would feel way more comfortable self-medicating if I knew there was science behind it, if I knew it was more than a placebo, and also if I knew about the side effects."

Peach intends to get her medical marijuana card soon, so that she can consume marijuana more safely. She said she wishes there were more information and research on how marijuana affects mental health.

"There's this impression that weed is just one thing. There's an impression that weed has a similar effect on most people, and like a lot of stigmas that were created to discredit the legalization movement. Negative stigma around cannabis has been super useful to the government and so you can't really trust it. I want percentages, I want cold hard facts."

Research from the University of Buffalo in 2015 found that depression as a result of chronic stress can be decreased by the consumption of marijuana due to the presence of endocannibinoids.

A meta analysis of 31 other studies from BMC Psychiatry found a positive correlation between anxiety disorders and marijuana use.

Marijuana has also been known to trigger panic attacks in those who already have a panic disorder, however.

Because marijuana was illegal until recently, an is still federally illegal, it was difficult to do research on, and research wasn't even considered necessary.

It is still considered a schedule 1 drug on a federal level. That puts it in the same category as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy.

Because of the War on Drugs, spearheaded by Nixon, the imagery surrounding marijuana was overwhelmingly negative and until recently, studies on it were as well.

A recent study from Current Psychiatry still found a negative correlation with marijuana and anxiety because of the increased potency of the drug.

The existing information, however, is mixed, at best. Some studies say marijuana can improve depression, while others cite it as a cause. This is in part due to the inability to control external factors related to mental illness and human behavior that may also contribute, according to Newsweek.

Now that it is legal, research hospitals in the Boston area are doing more controlled studies on marijuana use and its affect on the brain.

McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA is currently conducting 4 different studies, including one for veterans.

Massachusetts General Hospital is conducting several as well.

Ana Tenewitz is a junior at Emerson College. She has anxiety.

“If I’m in a bad mood or if something is specifically bothering me, and I smoke then it’s not possible for me to change out of that mood.”

“I think that if I don’t realize how bad I’m feeling beforehand and I go to smoke it intensifies that feeling.”

Tenwitz takes antidepressants and a mood stabilizer daily.

"[Marijuana] definitely intensifies it. I already have meds that are messing with my feelings and how I think.”

Tenewitz only smokes around once a week, but would like to smoke more than she drinks. She drinks 2 to 3 times a week.

“I think because (marijuana) stops you from having to experience new feelings, that’s why people smoke. For me it freezes time and freezes whatever feeling I have.”

The Holistic Center is a facility in Brighton that has been helping people with mental and physical illness get medical marijuana recommendations. They don't dispense marijuana.

Medical marijuana was legalized in 2012 in Massachusetts. Those eligible receive cards that they can use to purchase marijuana legally from dispensaries and caretakers.

Those with physical ailments, such as cancer, Alzheimer's and epilepsy are eligible.

Those with diagnosed mental illness, such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD are also eligible.

Martha S. is a nurse practitioner at the Holistic Center. She asked that her last name and her face not be shared.

“I think (marijuana) does help a lot of things. Conventional medicine, like antidepressants and such sometimes make people not even feel like themselves. So how can you say that that’s better than Marijuana?”

She said a wide age range of people with mental health conditions come in.

She also usually recommends that people stay on whatever drugs they’re already taking, but slowly taper off of them.

The Holistic Center doesn’t make recommendations on specific products or strains of marijuana, except recommending that they don’t smoke it. Rather, they recommend consuming edibles or using a vaporizer.

“(Marijuana) is supposed to be the second level of treatment… Most of the people that come in are already on a cocktail of different medications”

Martha said that a significant number of patients come in for mental health. She said it is fewer than 50 percent, but still a fair amount.

“One of the advantages of getting a certification is that they can get a reliable product, because when you get it off the street you don’t always know what you’re getting”

Credits:

Katherine Burns

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