Marijuana May Be Linked to Serious Mental Illness
The drug is among the top abused drugs in the world, and experts report that people are trying it at even younger ages and using it for longer periods of time. Findings suggesting a link between marijuana and mental health problems later in life may set the premise for stronger preventive efforts, especially among young adults.
Published in the journal Addiction, and summarized in a 2005 BBC Health report, the study asked more than 1,000 participants about using cannabis (marijuana) in their youth at three specific ages: 18, 21 and 25 years. Participants also answered questions about the condition of their mental health.
Results indicate that marijuana users may be more likely to have symptoms of psychotic disorders – such as disconnection with reality and bizarre thoughts or hallucinations – which are believed related to brain changes linked to the drug. Cannabis has also been said to worsen symptoms for people with diseases like schizophrenia that have already been diagnosed.
Study lead researcher Dr. David Fergusson said the association between levels of psychotic behaviors and consistent use of cannabis was evident, and that the research compliments other recent studies that link regular use of marijuana with mental illness.
While experts say studies must consider participants’ mental health conditions that may be unnoticed, additional research has also shown that rates of mental illness occur at higher rates among people who have used marijuana in comparison to people who haven’t.
According to an Australian National Drug Strategy Household Survey conducted in 2004, around 11 percent of men and 14 percent of women with no history of marijuana use will develop a mental illness, while around 21 percent of men and 29 percent of women who are using the drug will have mental health problems. The Australian studies suggest that people who are currently using marijuana on a regular basis have a higher risk of mental illness than those who used it in the past or who used it sporadically.
Officials representing mental health institutions are calling for more explorations of the connections between marijuana and mental disease, especially in an effort to prevent young adults who use it from being diagnosed with mental health problems.
A possible factor in the increase in young people trying marijuana is the widely-held assumption that it is relatively harmless, in comparison to other drugs. It also provides a noticeable, though not extreme, sense of well-being to many users.
Still, other reports acknowledge a possible connection between marijuana and mental illness but call for careful interpretation of study results before a concrete “cause” is determined –suggesting instead that some people could have a genetic tendency that makes them more likely to use marijuana and have mental health side effects.
As researchers continue to more clearly identify a connection between cannabis and mental health, the focus may also include educating young adults about problems linked with marijuana, such as difficulty with memory, relationships and the workplace.