The Canadian debate around marijuana has always been less contentious than in other countries weighing cannabis laws. Canada was among the first large populations to have legal access to medical marijuana, and it will soon be the largest country in the world to legalize adult-use cannabis.
But there are still people who have issues with marijuana. They’re not just the set-in-their-ways politicians, or those in the pharmaceutical industry worried about future profits. They’re mental health professionals.
Many in the mental-health field only ever encounter cannabis consumption in a negative context. Often, young people come into a clinic in crisis, and later, staff learns that they consumed marijuana heavily before their visit.
“Young kids abuse it. That’s almost my entire experience with marijuana,” said one doctor at a recent medical conference. “I know there’s a place for it in medicine, but I’m still worried about it.”
Even though many in the mental-health field have negative associations with marijuana, some are starting to come around—or at least understand why patients may consume cannabis in the first place. For young people in pain, marijuana can bring relief. But without proper guidance, it’s easy to take that sense of relief to extremes.
Doctors’ Concerns About Cannabis Are Based on Old Studies
Doctors say people who come to see them—especially young people—are consuming cannabis more than ever before. This is feeding into their concerns about any harm caused by the plant.
Mental-health professionals do have some valid reasons for their concerns. Consuming cannabis at an early age has been linked to a host of mental-health problems later in life including depression, anxiety and psychosis.
Still, it must be said that for many in the field, their skepticism is based not only on the patterns of patients coming into their office, but also on some widely circulated studies from years past. These studies concluded that cannabis can negatively impact young adults’ memory and thought processes.
But as we learn more about the plant, it’s clear that the conclusions of these older studies seem to be overblown. Many of the past studies didn’t account for other factors, such as socioeconomic status or tobacco and alcohol consumption, which could also explain the findings. It’s been a slow change from demonizing the plant to acknowledging its positive traits, but it’s definitely happening.
Mental-Health Professionals Are Slowly Changing Their Views on Marijuana
One counsellor, who requested she remain anonymous so as to not conflate her opinions with her employer, is witnessing this change firsthand. “When people come in, almost always there are [other] substance abuse issues. I don’t really look at marijuana as a big problem,” she said.
Sobriety is important for people trying to discern exactly what their mental health problems are. Mental-health professionals are slowly starting to realize that medical or recreational marijuana could be part of a wellness strategy that includes therapy.
“Since we started focusing on harm reduction, I think marijuana could have a role to play,” the counsellor said. However, she’s still not fully convinced that cannabis is completely risk-free. “Especially for young people, it’s really easy to hide in substances. That’s probably not the best idea,” she explained.
Cannabis Legalization Is Helping Patients & Doctors Understand Each Other
While mental-health doctors haven’t acknowledged the healing powers of marijuana the same way some neurologists have, nationwide cannabis legalization and the growing acceptance of marijuana helps doctors and patients be more open with each other. “Before, people used to lie to us all the time,” the counsellor said. “That happens much less now, especially with young people.”
Honesty with health-care professionals is an absolute must, and will ultimately lead to better results. With more folks coming forward and saying they’ve had some success with marijuana, it could help counsellors and doctors understand the upside of cannabis.
Marijuana legalization will also help mental-health professionals learn about the plant without bias. Since cannabis was illegal and stigmatized, often the first things professionals learn about the plant sticks with them the longest. During prohibition, their first lesson was likely that it creates mental-health problems, though this isn’t necessarily true for everyone.
If you’re looking for mental-health help and want cannabis to be a part of that journey, it’s important to seek out a counsellor or doctor who shares your views on the plant. While this may be difficult at the moment, it probably won’t stay that way.
“Not everybody is on board with marijuana,” the counsellor said. “But myself and a bunch of others now see that it can be a powerful tool.”
Photo credit: Gift Habeshaw