In the last couple of years, there has been an abundance of media coverage concerning the use of medical marijuana in treating psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Moreover, in US states with strict medical cannabis programs, such as Minnesota and New Jersey, there have been heated debates concerning the treatment of mental illness with the plant. However, there has been very little research, as well as news coverage, concerning the relationship of medical marijuana to traditional forms of psychotherapy.
For many people who suffer from psychological disorders, regularly visiting a therapist can prove quite beneficial. Not only can these mental health professionals help individuals diagnose their particular disorders, they can often times treat them without the use of prescription drugs. Nonetheless, depending on the severity of the psychological disorder in question, therapists often times prescribe or recommend the use of mood altering drugs in order to aid in therapeutic processes.
These notions raise the question: what sort of benefits, or drawbacks, are there to using medical marijuana in conjunction with traditional therapy for the treatment of mental illness?
In an article written for Psychology Today, Dr. Joe Magliano highlights how, on a molecular level, cannabis can play a role in therapy for psychological disorders. Magliano’s research draws some fascinating parallels between the chemical composition of the human brain and “danger and safety” learning through both medical marijuana use and psychotherapy.
Cannabinoids are molecules produced by the human brain which act as neurotransmitters; they regulate neural activity within essential brain functions. For Magliano, this notion is particularly important regarding the area of the brain known as the hippocampus, which researchers believe dictates emotive arenas of PTSD, anxiety, and depression. This is because, marijuana consumption stimulates cannabinoid function in the human brain, including within the hippocampus, by introducing more cannabinoids into the nervous system.
Psychotherapists sometimes utilize “safety learning” as a therapy technique which helps individuals overcome irrational worries and distress. Safety learning functions by forcing subjects to face irrational stressors in a controlled setting—this process also directly reacts with the hippocampus region of the human brain.
The congruencies between marijuana consumption and safety learning are apparent within the chemical, neural reactivity of the hippocampus. Migliano speculates that “under some conditions, cannabis might promote learning processes related to safety and danger” as seen in safety learning practices of psychotherapists. Point being, on a molecular level, and within carefully controlled circumstances, cannabis consumption may make mentally ill people more receptive to therapy practices such as safety learning.
It is should be noted, however, that any theories positing a direct correlation between medical marijuana consumption and successful therapy practices are pure conjecture. In fact, on a mainstream level, mental health professionals generally opt to steer clear of the medical marijuana topic in general. This is largely because, there is a general lack of legitimate research into the potential applications of marijuana as a medicine—for both physical and mental ailments.
A majority of accepted medical literature that touches on the relationships of cannabis, mental illness, and therapy describes the psychological pitfalls of marijuana consumption. These medical publications often times delve into the potentially addictive nature of marijuana as well as its theoretical tendency to retard cognitive development.
Opposing viewpoints aside, novel scientific theories concerning cannabinoid function in the human brain certainly warrant more research into the potential applications of cannabis as an aide to traditionally therapy. However, the choice to medicate with marijuana, whether for mental or physical conditions, should not be taken lightly and should be discussed with a professional.
Kent Gruetzmacher M.F.A. is a Colorado based freelance writer and the Director of Business Development at Mac & Fulton Talent Partners (www.mandfconsultants.com), a recruiting firm dedicated to the indoor gardening and cannabis space. He is interested in utilizing his M.A. in the Humanities to critically explore the many cultural and business facets of this youthful, emergent industry by way of his entrepreneurial projects.