Should Marijuana Be Used To Treat Psych Disorders?

By Kelly Burch 11/04/19

Researchers examined 83 studies to determine if there is any evidence that MMJ can be beneficial for those with psychiatric disorders.

person using medical marijuana to treat a psych disorder

A new review of 83 studies concluded that there is "scarce evidence” that marijuana and other cannabis products are beneficial for psychiatric distress including post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. 

The study was published in The Lancet Psychiatry.

“We considered all studies examining any type and formulation of a medicinal cannabinoid in adults for treating depression, anxiety, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Tourette syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, or psychosis, either as the primary condition or secondary to other medical conditions,” the study authors explained. 

What The Evidence Says

They found that in the studies, which covered more than 3,500 patients, those who used marijuana did not experience relief from their psychiatric symptoms. 

“There is scarce evidence to suggest that cannabinoids improve depressive disorders and symptoms, anxiety disorders, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, Tourette syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, or psychosis,” the study authors wrote. “There is very low quality evidence that pharmaceutical THC (with or without CBD) leads to a small improvement in symptoms of anxiety among individuals with other medical conditions.”

This should cause providers and patients to use caution when it comes to cannabis products to treat mental illness. 

“There remains insufficient evidence to provide guidance on the use of cannabinoids for treating mental disorders within a regulatory framework. Further high-quality studies directly examining the effect of cannabinoids on treating mental disorders are needed,” the study authors concluded. 

There's Big Money In Touting MMJ To Treat Psych Disorders

In an editorial that accompanied the study, Yale medical professor Dr. Deepak D’Souza explained that doctors and patients should recognize that there are commercial interests at play in portraying cannabis as a treatment for psychiatric disorders. 

“There is growing public interest in the use of cannabis and its principal constituent cannabinoids, [THC] and cannabidiol, for a plethora of conditions, including psychiatric disorders,” he wrote. “In parallel, there is considerable commercial interest in touting these products as treatments for various disorders. As a result, health practitioners need to be well informed about this topic.”

Reports about the benefits of cannabis should be considered scientifically, not just for how they play out in the news, he said. 

“Although the potential therapeutic use of cannabinoids receives substantial coverage in the media, more scientific information is needed about this topic that is based on careful systematic reviews or meta-analyses,” he said. “Although there have been a few reviews of existing evidence have been published none has considered all the available evidence, the potential differential effects of different cannabinoids, and the safety of these compounds in mental disorders.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.