It is now common for people in the media to talk about cannabis as a ‘safe drug’. Those individuals who claim it is safer than alcohol do have a point, but this is not saying very much – alcohol is the most dangerous drug on the planet when it comes to creating harm. An article this past week in the Huffington Post talks about evidence showing a link between cannabis use and mental illness.
Ten Per Cent of Cannabis Users Have a Mental Illness
The Huffington Post article examines evidence coming out of Canada that shows that one out of every ten people who use cannabis have a mental health problem. This includes things like depression, major anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, and substance abuse. This data came about from the Canadian Community Health Survey. The statistics also showed that 21.6 per cent of Canadians would meet the criteria for substance abuse at least once over the course of their lifetime.
Link between Cannabis and Mental Illness
It is always a mistake to assume that correlation equals causation. In other words, the fact that 10 per cent of cannabis users have mental health problems does not prove that cannabis causes mental health problems. It seems more likely that at least some people do develop mental health problems due to this drug but many would have had difficulties to begin with.
Self-medication is a common reason many turn to a drug like cannabis. What happens is that the person is experiencing some of the symptoms of mental illness but find that they feel better when they use some type of recreational drug. This individual may be completely oblivious to the fact that they have a mental illness, but they just know that they feel better when they use cannabis.
It is also well known that cannabis can act as a gateway drug to much strong substances. For example, most heroin addicts will have started by experimenting with cannabis, continuing to use this drug. It is common for individuals to buy harder drugs from the same dealer that once just provided them with cannabis. The person is unlikely to have found it so easy to get their hands on heroin, if they did not already know somebody willing to supply them.
Cannabis abuse can also lead to mental health problems if it is used too much. The head of the Institute of Psychiatry here in the UK told the Daily Mail recently that the majority of psychotic patients have a history of using cannabis. This drug is not only capable of triggering psychosis but it can also lead to depression.
The Truth about Cannabis
There is no point in exaggerating the dangers of cannabis – this does very little to dissuade people from using it. The reality is that many people do use this substance in a manner that seems to have little impact upon their life. Scaremongering does not work but neither does downplaying the dangers of cannabis. There is evidence to show that there is a link between this drug and mental illness as well as many other types of problem.
More needs to be done to encourage individuals with mental health problems to get help rather than turning to drugs like cannabis. The problem is that there is a great deal of shame involved in admitting to this type of problem and most are unable to recognise the symptoms until they become extreme. Treating people with mental health problems early can help them live a full life.