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Cannabis use and its effects on mood disorders

Cannabis use and its effects on mood disorders

Is marijuana actually good for our mental health in the long term? The short answer: No. And for people living with bipolar disorder or depression, it could actually make mental health worse

Reviewed by:
Ian Goldberg, MD
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March 2, 2023
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Key takeaways

It's no secret that many Americans use marijuana to help cope with feelings of depression, anxiety or stress. But is marijuana actually good for our mental health in the long term? The short answer: No. And if you’re in the 10% of people living with bipolar disorder or depression, it could actually make your mental health worse. Read on to find out how marijuana impacts your mental health, who is at risk, and what we can do about it.  

What does the research say?

Cannabis use and mood disorder risk

There’s a potential link between cannabis use and mood disorder risk, according to research. Young adults who use cannabis are more likely to develop a mood disorder, such as major depressive disorder, later in life.  

The risk of developing other mood disorders, like anxiety, is less clear and there is still a need for larger, longer-term findings to confirm the link between mood disorder risk and cannabis use.  

Cannabis use and outcomes for people with diagnosed mood disorders

If you’ve already been diagnosed with a mood disorder, using cannabis can make therapies and medications less effective. In other words, cannabis use and mood disorders don’t mix.

Cannabis use is associated with worse outcomes including potentially elevated symptoms, decreased functioning, increased suicidal ideations, and poor response to medications.

While evidence that cannabis use has a negative effect on mental health outcomes is mounting, researchers are still working on identifying the specific dose, use, or type of cannabis that may be more likely to cause negative mental health outcomes.  

Who is at risk?  

People living with mood disorders

If you’re living with a mental health condition such as bipolar disorder or major depressive disorder, it’s important to be upfront with your medical provider about your cannabis use as it may affect your treatment plan.  

It can be hard to be honest with your provider but remember, using marijuana is nothing to be ashamed of. Your provider’s goal is to help you get better- not to pass judgment on your choices.  

Youth who have a trauma history

Young adults who have a history of trauma or severe mental health issues may also be at particular risk for experiencing negative effects from cannabis including increased levels of anxiety or suicidal ideations.  

What is the impact to young adults?

The use of cannabis among young adults is not uncommon. In 2022, roughly 8.3% of 8th graders, 19.5% of 10th graders, and 30.7% of 12th graders reported using cannabis in the last 12 months, according to the CDC.  

The use of cannabis can be particularly concerning for teens who have experienced trauma or stress. This group of teens may be vulnerable to the negative effects of cannabis because of the combined effects that trauma and cannabis have on a developing brain.

We know that trauma or severe mental health conditions in childhood or teen years can alter how the brain manages excitement, stimulation, and impulsivity. Researchers think that cannabis use may further interfere with a developing brain, resulting in teens being more susceptible to anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideations.  

What is the solution?

With more and more states pushing to legalize cannabis and its growing popularity for medical use, its negative effects are often downplayed or overlooked, especially among teens.  

It’s important to educate teens on the potential harm of using or misusing marijuana, especially if they are living with symptoms of anxiety or depression. Conversations should take place at home, in schools, and in social networks to help destigmatize mental health disorders and encourage individuals to seek appropriate treatment instead of self-medicating with substances such as marijuana which can result in long-term harm.  

About Talkiatry

Talkiatry is a national psychiatry practice that provides in-network, virtual care. Co-founded by a patient and a triple-board-certified psychiatrist, Talkiatry is changing the way people access mental healthcare by offering psychiatry that’s in-network, easy to access, and without long wait times for your first appointment. Take our quick assessment today and start your journey to healing.

The information in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.

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  • Your primary care doctor or another doctor thinks you may benefit from the services of a psychiatrist and provides a referral    
  • You are interested in taking medication to treat a mental health condition  
  • Your symptoms are severe enough to regularly interfere with your everyday life

The term “therapist” can apply to a range of professionals including social workers, mental health counselors, psychologists, professional counselors, marriage and family therapists, and psychoanalysts. Working with a therapist generally involves regular talk therapy sessions where you discuss your feelings, problem-solving strategies, and coping mechanisms to help with your condition.

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Ian Goldberg, MD

Dr. Ian Goldberg is a board certified, Adult and Child/Adolescent psychiatrist, NY State licensed physician, who has worked with a wide range of patients in private, hospital, and Community-based settings since 1988.

His focus has been eclectic, utilizing various modalities including psychodynamic perspectives and medication management to improve the quality of life for his patients.

Dr. Goldberg's psychiatric and medical work has been the backbone of his professional career both in and outside of the US. His work continues to teach, inspire, and challenge him, from the situations he has been presented with, to the people he has had the honor of working with, both as colleagues and patients.

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