Studies Linking Cannabis and Mental Health Issues Are Alarming
One of our responsibilities as a behavioral health consulting firm is to look at study data and its relationship to how we can help our clients provide better services. To that end, we have been analyzing data that might establish a link between excessive cannabis use and mental health. The data is alarming.
Several recently published studies show a measurable link between cannabis use disorder (CUD) and a number of mental illnesses, including schizophrenia. Not surprising is the fact that the data points to greater risks among younger people and males under the age of 30.
With cannabis becoming socially normalized in recent years, could we be headed for a mental health disaster 10 or 20 years from now? Unfortunately, this is the fear as for now, the study data offers serious cause for concern.
CUD and Schizophrenia
One of the studies was conducted by Danish researchers in concert with the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The study included data from some 7 million adult men and women followed in Denmark over the course of multiple decades. This was by no means a small-scale study.
Among the study’s findings was a strong and alarming link between CUD and schizophrenia in young men between the ages of 21 and 30. Data from the study seems to indicate that upwards of 20% of all schizophrenia cases in that particular demographic “might be prevented by averting CUD.”
It is important to note that the study considered data collected from 1972 to 2021. So not only was it a large-scale study looking at millions of subjects, but it also covered a span of 40 years. The significance of this study should not be dismissed.
Cannabis and Teenagers
The behavioral health community has long suspected a link between teenage cannabis use and future psychiatric disorders. Yet another recent study provides evidence as such. Researchers from Columbia University and two other New York institutions conducted a cross-sectional study of more than 68,000 teenagers in the hopes of understanding how cannabis consumption affected their mental health.
Forming a basis for their study was a growing misunderstanding among teenagers that cannabis is not harmful. However, previous studies have demonstrated that teenagers with CUD are at greater risk of developing mental health issues. Did the Columbia University study reach the same conclusion? Not quite.
Based on their data, researchers say that teen cannabis users are more likely to experience adverse psychosocial events as a result. But interestingly, teenagers do not have to be diagnosed with CUD to be exposed to greater risk. The researchers found that teens demonstrating non-disordered cannabis was four times more common than CUD-diagnosed teenagers. Yet both groups showed a similar higher risk of adverse psychosocial effects.
A Genuine Medical Concern
Unfortunately, the issue of medical and recreational cannabis use has been framed in politics for the last 20 years. We have debated the issue on the grounds of personal freedom. In the meantime, we have neglected to thoroughly vet cannabis as a potential medical hazard.
A growing body of evidence demonstrates a genuine medical concern. If the evidence we have to date proves accurate decades from now, America could very well be facing a serious mental health crisis unlike anything we have ever experienced. Perhaps it is time to get serious about the science behind cannabis’ effect on the human brain.
In our role as a behavioral health consulting firm, we are hearing more questions than answers about cannabis’ link to mental health problems. What we need now are concrete answers. The evidence we currently have does not paint a very good picture, so we need those answers sooner rather than later.
Let’s Get to Work, Together
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