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If you’re reading this, chances are good that you currently use medical cannabis or are at least considering it. In fact, whether you use MCDSA’s advocated products or you consume marijuana recreationally, it is having a therapeutic effect on both your body and mind. But what did the consumption of this healing plant, in any form, mean during the global COVID-19 pandemic? As it turns out, your chosen product and consumption method, as well as the timing of use could mean an awful lot.
Our focus at MCDSA is always evidence-based health-promotion. We fully respect the sensitive nature of what we’ve all been dealing with. People have died on a global scale and we were conscious to not push unfounded recommendations during what was an extremely vulnerable time. We’ve already covered the fascinating research on medical marijuana’s ability to tackle the physical disease in Science: 4 Ways Cannabis Combats COVID-19. Now, we turn our attention to mental health during the pandemic and beyond.
The Coronavirus propagated all of the ingredients necessary for the perfect mental health storm. Millions died and millions more dealt with personal loss. Every conscious person had to face more profound, existential questions due to the global scale of infection and death. There’s no doubt that the imminent fear of a contagious, invisible disease living in every person and possibly on every surface took its toll too.
Simple inconveniences like sanitizing, social distancing and wearing face masks chipped away at a person’s mental resilience, no matter how strong the walls. The loneliness and isolation many experienced during periods of lockdown was quite devastating. Lack of physical contact with friends and loved ones was another massive challenge – an elbow or fist bump couldn’t compare to an embracing handshake or hug.
Certain risk factors predisposed a person to more severe disease upon infection with SARS-CoV-2, especially during the early stages. But sometimes disease severity could be hard to predict, even in the seemingly healthy. Imaging the terrifying loneliness of struggling for air, hooked up to medical equipment in a hospital bed. Many of those who were lucky enough to survive that ordeal ended up with lasting trauma.
People lost their jobs, their livelihoods, and with that, their self-confidence, identity, and sense of purpose. Many of those lucky enough to keep their jobs suffered great financial loss. People were cut off from their support networks and, while technology does make social contact easier, it’s simply not the same as in-person contact.
Many could no longer afford medical insurance and had to cut out other policies (car, business and household) as well as life’s luxuries that were once taken for granted (DSTV; domestic and garden workers). Some had to sell cars and houses. That’s just the privileged few. The majority of the population who live closer to the breadline faced more significant concerns, such as where their next meal would come from. Never before did we rally together and rely on communities for help, than during the pandemic.
The collective consciousness we experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic is, however, not always shared. Often, people face incredibly challenging life circumstances on their own, with little support. In truth, an underlying mental health pandemic has existed long before Covid, and will continue long after it too.
As it turns out, people turned to cannabis to help them cope with the new daily psychological burden caused by COVID-19. In an epidemiological study, researchers investigated the impact of the pandemic on the behaviours of 1202 medical cannabis users in the USA. All participants had chronic health conditions, ranging from mental health conditions to autoimmune disease, chronic pain and cardiometabolic conditions.
Every subject had used medical marijuana in the past 30-days, 65.3% daily to almost daily. Overall, only 38.4% of patients had increased their dose, while a staggering 91% of those from the mental health subset started dosing higher. This lined up with previous studies showing increased use during times of stress, trauma and natural disasters.
While studies on potential long-term benefit versus harm are inconclusive, it is clear that PTSD, anxiety, and depression sufferers can benefit from using medical marijuana. In has the ability to blunt the stress response and also to ease depressive symptoms. Take caution though: some studies support its use for treating anxiety and PTSD, while others report increased social anxiety in the long-term. Based on scientific evidence, it seems depression could go either way.
This highlights a few important considerations that apply to all illnesses:
Cannabis has a biphasic effect, meaning high versus low doses may lead to opposite effects in the same person. The simplest example of this would be a microdose of THC calming anxiety, with a high dose increasing social anxiety in a susceptible individual.
Apart from the dosage, individual body chemistry plays a large role in how one reacts, as does the particular plant compound. Starting young and abusing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) long-term can negatively impact people who are predisposed to psychosis, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (with a family history thereof). Cannabidiol (CBD), however, is being investigated for its antipsychotic potential and it may be able to help manage neuropsychiatric conditions.
One study found that cannabis was more likely to bring about anxiety relief than to cause paranoia. However, due to the nature of the study design (using an App), the 670 individuals analysed were probably more likely to be existing cannabis users. Persons who are prone to increased anxiety from THC (which causes the psychoactive effect) would likely not have participated.
But for those with whom THC “agrees”, i.e., with a tested tolerance, it can certainly relieve distressing symptoms such as stress, anxiety, agitation, and irritability. In fact, it can promote feelings of happiness, relaxation, optimism, and peace.
If you’re suffering from an existing psychological condition (or any condition, really), there’s a good chance that medical marijuana may help you to find some form of relief.
As a general rule, THC should be approached with extreme caution in those prone to anxiety. However, CBD can safely act as an anxiolytic (anti-anxiety), antipsychotic, and neuroprotective medicine for persons who are experiencing mental health difficulties. Persons on existing medications should obviously discuss using CBD with their current doctor or psychiatrist (or consider finding one who is open to understanding the benefits of this natural plant medicine). Sometimes, a balanced, 1:1 CBD:THC oil may help provide relief.
The bottom line is this: mental health is serious business, during pandemics and beyond. Medical cannabis won’t rid the world of COVID-19, but it helped many people cope better during an extremely difficult time. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch, we are here to help.
All information on this page is subject to MCDSA’s disclaimer.