While there is little doubt that it’s dangerous to use cannabis and then drive a car or go to work, debate has raged for years over the health impact of cannabis, particularly mental health. So what does the science say?
Before we get into what the science and research says, it’s important to realise that cannabis is a widely used drug. In many countries it’s the most widely used illicit drug and this is the case in many parts of the world. In some areas its cultivation is allowed and it’s part of our culture. It seems to have become common place for politicians to admit to trying it at least once, to show that they’re more human!
But trying it and using it regularly are two different things, and it’s more frequent users who are putting themselves most at risk. Because there’s little doubt that the use of cannabis can be bad for mental health and can cause a wide range of issues.
Credible research has found cannabis use associated with issues such as:
Psychosis, hallucinations and delusions. Add confused thinking, disturbances in emotions and behaviour, and muffled speech to this list.
Schizophrenia, which is a specific psychotic illness that we’ve all heard about. There is evidence that cannabis can cause schizophrenia in people who are already at risk of the illness. Most people who are at risk of schizophrenia aren’t aware they are, making a simple cannabis joint every now and then more of a risk than you might think.
It’s also commonly thought that cannabis use can cause depression, although there is no clear evidence of this. What the evidence does say is that people who use cannabis are more likely to be depressed than those who don’t, but the exact link is not known. It could simply be because of a common myth that cannabis helps make people happier, but the reverse can actually be true.
Cannabis users can also experience issues such as anxiety, panic attacks, lack of motivation, tiredness and difficulty concentrating.
Cannabis use is also one factor in suicides in young people.
So what does this evidence mean? Should you try cannabis? If you’re a regular user should you stop?
Like any drug – including legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco – there is a risk in the use of cannabis. You may use cannabis regularly all your life without an issue, but you might not be that lucky.
Perhaps the best advice is quite simple: if there’s a history of mental illness in your family, steer away from cannabis. With clear evidence that a cannabis user with a family history of mental illness is more likely to suffer mental health problems, it’s simply not worth taking the risk.