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Marijuana and Illness

Did you know that marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug in America and its use is on the rise?  What many people don’t realize is that the potency of marijuana today is much higher than years ago (THC content was 3.6 percent in the mid 80’s while last year THC content was closer to 10 percent) and that marijuana can be addictive.  It is especially harmful and damaging for teens given their rapidly developing brains.  Research suggests that marijuana impairs critical thinking, reduces attention and memory, along with raising the risk of health, social, and academic problems.  The amount of drug used, the age at first use, and genetic vulnerability contribute to the variability of risk.  The scientific data shows that regular marijuana abuse is linked with increased risk of legal problems, difficulties at school/work and increased likelihood of abuse of alcohol and vulnerability to other drugs.   Based on several studies correlating marijuana use to increased risk for mental illness, the  mental health community has expressed concern about the increasing rate of the drug’s use.

Marijuana can worsen symptoms of anxiety, depression or schizophrenia through its actions on the brain.  There have been multiple studies on marijuana use and psychotic symptoms, specifically schizophrenia, especially for those with a family history of mental illness. Another adverse consequence of long-term use of marijuana is amotivational syndrome, which is diminished or absent drive to engage in typically rewarding tasks.  The research is not conclusive that a cause and effect relationship exists between marijuana use and mental illness, but it appears definitive that it can contribute to the onset of certain mental health problems and exacerbate existing issues.

What can be done to help those in need?   One of the problems with treatment is convincing the user that their substance use is damaging to their cognitive functioning, mental health, interpersonal relationships, and physical well-being.  Often tragedy or a crisis has to occur before change is even considered.  Taking action requires some level of commitment and motivation to quit.  Cognitive-behavioral counseling and/or medication can be helpful in managing the mental health issues and addressing the addiction component.  Self-help groups such as Marijuana Anonymous,, or Smart Recovery,, can offer other resources.  We can raise awareness, provide resources, and offer support.  However, only recognition of the negative impact of marijuana abuse will motivate change.

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