There is a well-documented link between cannabis and the onset of psychosis in vulnerable individuals. Typically, guidelines recommend that people with a history of mental illness, either individually or in their family, should avoid cannabis at all costs. Approximately 1 in 5 Canadians and Americans experience a mental health condition each year, and approximately 1 in 33 Canadians will experience psychosis in their lifetime, with similar numbers in the States.
There is little consensus on the specifics of the complicated relationship between cannabis and mental health, although the association between cannabis use and mental illness is well-documented. Some experts staunchly insist that cannabis causes mental illness, while others believe the data reflects the fact that people with a predisposition to mental illness are more likely to be attracted to cannabis.
But what almost everyone can agree on is that people with a personal or familial history of mental illness, in particular, psychosis, should take action to reduce harm if they do choose to consume cannabis.
There are many choices that can reduce potential mental health risks of cannabis consumption.
What are the mental health risks of cannabis?
The main mental health risk of cannabis consumption is developing psychosis, the experience of losing contact with reality. The symptoms vary among individuals, but may include unusual thoughts, seeing or hearing things that are not there, and paranoid or delusional beliefs.
While THC can cause paranoia in people without mental illnesses, the evidence suggests that those who develop full-blown psychotic illness in response to cannabis use were likely predisposed to it in the first place.
There is also some evidence suggesting that people who have mental health vulnerabilities may be more likely to try cannabis, rather than cannabis causing their mental illness.
Depression and heavy use of cannabis are also associated, but similarly, it is unclear if the association is causal, or if shared factors may increase the likelihood of both cannabis consumption and depression.
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