Can THC cause mental health issues?


Most people who smoke marijuana don’t give a second thought to taking a puff of their favorite herb. It’s easy to assume that just because one aspect (CBD)of marijuana is helpful to health that it only contains positive properties.

Truth is, there are many caveats of smoking marijuana, many of which are well-documented. Some of the most well-known disadvantages of chronic marijuana are caused by a compound called Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC for short.

This compound is mainly known for its psychoactive properties which can cause paranoia, lack of motivation and difficulty focusing. Ask anyone who’s had a “bad” THC strain and the latter symptom will most likely come up.

However, in most cases it’s a question of what came first, the chicken or the egg? Are people with psychiatric problems drawn to marijuana for its ability to ease their symptoms or does the use of marijuana cause their mental health issues?

To answer these and other questions, it’s important to study the current research on marijuana and its association to mental health.

The effects of marijuana on mental health

According to research, chronic use of THC-rich marijuana can lead to depression, anxiety and even schizophrenia. One German study shows that teenagers who started taking marijuana weekly at the age of 15 were 60% more likely to develop depression by the age of 20 when compared to their counterparts who never used the herb.

Daily use of marijuana by young teenage girls was also shown to increase the likelihood for depression by up to four times more than average. Meanwhile, daily marijuana use by young women was shown to increase the chances of developing anxiety and depression five-fold.

Yet another study conducted in Baltimore interviewed 2, 000 participants in 1980, 1994 and 1996 to analyze the possible correlation between depression symptoms and marijuana use. For this research, the researchers defined the subjects as people who relied on marijuana to cope with life and most of the participants admitted to performing poorly at work.

According to the results, participants who started out without depression symptoms developed them over the years due to marijuana abuse. But, those who didn’t abuse marijuana did not show any symptoms of depression on the follow-up dates.

Some of the depression symptoms exhibited by frequent users included constantly feeling bored and experiencing suicidal thoughts. Not only that, but the study showed that the THC in marijuana exacerbated the depression symptoms in users who suffered from the condition at the beginning of the study.

A Swedish study involving 50, 000 military draftees showed that participants who used marijuana as teenager were 30% more likely to develop schizophrenia with continued frequent use. The research shows the results to be ubiquitous regardless of other drugs or personality traits.

These studies clearly show that frequent marijuana use can lead to mental health conditions like depression and schizophrenia. However, it is unclear which came first in a lot of cases- did the depression draw users to marijuana or did the marijuana case the depression?

The correlation between pre-existing mental health conditions and the use of THC-rich marijuana

Some studies show that daily use of high-potency marijuana increases the risk of developing psychosis by up to five times. However, those with pre-existing psychiatric disorders show the strongest correlation.

Certain studies show that frequent marijuana users develop an irregular AKT1 gene. This gene is responsible for programming enzymes that affect striatum dopamine signaling. This is what’s responsible for dopamine release in the presence of certain stimuli. According to this study, the AKT1 gene variant increases the risk of psychosis by up to even times in daily marijuana users as opposed to occasional smokers.

High doses of THC-rich marijuana can also cause strong psychotic reactions in non-schizophrenic users and worsen the condition for existing sufferers. However, the effects tend to wane as the drug wears off.

Of course, we all know about the common trope of the lazy and unmotivated marijuana user. This is known as amotivational syndrome and its characterized by a weakened motivation to participate in formerly satisfying activities. This is only a hypothesis for now but it is believed that early marijuana use can trigger this condition.

As you can see, there’s a growing body of evidence which suggests that the THC compound in the marijuana plant is linked to mental health issues. However, it is unclear for now whether mental health issues are exacerbated or triggered by the compound.