The Current Role of Medical Marijuana in Psychotherapy
The controversy surrounding medical marijuana would not go away anytime soon. However, that shouldn’t deter people with conditions that may be helped by cannabis from enjoying the therapeutic benefits of the drug. Medical cannabis is known to help with certain mental health conditions and there have been suggestions that it may help with many more.
There is no arguing the complex nature of the human brain. But with more than 100 isolated components, cannabis is no simple plant either. THC, one of the main components of cannabis, possesses one of the principal requirements of any psychoactive medication- the ability to freely permeate the blood-brain barrier. Unfortunately, THC appears to be more popular for the ‘high’ as well as its side effects.
Studies have shown that large doses of high potency medical marijuana could lead to paranoia and other psychotic symptoms. This is particularly true for people who already have a family history of mental health disorders. Still there, is enough evidence to show that many people with disorders such as schizophrenia, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, etc. self-medicate on cannabis in a bid to relieve their symptoms. Although drug use affects these conditions in different ways, the frequent use among mental health patients is a pointer that cannabis may help some disorders.
Cannabis Use in Psychotherapeutic Practices
As mentioned earlier, the use of cannabis (and other drugs) among mental health patients is prevalent. For many health practitioners, cannabis use is simply another addiction that their patient needs to break. Sadly, employing this approach for all cases could be a disservice to some patients. For one thing, people suffering from mental health conditions already face some kind of stigma. Drug use only makes things complicated and the patient knows this already. If patients get a lot of heat from their healthcare providers due to their cannabis use, their relationship would be severely affected. Thus, mental health professionals should be careful before making judgments about their patients’ lifestyle.
Psychotherapists can initiate discussions about cannabis use at the very first session with the patient. The discussion would be aimed at clarifying the position of both parties concerning the drug. If the psychotherapist’s professional assessment suggests that cannabis use may worsen the patient’s condition as observed in some mental health cases, the patient should be educated on the need to stop. Thankfully, cannabis is not highly addictive and stopping shouldn’t be too much of a problem as long as the patient is willing.
Therapists should understand that stopping cannabis is not always a precondition for getting better. Many mental health patients can benefit from controlled use of cannabis. Moreover, cannabis has been shown to be much safer than many of the drugs mental help patients turn to in a bid to escape their pain. Unless absolutely necessary, therapists should refrain from pressuring their patients into giving up cannabis.
What are Some Current Applications of Cannabis in Mental Healthcare?
Although more research is still needed in order to elucidate the full effects of cannabis on the human brain, below are some current applications of cannabis in psychotherapy that patients may find beneficial.
Cannabis-assisted Therapy Sessions
Conventional therapy sessions could be quite stressful for some patients. Some people even report experiencing anxiety ahead of their appointments and this could greatly affect the quality of the sessions. Any therapist worth their salt knows it’s their responsibility to help patients relax and talk without inhibitions. However, a little help from a psychoactive drug could make the session more productive. This, in part, accounts for the growing popularity of psychedelic psychotherapy.
While cannabis may not have the same effect as psychedelic drugs, many patients have admitted getting ‘high’ before therapy makes processing their trauma less painful. Some therapists already specialize in cannabis assisted psychotherapy and studies assessing its effectiveness and safety are already ongoing. In some American States that have legalized cannabis use, cannabis-assisted sessions are also backed by law. It is important to note that more research is still needed in this field because cannabis could affect different conditions in different ways.
Cannabis and Schizophrenia
Contrary to the widespread myth that cannabis may cause schizophrenia, research has shown that medical cannabis may actually be beneficial to schizophrenia patients. A study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry reports that trials in both animal and human subjects indicate that cannabidiol has antipsychotic properties. The CBD group in the double-blind parallel-group trial had lower levels of positive psychotic symptoms and showed greater improvements in cognitive performance.
Unlike other antipsychotic medications, the antipsychotic effects of CBD do not depend on dopamine receptors. Thus, it has been suggested as a complementary therapy for people suffering from schizophrenia. Furthermore, CBD is not psychotropic in nature. It’s free of the psychiatric side effects associated with THC, making it suitable for psychiatric patients.
Cannabis and PTSD
A high rate of cannabis use has been recorded among PTSD patients, especially veterans. The widespread belief is that cannabis can reduce PTSD symptoms and numerous studies have confirmed there is some truth to this assertion. Despite numerous state laws acknowledging the efficacy of medical cannabis for PTSD, major players still claim there is no conclusive evidence to ascertain the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana for the condition. The obstacles researchers have to cross before obtaining the drug and test subjects for their research doesn’t help matters.
Recently, the first FDA-approved trial examining the effects of THC and CBD on the symptoms of PTSD in war veterans was finally concluded after about a decade. The researchers admitted that they thought about prematurely calling off the research at some point due to the difficulties in recruiting the required number of vets. The scientific and medical communities are eagerly anticipating the publishing of the research findings. But if the result of other similar, albeit smaller scale, studies are anything to go by, there would be good news for vets suffering from PTSD.
Asides PTSD and schizophrenia, medical marijuana may also be useful in the treatment of anxiety disorders, insomnia, bipolar disorder, etc. However, more research is still needed to ascertain the safety and efficacy of the drug in these conditions.
Potential Interactions of Medical Cannabis with other Antipsychotic Medications
One reason why many patients love the idea of medical marijuana is the relative lack of dangerous side effects when compared with common prescriptions drugs. It’s not uncommon to find patients using medical marijuana alongside their prescription medications but this could be dangerous for them. THC and some other components of medical cannabis have been shown to decrease the effectiveness of some antipsychotic medications or even worsen their side effects.
For example, cannabinoids have been shown to intensify the effects of some antidepressants and this could be dangerous for patients taking both together. Furthermore, cannabidiol is known to deactivate the Cytochrome P450 enzyme, an enzyme that metabolizes many other drugs. if taken together, the other drugs could spend longer than necessary in the system, intensifying their therapeutic, as well as side effects.
The interactions between medical cannabis and our mind are complex, to say the least. Even with all the advancements in medical science, there is still a lot we are yet to figure out in this field. With the widespread legalization across different states in the country, it is hoped that research into medical cannabis would be faced with much fewer obstacles. If we can have more comprehensive, large-scale studies, it’ll be easier to draw definitive conclusions and make useful recommendations.
For now, we know that cannabis has numerous potential applications in psychotherapy and it could also worsen some conditions. But it appears that what we do not know if more than what we know. Which condition does it help? Which condition to it worsen? What is the optimal dose, the best method of administration, and the interactions with other medications? All these are questions we’ll need more research before we can categorically answers.
If you are suffering from any condition that may be helped with medical cannabis, you’ll need to obtain your Florida medical marijuana card in order to have access to the drug. Our expert medical marijuana doctors are always at your service. Get in touch with us now and you’ll be glad you did.