Medical marijuana: It’s not the high-potency high that’s the problem — it’s the side effects

Think about the strain of herb that put you on the map. If it were grass, wouldn’t you mind there being grass? Could it possibly be stronger than anything a narcotic snort, puff or…

Medical marijuana: It's not the high-potency high that's the problem — it's the side effects

Think about the strain of herb that put you on the map. If it were grass, wouldn’t you mind there being grass? Could it possibly be stronger than anything a narcotic snort, puff or edible even tastes like? In a word: “No.”

The medical cannabis use disorder forms do not cause psychological or physiological anxiety. In fact, people who use cannabis in medical situations are more likely to show anxiety-reducing and even anxiety-promoting behaviors—not more anxious than people who don’t. They just take that traditional drug, the one with bad timing and bad effects on your brain, as their treatment. People with cannabis-induced anxiety often refrain from relying on a drug of abuse, which is a huge part of why people find relief.

So maybe that’ll be the future for us potheads: not just people who use it recreationally to get high but people who actually get the disease.

Men are 1.5 times more likely to develop medical marijuana use disorder, and women are 1.1 times more likely to develop the illness. Different age groups face risk of the illness, too: Those under 65 are more than twice as likely to have it. The majority of people with this illness have a diagnosable psychological condition, such as chronic pain, anxiety, and depression.

The international consensus is that when a person consumes cannabis, rather than getting the high but more pain is experienced, the negative side effects of the drug are greater. They may manifest in more of the following:

Increased irritability and anger

Increased anxiety

Increased anxiety and impulse control problems

Excessive sleep problems

Increased sex drive


Feelings of dejection

When, after using cannabis, people experience these negative outcomes, it’s thought that an elevated cortisol level in the brain increases inflammation that plays a role in many of these problems. It’s also been studied that increased inflammation leads to other problems, such as lower immunity, a decreased immune response to infections, and weight gain.

Mental health disorders, problems with physical pain, anxiety, depression, or addiction all can contribute to medical marijuana use disorder.

But what about the opposite? Yes, it does have the same positive effects for the body and the mind—but it also can have the negative effects. In addition to the uncomfortable, negative outcomes, there can be side effects for the body. Cannabis use disorders occur when the mind’s reward hormone is high, which can make people feel tired, anxious, depressed and sad. And remember that those brain receptors for cannabinoids and THC are relatively nonfunctional in those who use cannabis recreationally.

The thing is, cannabis is a plant that can deal with stress as well as treat anxiety, depression, insomnia, chronic pain, etc. That said, it is best to turn to cannabis with caution as a treatment for pain, anxiety and anxiety-reducing behaviors. These are very rare manifestations, and ones that might have been responsible for the onset of cannabis use disorder. The development of clinical use disorder with cannabis is thought to be largely independent of the traditional psychiatric disorders.

If you have had a couple of beers, you’re not a super-fun, alcoholic neurotic. Use of cannabis might be a totally natural way for your body to deal with the stress you’re experiencing, but it also has its own side effects. The good news is that traditional pharmaceuticals that address the psychoactive side effects can also serve to treat the underlying concerns that might be contributing to your feeling depressed and anxious.

By Dr. Mary Moulton, D.P.H., for

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