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Can Marijuana Ease Mental Health Conditions?

These days, everyone from celebrities to your next-door neighbor seems to all be bragging about the positive results of marijuana mental health treatment.

You’ve likely heard a story about medical marijuana or marijuana-derived products (such as CBD) that treat anxiety, depression, or even PTSD. But does marijuana really help improve your mental health?

According to a Hempnewsbiz article on marijuana mental health treatment

While marijuana’s popularity has skyrocketed, research into its healing properties has lagged far behind, particularly when it comes to mental health and other outcomes. This separation has forced researchers such as Gruber to study cannabis despite the many obstacles presented by the precarious legal situation.

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With so many people using marijuana, my job is to help patients and consumers discover the best ways in which they can use these products safely and effectively.

In 2017, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine produced a comprehensive review of the health effects of cannabis and its 113 chemical components, called cannabinoids. While looking at a wide range of studies published since 1999, the review found that only three therapeutic uses were supported by intrinsic or conclusive evidence: treating chronic pain, reducing nausea caused by chemotherapy and reducing spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis.

Despite what we hear in the media and despite popular belief, very little is known about the therapeutic effects in humans, says behavioral pharmacologist Ziva Cooper, Ph. Colombia.

The review noted that chronic pain is the most common reason people cite for ordering medical marijuana — 94 percent of medical marijuana ID holders in Colorado said they experienced severe pain. The review identified 27 randomized trials involving nearly 2,500 participants with chronic pain, mostly related to neuropathy that showed cannabis and cannabis provide significant pain relief compared to placebo.

Looking at this evidence, Cooper decided to take a closer look at whether cannabis might help reduce or even replace the use of opioids for pain relief. She also noted that animal studies indicated that cannabis can help reduce the dose of opioids needed to reduce pain. In states that have legalized medical marijuana, prescription opioid use and opioid-related deaths have decreased, according to studies published in JAMA Internal Medicine (Vol. 174, No. 10, 2014, and Vol.178, No. 5, 2018).

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To test the efficacy of cannabis for pain relief, Cooper and colleagues conducted a double-blind, placebo-controlled study looking at the use of cannabis with opioids (Psychopharmacology and Neuropsychology, Volume 43, 2018). The study measured healthy participants’ pain thresholds and endurance levels by submerging their hands in cold water. The researchers found that when cannabis was combined with a very small dose of an opioid — which was not an analgesic on its own — the patients had strong pain relief.

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Marcel Bon Miller, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, is also studying the effects of these two same cannabinoids, but for treating a different kind of pain.