This article focuses on mental health during the pandemic. We’ve already covered the fascinating research on medical marijuana’s ability to tackle the physical disease in our previous article, Science: 4 Ways Cannabis Combats COVID-19.
The Coronavirus has propagated all of the ingredients for the perfect mental health storm. Millions have died and millions more are dealing with personal loss. Every conscious person has 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 has taken its toll too.
Simple inconveniences like sanitizing, social distancing and wearing face masks can chip away at a person’s mental resilience, no matter how strong the walls. The loneliness and isolation many experience during periods of lockdown can be quite devastating. Lack of physical contact with friends and loved ones is another prolonged challenge – an elbow or fist bump is not quite the same as an embracing handshake or hug.
Certain risk factors predispose a person to more severe disease upon infection with SARS-CoV-2. But sometimes disease severity is hard to predict, even in the seemingly healthy. What about the terrifying loneliness of struggling for air, hooked up to medical equipment in a hospital bed? Even scarier, those who survive that ordeal are the lucky ones.
People have 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 have suffered great financial loss. People are being 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 can no longer afford medical insurance and have 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 have sold cars and houses. That’s just the privileged few. The majority of the population who live closer to the breadline have faced more significant concerns, such as where their next meal will come from. Never before have we rallied together and relied on communities for help, than during this pandemic.
As it turns out, people are turning to cannabis to help them cope with this new daily psychological burden caused by COVID-19. In a recent 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 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.
A recent 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 with”, 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 existing doctor or psychiatrist (or consider finding one who is open to understanding the benefits of this natural plant medicine). If depression without anxiety is an issue, a 1:1 CBD:THC oil may provide relief.
The bottom line is this: when it comes to mental health, this pandemic is serious business. The worst part of all is that it’s not over yet. Medical cannabis won’t rid the world of COVID-19, but the silver lining is that it may be able to help you cope better during this difficult time. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch, we are here to help.
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