Cannabis and your mental health

By  Youth Projects     |    Updated: 21st April, 2017    |    6 min read

How cannabis is taken?

Cannabis is generally mixed with tobacco and smoked either through a ‘bong’ or rolled in joints and can be cooked into biscuits or cakes and ingested.

Other names for Cannabis

Marijuana, grass, pot, weed, hash, choof and dope.

How does cannabis affect you?

Cannabis is a drug known as a depressant which means it slows down the central nervous system and causes a relaxing effect. It can elevate a person’s mood, cause an altered awareness and perception of colour and sound. It can also causes reflective thinking and increased appetite and drowsiness. Cannabis has been known to decrease stress and physical pain.

Possible side affects

Cannabis can cause:

  • Nausea
  • Decreased coordination and response time
  • Decrease in the ability to track thoughts
  • Can cause paranoia and hallucinations

Potential harms

Cannabis can lead to:

  • Reduced concentration and reaction response time (which can be potentially dangerous when driving a car or operating machinery)
  • Short-term memory loss (this can affect your studies and work through impairment of your learning abilities)
  • Change in motivation
  • Anxiety or panic attacks

Long-term use

  • Increases risk or respiratory complications and disease, bronchitis and paranoid thoughts
  • Negative impact on relationships with family and friends
  • Can increase the heart rate and in some instances cause chest pains in people who experience low blood pressure
  • The risk of negative affects in general life and mental health related issues is increased greatly when frequent and heavy cannabis use begins in early adolescents.

Cannabis and your mental health

On rare occasions some people have reported that after smoking too much cannabis they have experienced a psychotic episode (hallucinations and deluded thoughts). These symptoms are rare in relation to cannabis use. However cannabis can make psychotic symptoms worse if a person already has a psychotic disorder (such as schizophrenia). Some reports suggest that cannabis can cause schizophrenia.

Evidence does support the findings that if a person has a pre-disposition to psychotic disorders then the use of cannabis can trigger this. There is no evidence to support that cannabis causes schizophrenia in a person who has no pre-disposition or family history. For those that do, it is recommended that cannabis be avoided.

Understanding the links between cannabis use and other more common mental health disorders (such as depression and anxiety) can be unclear. The use of cannabis can help to relieve the symptoms of depression while the drug is still affecting the person (being high), however when these effects wear off the onset of the depression can worsen.

Those who use cannabis have been shown to have higher levels of depression and depressive symptoms than those who do not use cannabis. There is suggested evidence to say that frequent heavy cannabis use can predict depression later in life, especially in young women.

The use of cannabis has reportedly lead to symptoms of panic (anxiety) in the short term, although there is very little evidence to suggest that cannabis use leads to longterm anxiety disorders. The symptoms of panic (and associated paranoia) can and usually do subside when cannabis is no longer used.

Cannabis related harm to young people

One major concern about cannabis use is its possible effects on young people.

Research shows that the earlier people start using drugs, the more likely they are to go on to experiment with other drugs. In addition, when young people start using cannabis regularly, they often lose interest and are not motivated at school. The effects of cannabis can interfere with learning by impairing thinking, reading comprehension, and verbal and mathematical skills. Research shows that students do not remember what they have learned when they are “high”. Cannabis can be quite addictive when used frequently and can lead to a daily habit. This has a huge effect on relationships, can cause financial stress and can be a hard habit to kick.

What happens when you stop using cannabis?

Some of the symptoms of withdrawal from frequent cannabis use are:

  • Insomnia (at first having trouble getting to sleep)
  • Some people experience some anxiety and restlessness
  • Irritability (may stay around for up to a couple of months)
  • Mood swings (some anger outbursts)
  • Mild depression (especially if cannabis was used to elevate these symptoms)
  • Nightmares (vivid dreams tend to begin once the insomnia subsides, these dreams can occur for weeks after use has stopped, they will slow down and normal dreaming will begin again, for some people within a few days)
  • Headaches, nausea and diarrhoea can be common

It is quite natural to experience cravings (this can sometimes be associated with nicotine withdrawal as well). It is recommended that relapse prevention strategies be put in place to help with these cravings. Your local drug and alcohol agency worker can help with these.

Cannabis and pregnancy

Women who smoke cannabis often do so with tobacco, and therefore pose all the risks also associated with tobacco use.

The active ingredient of cannabis (THC) does cross the placenta and is stored in the amniotic fluid that the baby lives in prior to birth. Cannabis use during pregnancy has been known to be associated with low birth weight, early on-set labour and respiratory problems in the child at birth which can lead to long-term complications and infections.

Try to reduce your use, any reduction of use can lessen the effects on the baby throughout the pregnancy and after birth.

Reduce the risks and harms of cannabis use

  • Reduce your use, even if you use cannabis every day, skip a round or two
  • Avoid cannabis if you have a psychiatric disorder
  • Avoid driving as cannabis can impair your reaction times and concentration on the road, which can be dangerous, even fatal
  • Know your limits, everyone is different in the way cannabis affects them, their ability to function and their relationships
  • Talk to a drug and alcohol counsellor
  • Try eating cannabis (in cakes or cookies) rather than smoking it, this will reduce all the respiratory infections that come with inhaling

Cannabis and the law

It is illegal to use, possess, grow or sell cannabis in Australia. The penalties for cannabis offences are different in each state and territory. In Victoria a police officer may give someone a caution and offer them the opportunity to attend a cannabis education program if they are caught with no more than 50 grams of cannabis. Like NSW, only two cautions are allowed to be given to the one person. In other states cannabis has been decriminalised, however nowhere is it legalised.

Also check the related topics:  

Cannabis Grog and Other Drugs

Factsheet provided by Youth Projects


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