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Why Isn’t Medical Marijuana Available for Mental Illness?

Why Isn’t Medical Marijuana Available for Mental Illness?
PHOTO Andreas Dantz

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Why Isn’t Medical Marijuana Available for Mental Illness?

One out of 6 Americans use pharmaceutical drugs to treat an emotional or mental issue. In nearly every state where medical cannabis is available, these issues won’t qualify them to use legal marijuana.

America’s problem with opiates is well known, undeniable and obvious, but the country also has a real serious habit with pharmaceuticals that treat mental illness.

More than 40 million Americans were prescribed psychiatric drugs in 2013, according to one study — an increase of 22 percent from a decade prior, by one estimate. This would seem to indicate that there are lots of sick people in America, and there are. They’re just not sick enough to qualify for medical marijuana.

Americans gobble anti-depressants, anti-anxiety drugs and anti-psychotics with abandon. Side effects of these drugs include sexual dysfunction, weight gain, nausea, drowsiness, nightmares, fatigue and dizziness. Less common side effects include health complications so dire that one may wonder if the cure was not as bad as the disease. Even if you aren’t prescribed these drugs, you are still exposed to them in some way: Americans are prescribed so much Effexor that it’s in our drinking water supply.

This doesn’t sound good, and clearly, there should be another way. Maybe something a little less harsh than pharmaceuticals with side effects and an environmental toll to pay? Maybe — gosh, I don’t know — we could allow people who report depression or anxiety smoke weed? THC and CBD regulate mood and sleep as well as appetite, there are examples of cannabis successfully used to treat anxiety in the medical literature and researchers are also aware that anxiety and other mood disorders are one of the most common reasons why people self-medicate with cannabis.

Yet mental illnesses and a cabinet full of pills to treat them rarely qualify Americans for medical marijuana. Connecticut is a good example. There are 31 conditions that qualify patients for legal cannabis and only one of them is a mental illness. There is clearly something wrong when mental illness is a recognized problem in America, and cannabis is outlawed as a treatment, as writer Renee Collett, a 22-year-old senior at Southern Connecticut State University, recently pointed out in a Hartford Courant op-ed.

“Mental illness such as generalized anxiety disorder can be just as debilitating as a physical condition, and symptoms can be greatly reduced by marijuana,” she wrote, “yet the legal treatment is inaccessible to people like me who struggle with severe anxiety.”

What’s wrong about this is that there isn’t a sound medical reason for denying cannabis to sufferers of mental illness. This is an obviously political move.

Many Californians can recall receiving a medical-marijuana recommendation for symptoms that include anxiety. I am one of these people; I lost whatever qualms I had about using cannabis legally without having cancer or AIDS or some other ghastly terrible medical condition. I lost the guilt and shame drilled into my conscious by unscrupulous cannabis opponents who performed fly-by “diagnoses” of marijuana users in a transparent attempt to discredit what was already an empirically proven concept as soon as my doctor tried to get me on anti-depressants for problems I was having with anxiety.

That would seem to suggest that California’s open-ended medical marijuana law (anything for which marijuana provided relief was a qualifying condition) worked. But instead, this free availability of weed for almost anyone who wanted it was seen as a problem to avoid in other states that legalized medical marijuana.

The usual excuse for rejecting anxiety as a qualifying condition for cannabis are claims that cannabis can exacerbate anxiety or psychosis. This is why some states still don’t list PTSD as a qualifying condition, despite overwhelming anecdotal evidence (and growing science!) from military veterans who say that cannabis gets them off pills and helps them function. A symptom of PTSD, remember, is anxiety.

This frankly sick and twisted desire to appear to help people who are sick and who want weed while also making it as difficult and onerous as possible, because rules, is why there’s legal medical marijuana in Georgia but no way to access it. It’s why there is a list of qualifying conditions in New York State so slim that one need be almost at death’s door to get some weed. Political considerations are still outweighing scientific or medical necessity, a conundrum that is harming people and that may only end with legalization.

TELL US, do you use cannabis to treat anxiety?

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Jimmy Clark

    December 21, 2018 at 1:47 pm

    I smoke marijuana to get a lil bit of silence cus you see i suffer from schizophrenia i hear anywhere from 15 to 20 different voices that aren’t there. So yeah it’s pretty frustrating

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