Is Marijuana a Remedy or Risk for Cognitive Function and Mental Health?


Is Marijuana a Remedy or Risk for Cognitive Function and Mental Health?
While a slight majority of medical marijuana users report using marijuana to alleviate depression and generally find it beneficial, some evidence suggests that decreases in marijuana use by those with depression may in fact diminish depressive symptoms. This introduces a paradoxical situation where marijuana is both used as a self-prescribed treatment for depression yet its reduction may lead to improved mental health outcomes.

Marijuana, most commonly consumed as the dried flowers and leaves of the cannabis plant, can induce short-term problems with cognition, affecting thinking, working memory, executive function, and psychomotor abilities. These disruptions may be particularly concerning, given that Harvard Health highlights the potential short-term memory impairments associated with marijuana use.

The therapeutic compound cannabidiol (CBD), which can be derived from both marijuana and hemp plants, is touted for its ability to reduce stress, depression, joint pain, and more. Yet, the complexity of cannabis’s impact on the brain becomes evident when considering the cognitive deficits observed in long-term users. According to research from Harvard Medical School, individuals with a history of extended cannabis use showed an average decline of 5.5 points in IQ since childhood and displayed learning and processing speed deficits.

Furthermore, the notion that marijuana may assist adolescents in managing anxiety is contentious. Evidence suggests that while cannabis use is related to a dysregulated stress response, it can potentially exacerbate executive functioning difficulties and amplify anxiety over time.

In terms of stress relief, research from the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Chicago indicates that low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can mitigate stress. However, this effect is dose-dependent; higher doses that induce a mild “high” could increase stress.

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In conclusion, the relationship between cannabis use and mental health is multifaceted and may not be fully understood. There is an inherent uncertainty surrounding whether marijuana serves as a therapeutic agent or contributes to cognitive and psychological difficulties, highlighting the need for a cautious approach to its use, particularly among individuals with mental health concerns.

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