Cannabis could help men­tal health

Le­gal­iza­tion could lift the stigma and al­low the use of CBD oil

Thornhill Post - - Life - LJUBICA KOSTOVIC Ljubica Kostovic is a cannabis con­sul­tant and lead­ing writer and speaker on is­sues re­lated to med­i­cal and recre­ational uses.

Cannabis and men­tal health, three words that, when jux­ta­posed, carry a dou­ble stigma in our so­ci­ety.

Ideas per­pet­u­ated through pro­hi­bi­tion have given birth to the “stoner” image and also led to the wide­spread ac­cep­tance that THC, one of the psy­choac­tive com­po­nents in cannabis, will cause schizophre­nia. This no­tion has kept dozens of re­searchers from ex­plor­ing the anti-psy­chotic po­ten­tial of cannabid­iol (CBD), an­other cannabis com­pound that is non-psy­choac­tive and shows prom­ise in treat­ment of psy­chosis.

Through pro­hi­bi­tion, an op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore the med­i­cal value of cannabis to treat men­tal health has been missed.

How­ever, the fu­ture may not be so bleak. Cannabis has been used for med­i­cal pur­poses for thou­sands of years and has been used to treat men­tal health con­di­tions for over a cen­tury — its full le­gal­iza­tion on a fed­eral level presents a unique op­por­tu­nity for us to ex­plore this.

“Cannabis holds great prom­ise as a treat­ment for anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion and PTSD. The side ef­fect pro­file of widely used phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals can be in­tol­er­a­ble for many pa­tients and of­fer­ing an al­ter­na­tive should be a pri­or­ity,” says Michelle Thiessen, a grad­u­ate stu­dent and re­searcher in clin­i­cal psy­chol­ogy at the Uni­ver­sity of Bri­tish Columbia (UBC).

Anec­do­tal ev­i­dence and pa­tient ex­pe­ri­ence can at­test to this.

“CBD oil saved me,” says Shan­non Wil­son, a Toronto hair­styl­ist who used CBD oil for her de­pres­sion and at­ten­tion deficit disor­der. “I was in a deep de­pres­sion for a long time and was not able to get out of bed for a whole month. Within the first week of tak­ing CBD oil, I was back to work.”

Pre­lim­i­nary re­search on cannabid­iol sug­gests that it may be help­ful for re­liev­ing anx­i­ety and pro­mot­ing a sense of well-be­ing, with­out the psy­choac­tive ef­fects typ­i­cally as­so­ci­ated with THC.

With more than 200,000 pa­tients reg­is­tered to use med­i­cal cannabis in Canada, re­search is be­ing pushed to catch up to the anec­do­tal ev­i­dence and knowl­edge held by pa­tients who have found great suc­cess in treat­ing men­tal health con­di­tions with cannabis.

“Our team at UBC Okana­gan is spear­head­ing the Cana­dian trial that’s sponsored by li­censed pro­ducer Til­ray. To our knowl­edge, this is the first clin­i­cal trial of cannabis for a men­tal health con­di­tion in Canada in nearly four decades,” says Thiessen.

A re­cent Cana­dian study con­ducted by Can­abo Med­i­cal Corp. revealed that 40 per cent of pa­tients who were pre­scribed med­i­cal cannabis to treat pain and anx­i­ety elim­i­nated the use of ben­zo­di­azepines (anti-anx­i­ety med­i­ca­tion) within 90 days. Ad­di­tional re­search into the gen­eral ef­fects of cannabis on men­tal health shows that anx­i­ety and mood are con­sis­tently re­ported as im­proved.

“Anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion go side by side with chronic pain con­di­tions,” says Zach Walsh, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at UBC. “Cannabis treats the key symp­toms of the con­di­tion but also has the side ben­e­fit of ad­dress­ing anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion that are of­ten co-mor­bid.”

But there are still many bar­ri­ers in ap­proaches to cannabis for men­tal health. Cur­rently, there are no com­par­a­tive stud­ies look­ing into the ef­fi­cacy and ef­fects of cannabis along­side phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal op­tions.

“We need a clear-eyed com­par­i­son of cannabis to other pre­scrip­tion drugs,” says Walsh.

This state­ment is in part mo­ti­vated by the fact that cannabis has a lower de­pen­dence rate than ben­zo­di­azepines and a more tol­er­a­ble with­drawal. Of­ten, pa­tients with­draw­ing from ben­zo­di­azepines, which can cre­ate a very strong de­pen­dence, ex­pe­ri­ence symp­toms like anx­i­ety, panic-like re­ac­tions and sleep dis­tur­bances — the very symp­toms they had in­tended to treat with this phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal op­tion.

“In the ab­sence of pro­found neg­a­tive side ef­fects, I think pa­tient pref­er­ence should be a high pri­or­ity when we’re selecting from a num­ber of un­per­fected med­i­ca­tions,” adds Walsh.

Although we have a long way to go, we can look for­ward to ex­plor­ing non-phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal op­tions for treat­ing con­di­tions like anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion (whether in a clin­i­cal sense or oth­er­wise) that we all strug­gle with.

Zach Walsh, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at UBC, says cannabis treats key symp­toms of anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion

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