The Mental Toll of Cannabis Use

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I’ve written about this before: when you use cannabis to manage your mental health, the long-term risks far outweigh the short-term benefits. There is research linking cannabis use to schizophrenia in teens, as well as hallucinations, paranoia and other psychotic symptoms in people with a history of mental illness.

New research also shows that some people are genetically predisposed to psychotic-like experiences when using cannabis.

This study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, was conducted across a sample of sibling pairs. This included 758 pairs of identical twins, 780 pairs of fraternal twins and 195 same-sex sibling pairs no more than two years apart in age. Of all the sets of siblings, one was a heavy cannabis user and one used cannabis less frequently.

The twin who used cannabis more frequently was “more likely to report psychotic-like experiences” than the twin who used cannabis less often. Even between non-twins, this finding was consistent.

Genetic factors accounted for 69.2% to 84.1% of the association between frequent, current, and dependent cannabis use and psychotic-like experiences. People from lower household incomes, young people, and people with lifetime alcohol and/or drug use were also associated with more frequent psychotic-like events.

Dr. Nicole Karcher, one of the authors of the study, called for more research, educational materials or guidelines for cannabis use in these vulnerable populations, we read in Med Page Today.

“Targeting or reducing cannabis use in individuals who are at risk might be a really important method of treatment,” Dr. Karcher said.

Dr. Karcher also said that heavy cannabis use releases dopamine in the brain. Dopamine dysfunction can lead to psychotic symptoms, so this could account for the abnormal association.

In the spirit of protecting vulnerable populations, ask yourself if any of these questions apply to you or someone you love.

  • Do you ever get high alone?
  • Do you choose or lose friends based on your marijuana usage?
  • Do you smoke marijuana to avoid dealing with your problems?
  • Has marijuana caused problems with memory, concentration, or motivation?
  • When your stash is nearly empty, do you feel anxious or worried about how to get more?
  • Have friends or relatives ever complained that your marijuana use is damaging your relationship with them?

If any of these scenarios are familiar to you, that can indicate a level of cannabis dependency that can be risky to maintain long-term. Contact me and let’s talk about what other options are available to you to maintain good mental health.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. If you would like to discuss the information in this blog further with her, please call 208-918-0958 or email her at She sees adolescents and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

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