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Weed and Your Mental Health


In 2020, a large scale national survey from the University of Michigan reported that 43% of full-time college students ages 19-22 reported using marijuana/cannabis/weed in the past year. More specifically, 22% of students reported using marijuana in the past month, and 5% reported daily use.

The top reasons college students use weed is to experience feelings of relaxation, euphoria, and altered perception. Whereas some are drawn to the relaxed way it makes them feel, others enjoy the silliness and lack of inhibition. There are two main strains of THC, one more sedating (Indica) and one more energizing or euphoric (Sativa).

The two main components of marijuana are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). The THC makes you feel high or euphoric and the CBD makes you feel very relaxed. CBD is found in mother’s breast milk. Mothers can attest how babies fall sound asleep right after nursing!

So, what’s the big deal?

Research indicates that marijuana use, particularly during adolescence when the brain is still developing, may lead to changes in brain structure and diminished function. Remember, the human brain is not finished developing until mid 20’s!

Long-term and heavy marijuana use specifically impacts the hippocampus, the main brain area responsible for memory. Changes in the hippocampus can cause short-term and long-term memory loss.
Decades of clinical research has found THC can negatively affect the developing brain, and regular cannabis use in the teen years is associated with a higher likelihood of experiencing anxiety and depression later in life. It’s not exactly clear how that happens but the evidence for it is very strong.

Emergency room data shows a trend of more adolescents and young adults experiencing psychosis after using high potency marijuana (ex: concentrated oils). Especially if you have a family history of schizophrenia or bipolar, you should be extra cautious about your how much, how often, and what concentration of THC you are consuming. Extremely high concentrations of THC have been linked to anxiety, panic attack, paranoia, hallucinations, racing heart, nausea, and vomiting.

Cannabis works on the brain the same way every other drug or addictive behavior does. It floods the brain with dopamine and other neurotransmitters like serotonin (which plays a role in mood, hunger, and sleep) and GABA (which plays a role in anxiety and learning). With prolonged use of marijuana, the body stops making its own neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin and GABA) and you feel moody, depressed, or anxious. Additionally, the more frequently you smoke weed, the more THC you’ll need over time to feel the same high because you’ll develop a tolerance.

Cannabis Use Disorder

Research suggests that around 30% of people who use weed will develop a cannabis use disorder. This risk is four to seven times higher for people who start using marijuana prior to the age of 18. Cannabis use disorder is strongly associated with both Major Depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

In case you were curious about the criteria for Cannabis Use Disorder, here is what the DSM 5 (mental health manual) says. If you have 2 or more of the following symptoms:

  • Continuing to use cannabis despite physical or psychological problems
  • Continuing to use cannabis despite social or relationship problems
  • Craving cannabis
  • Difficulty controlling or cutting down cannabis use
  • Giving up or reducing other activities in favor of cannabis use
  • Problems at work, school, and home as a result of cannabis use
  • Spending a lot of time on cannabis use
  • Taking cannabis in high-risk situations
  • Taking more cannabis than was intended
  • Tolerance to cannabis
  • Withdrawal when discontinue using

Safer Ways to Use Weed

CBD has a similar structure to THC, but it doesn’t affect the brain’s reward circuitry in the same way, meaning there’s less of a risk for abuse. Furthermore, there’s a growing body research supporting that CBD may be able to reduce anxiety or stress.

If you are trying to medicate your stress or anxiety with weed, consider just using CBD and no THC. You can buy CBD online because it’s legal. Go for 300 to 600 mg of CBD. One of my clients says he prefers it to “regular weed” because it gives him all the relaxing feelings without any of the anxiety or paranoia that THC can cause.

However, if you want to experience a little of the high from marijuana but not trigger your anxiety, look for a ratio of 10 parts CBD to 1 part THC. Make sure the THC strain is the more soothing one, Indica. A reputable marijuana dispensary should have knowledgeable employees who can help you find this.

Final Words

You can absolutely become psychologically dependent on it. Furthermore, your body can develop a deficit of several neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin, and GABA) in your brain from prolonged use. A decrease in these naturally occurring neurotransmitters will make you feel irritable, unmotivated, anxious and depressed.

Pay attention to how weed makes you feel both while you are high, several hours later, and days later. Be honest with yourself. If weed is making you more anxious or depressed, stop using it! Avoid strong concentrations of THC unless you want to roll the dice with your mental health. It’s no fun to have a racing heart, paranoid thoughts, and/or vomiting from too much THC. Ask yourself what are the positive and negative impacts of your relationship with weed.