Before I went into treatment, I smoked a lot of weed. Not just once or twice a day, but incessantly. Towards the end, it stopped being about having fun. I would feel some anxiety and pop a pill from my psychiatrist, but smoke a bowl for good measure. I planned ahead. I knew I would be anxious once I got to school, so I ate some toast with canna-butter (cannabis butter) before I left. It was perfect so I could drive there sober, and it would take effect when I got there. Alternatively, if I felt uncontrollably sad, I’d smoke. Really, if I felt anything, it was time for a bowl, joint, or blunt.
The thing is, despite the number of anti-anxiety and anti-depressant meds I was on, I never seemed to get any better. Dr. Gabriel Nahas, a pharmacology researcher, said that anti-depressants and weed are “a cocktail which can confound and confuse even the most determined and experienced psychiatrist.” Not only do clients lie about using marijuana or their frequency of use, but as it isn’t a standardized drug, it is very difficult to determine which mood and side effects are inherent, due to marijuana, use or due to the medications (Falcon, 2001).
Tricyclics and marijuana used in conjunction may lead to increased heart rate, hypertension, or drowsiness. Several cases of cognitive problems have been documented. In conjunction with SSRIs, psychosis may ensue. Additionally, for all you active users who are trying to pass a drug test, taking SSRIs while using marijuana increases the amount of time and concentration of marijuana in your system (Falcon, 2001).
Interestingly, low doses of marijuana can serve as an effective anti-depressant. It increases the brain’s serotonin levels. With higher levels of marijuana usage, the exact opposite is true: marijuana increases depression (Science Daily, 2007). Other studies or reports suggest a strong correlation between frequent marijuana users and depression and anxiety. One source says, “weekly or more frequent use of marijuana doubles a teen’s risk of depression and anxiety” (Office of National Drug Control Policy Executive Office of The President, May 2008). Another source reports higher rates of anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia in chronic marijuana users (NIDA, 2010).
As these sources point out, it is unclear whether individuals’ currently experiencing depression and anxiety are drawn to marijuana or whether marijuana causes the depression and anxiety. What exactly are marijuana’s effects on individuals’ mental health conditions?
While I’ll leave it to the pharmacologists and neuropsychologists to figure out exactly what marijuana’s effects are when coupled with anti-depressants, I found a list of marijuana’s negative effects that I think may play a causative role in worsening anxiety and depression in chronic, excessive users independent of the psychopharmacological impacts of marijuana. The list of “marijuana’s drawbacks” includes memory impairment, time distortion, inappropriate behavioral responses, and amotivational syndrome (Falcon, 2001). All of these cognitive difficulties would lead to increased anxiety and as the behaviors become detrimental to overall quality of life and life purpose. I can think of each of these affecting my success socially, professionally, and emotionally. I could not find my car keys and was perpetually late everywhere. I mismanaged my time sometimes realizing 45 minutes into an appointment that I was late. I was so socially abnormal I literally had no friends for the last four months or so. I rarely, if ever, got the motivation to do work. It always seemed so much easier to watch an episode of television and eat food than to move, crack a text book, or attend class.
Ultimately, while one study found that low levels of marijuana have a beneficial effect on individuals suffering from depression, I find it unlikely that given marijuana’s addictive properties a user could keep it under control. Furthermore, with so many clinical psychotropic anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medicines available with far more research to back them up, marijuana as an anti-depressant seems like a poor choice.
Filed under: Addiction, Alcohol and Drugs, Featured, Mental Illness · Tags: Addiction, amotivational syndrome, anti-depressants, anxiety, impacts of marijuana, marijuana, marijuana abuse, marijuana and depression, marijuana as an anti-depressant, serotonin levels, SSRI, Treatment