In episode 293, I received an interesting question from a listener looking for advice on cannabis use disorder. In this post, I dive into the realm of cannabis use disorder from the perspective of other mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
Long-time podcast listener, first-time question asker. In a society that’s growing more and more accepting of cannabis, what thoughts and advice do you have for people that are dealing with cannabis use disorder along with other mental health issues (depression and anxiety).
This is an interesting one. Definitely something I haven’t covered on the podcast before. Please bear in mind with my response to this question that I am not a medical doctor, and you should really be consulting with your doctor about use of any substances.
Where I live, cannabis is legal for recreational use and it’s especially popular in my area in particular. I live within walking distance of at least 3 dispensaries. Both my wife and I use cannabis products. I tend to use a bit less because mine is mainly recreational, as you might use alcohol. Hers serves both recreational and therapeutic purposes. I’m typically more inclined to have a partial edible on the weekend or something like that, whereas she will also use it for her stomach pain, nausea, etc. Cannabis has multiple uses. It can be used recreationally for the pleasurable sensations and relaxation it provides. It can also be used in more of a therapeutic way for nausea, pain, appetite, etc. In the mental health world, cannabis occupies an interesting spot. For some people, it appears to help somewhat with anxiety. For others, it serves as a source of anxiety.
Justifying our likes
One thing that happens with humans is that we will work really hard to justify something that we like. If you have known a good amount of people that use cannabis products, you’ve probably seen people that claim it helps them with their (insert problem here), but then when you actually look at their life, you don’t see any evidence of that or any progress. That’s the issue when something that could potentially be helpful is also pleasurable and fun to use. You may be inclined to do the mental gymnastics to justify it or have blind spots in your own issues just because you want to be able to keep using it without guilt. This isn’t the case for everyone, but I’m sure if you think hard enough, you can probably find an area in your life where you do this as well. Maybe something as simple as listening to sad music when you are already sad. So, as always – I encourage people to try to be realistic. If you claim that it is helping you, what is the evidence? If you are using it just because it’s pleasurable, cool. You’re allowed to. If you are using it because you think it’s helping, be careful about overinterpreting here. Just be real with yourself.
I’m not a doctor or cannabis researcher, but in general, cannabis is relatively low-risk and low-impact compared to other drugs. The addiction potential is fairly low when compared to something like cocaine, heroin, or nicotine. However, it is understood that cannabis dependence is something that can happen. Essentially, it is more related to the way our body reacts to cannabis. It’s about the way in which, over time, our receptors downregulate and adjust to the chronic use of the substance. This happens to an extent with everything, but people experiencing dependence on cannabis might have symptoms like depression or irritability. Again, the risk is much lower than other substances. Generally speaking, you don’t need to be as careful about withdrawal. By my observation a lot of the issue comes more down to lifestyle factors and personality rather than the direct impact of the substance.
Understanding cannabis use disorder
Anyways, you are asking about my advice for people struggling with dependence and mental health factors. As I said, generally the withdrawal process itself isn’t too significant, but you do need to pay attention to the role that the cannabis served. If someone is using cannabis as a form of self-medication for a mental health issue or symptom, you are going to want to come to an understanding of what role it was playing. From there, you will want to make sure to focus on treating the symptom and finding other coping skills to fill in the place of cannabis. For instance, if someone is having serious trouble with generalized anxiety and using it for that purpose, they may want to explore coping strategies designed to lower symptoms of anxiety, which we talk about on this show often. If they are unmotivated due to depression and using cannabis to block out their feelings of guilt and sadness, lifestyle changes and therapy will probably be called for to help them get back to activities and find some success in their daily life. Even if it’s not truly helpful for the person, you may want to be careful about ripping away the coping strategy of cannabis without structures and resources in place to catch the person. Otherwise, they might be driven to a state of crisis and wind up in a place we don’t want them to be.
So, focus on the primary mental health issue, figure out the role cannabis played, and make sure that role is supported in another way. Mental health treatment is extremely helpful here. I would say that many times, someone wouldn’t need to be checked into a rehab, but that will vary from person to person. Again, work with your doctor on this.
You can listen to this on Episode 293 of the podcast!
Thank you for the great question!
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