Medical marijuana is a hot topic that has slowly made its way into politics, health care, psychiatry, and education — into society itself.
Diverse opinions on either side of the many issues in our society are common; the people in power still argue about gay marriage and abortion, religion and taxes. It’s fair enough for people to take sides, but when it comes to medical marijuana, it is worth the debate.
Like all social and political issues that start slowly and suddenly catch fire, the opinions regarding the use of medicinal marijuana are exhausting. ProCon.org, an accredited website that focuses exclusively on the use of medicinal marijuana asks the question: “Is medical marijuana an effective treatment for depression, bipolar disorders, anxiety, and similar mood disorders?”
Let’s find out.
ProCon intelligently presents the reader with both sides of the argument and feedback derived from diverse and educated sources.
Frank Lucido, MD, a private practice physician, stated in his article on the topic:
With appropriate use of medical cannabis, many of these patients have been able to reduce or eliminate the use of opiates and other pain pills, Ritalin, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, antidepressants and other psychiatric medicines…
This might be a stretch: Psychiatric medication will always have a predominant place in the treatment of mental illness and recovery. This aside, Lucido makes a valid point: It is possible that medicinal cannabis — when used correctly — can be of some notable benefit to psychiatric patients.
Research into the topic of medical marijuana makes it evidently clear that both sides of the debate are in good company.
A patient perspective is an equally important aspect of such a debate. Bearing this in mind, I spoke to a man who utilizes medicinal marijuana on a regular basis to treat insomnia and anxiety. He also takes an atypical antidepressant. I was able to speak to him about the process of acquiring medicinal marijuana, his opinion on its effectiveness, and his perspective on its legalization. To protect his anonymity and privacy, his last name will not be used.
Justin is 29 years old. He works in a busy office and lives with his partner in a condominium downtown. They want children one day. He is easy to talk to, and there is nothing distinctly different about him. He is not the kind of person one might expect to use medical marijuana.
I asked Justin if he has a history of drug abuse. It is often assumed that those who regularly use cannabis, medicinal or not, are former addicts. His response did not surprise me. Like most 20-somethings who spent four years in university, Justin admitted to drinking too much once in a while and occasionally smoking marijuana, but he was no different than the majority of his friends in taking part in such campus culture.
Justin had struggled with depression and anxiety for most of his life. It had recently worsened due to the stress of a new job. Although he had been on an antidepressant for a couple of years, he found that it did not work well enough.
Justin went to see his primary care physician when the frequency and severity of his insomnia and anxiety increased. After asking some questions, she asked him if he had ever considered medicinal marijuana.
“It wasn’t really something I expected her to say. I’ve been her patient for years now… It came out of left field, to say the least,” Justin recalled. (Personal interview, July 1, 2008)
Justin walked out of the doctor’s office with a prescription, but it was in stark contrast to all the prescriptions he’d received over the years. Rather than the local pharmacy, this one directed him to a medicinal marijuana store. Justin told me he was not sure what to expect. Using marijuana to combat anxiety and insomnia was not something he’d initially considered.
I asked Justin about his experiences in obtaining medicinal marijuana for the first time. He said he wasn’t sure what to expect.
“The store had no windows, and the sign was [barely] large enough to recognize. To be honest, I wanted to turn around, but the experience was much different than I had envisioned. The man I spoke to asked me about my symptoms in detail. He explained which strains would help me sleep and which would help my anxiety level.”
Justin left the store with a small amount of medicinal marijuana and a card explaining that he was legally able to have it on his person. He received an official card in the mail a few weeks later that would keep him from being arrested for possession.
Why did Justin and his doctor consider medicinal marijuana to treat his symptoms?
“She gave me other options,” he said. “I could have moved up my antidepressant, but I always suffered with side effects that made it hard to function, or I could take drugs for anxiety like Ativan, but drugs in that class have a huge potential for addiction and tolerance…I started to think of medicinal marijuana as I think of my antidepressant: a drug that helps me function on a basic and important level. I was able to sleep, and unlike waking up with a ‘drug hangover,’ as I have experienced when using prescribed sleeping pills, I woke up ready for the day. My anxiety also diminished.”
Medicinal marijuana is not the same as “street marijuana.” It is free of dangerous additives and often is grown indoors. Not all patients who are prescribed medicinal marijuana report a positive experience, though that is often the case. Justin found its use positively affected his quality of life.
“People need to view medicinal marijuana as a tool that is often safer than prescribed medications,” he said. “I understand the controversy. Society needs controversy in order to come to a conclusion. I believe it’s only a matter of time. We need to look at the bigger picture: People can purchase cigarettes and liquor, but we cannot, without prescription, utilize medicinal marijuana.”
Both sides of the debate offer valid points on the effectiveness of medicinal marijuana in the area of psychiatry. Research is important, and much can be gleaned from it, but just as important, perhaps, is the valuable feedback from those who use and rely on medicinal marijuana for the alleviation of psychiatric and physical ailments.
Lucido, F. (2005). Implementation of the compassionate use act in a family medical practice: Seven years clinical experience. MedBoardWatch.com. Retrieved from http://drfranklucido.com/
ProCon.org. (2008, May 30). Is medical marijuana an effective treatment for depression, bipolar disorders, anxiety, and similar mood disorders? MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org. Retrieved from http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/view.answers.php?questionID=000226