The elephant in the room:

Cannabis prohibition and mental health

Originally published on Ismoke media (July 2017)

There seems to be a grave misunderstanding about the relationship between cannabis and mental health. In this piece, we’ll seek to iron out some of the misconceptions surrounding cannabis and mental health. If you are one of the unfortunate victims of the continuous bombardment and barrage of misinformation and reefer madness propaganda being spoon-fed by the tabloids, then you will more than likely incorrectly associate cannabis consumption with the onset of mental health problems and the exacerbation of pre-existing conditions. Well, this isn’t necessarily true, cannabis can precipitate a psychotic episode but does not cause one.

The figures and statistics around cannabis consumption and mental health have long since been artificially inflated and incorrectly interpreted by successive governments and their “Experts.”

Patients that are suffering from these disorders and conditions are frequented by disturbing symptoms that affect their mental health, often utilising cannabis to help reduce some of the more frightening and difficult symptoms that typically accompany conditions such as Bipolar Disorder (BP), Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), schizophrenia and other Schitzo type disorders, Manic Depression, Anxiety disorders etc.

So when they present at their GP and mention that they consume cannabis, the doctor’s tenancy can be to incorrectly associate cannabis consumption with the onset of their condition instead of acknowledging that the patient is more than likely simply self-medicating to alleviate and lessen the symptoms.

It is worth noting that GP’s do not inquire further when a patient mentions their cannabis consumption as to whether the patient belongs to the some 80% of the UK population that risks their health by mixing their Cannabis with a highly habit forming substance, a known Carcinogen and psychosis-inducing drug tobacco.

Doctors are slowly starting to warn against the dangers of another common and widely accepted drug, alcohol, as well. However, much more needs to be done to convey the seriousness to patients who are using alcohol as to its negative effects – it is linked to a severe uptake in self-harm and suicide.

According to the NHS in Scotland, more than half of people who ended up in hospital because they’d deliberately injured themselves said they’ve drunk alcohol immediately before or while doing so.

Mental health budgets are also being slashed, contributing to a worsening of the problem. NHS Fights Back reports that: “In the five years up to 2016, mental health trusts in England had £600 million slashed from their budgets. Meanwhile, the number of people seeking mental health community help has jumped by almost 500,000 a year, to 1.7 million, since 2010” with further budget cuts planned for this and next year.

The NHS currently is paying out £285 million a year for antidepressant pills with this figure only expected to climb as austerity continues to make the quality of life and mental health of millions severely worse.

The FDA (The Food and Drug Administration) warned in 2004 that the use of SSRI antidepressants in young people up to the age of 24 was raising concerns about suicide risk. Despite that, antidepressant use continues to soar on both sides of the Atlantic in all age groups.

Compared with cannabis, where a patient could cultivate a customised, personalised cultivar at home making their medication into whatever preparations they wish; tinctures, vape juices, oils and more taking sovereignty of their treatment instead of being made into a life long consumer leaving them strung out on destructive maintenance drugs like SSRI’s (serotonin selective reuptake inhibitors.)

Over a third of patients trying to quit SSRI’s experience rather difficult withdrawal which can include increased anxiety and depression, head zaps, dizziness, stomach issues, suicidal thoughts, flu-like symptoms, increased aggression and mood swings, amongst other symptoms.

A study by the Nordic Cochrane Centre analysed by University College London (UCL) endorsed the findings in an editorial in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) which says an analysis of 70 trials of the most common antidepressants found they DOUBLED the risk of suicide and aggressive behaviour.

Cannabis has a far higher efficacy than SSRI’s at treating depression without the associated increased suicide rates and aggression that accompany these medications.

The traditional treatment models for the most common mental health conditions are failing countless patients and perpetuating the suffering of the most vulnerable in our society. As discussed above, the budget for mental health services in the UK has been cut year on year by successive governments leading to the state of affairs we’re in now where the lead killer of males under 45 is suicide.

The myth that consuming cannabis detrimentally affects your mental health is an antiquated and particularly vicious one, as it means patients who potentially could benefit from cannabis are instead being given highly habit forming, legal drugs. Not to mention that these drugs can lead to the side-effects listed above. It is both unethical and immoral.

Cannabis is a neuroprotectant evidenced by the US patent US6630507, and is also known to cause neurogenesis, the process of growing new brain cells. In contrast, alcohol use causes neurodegeneration, leading to mood deregulation and potential problems regulating emotions and mental health.

A feature on states that: “This could explain why cannabis is so effective in treating mood disorders like depression, anxiety, and stress; these conditions are all related to a lack of adult neurogenesis”

So continuing cannabis prohibition will only guarantee that this mental health epidemic and the needless suffering of millions will continue to escalate to unmanageable levels in this country.

Cannabis prohibition causes a multitude of health issues by denying humans access to Cannabinoids which are a vital component to homoeostasis, after all, all mammals have an Endocannabinoid system.

Loneliness and social isolation are harmful to our health. Research suggests that lacking social connections is damaging to our health, with one study citing it is as bad for us as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness is no longer the stable of the elderly but more so each day a complaint of the youth.

Prohibition increases this problem too. With no safe spaces being provided to consume their drug of choice socially; as is provided for alcohol users, cannabis consumers are forced to gather in parks, bushes, abandoned buildings and on street corners to come together to enjoy and consume their choice of herb. Austerity has made owning your own home before 40 purely a pipe dream in most cases, and it is only getting harder to get on the property ladder.

The continuation of the stigma and discrimination surrounding cannabis leads to consumers hiding from society for fear of judgement, being robbed by criminal gangs or being raided and locked in a cage by their government for choosing a far safer drug than the legal alternatives.

Continuing to promulgate and perpetuate the myths around cannabis consumption the government is forcing consumers to hide their use and act as if they were doing something wrong. By doing this, you alienate the consumer, unlike those of alcohol who have their vice vindicated by media and culture so they can purchase and consume their drug without fear of persecution for the practice of imbibing.

People are going to enjoy cannabis regardless of the law, so why not do everything to reduce the harms that prohibition is currently creating and ensure the maximisation of good health in the population by legalising, regulating and taxing it today.

Cannabis could and in my opinion should be utilised by the whole population as a prophylactic to prevent any potential personal mental health and general health problems from developing.


Simpa Carter
Simpa Carter

Simpa is a passionate drug law reform activist, mental health advocate, blogger, freelance writer, and host of The Simpa Life podcast.