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Cannabis Helps Treat Depression, Social Anxiety, PTSD and Possibly Substance Abuse, Study Finds

A new research review finds that cannabis is beneficial for several mental health conditions and for helping in the recovery of those addicted to alcohol and other serious drugs.

Marijuana is beneficial for the treatment of symptoms associated with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and social anxiety, according to a new study published in Clinical Psychology Review. Researchers from the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus came to the conclusion after examining the results of 31 studies that had looked into marijuana’s effects on mental health conditions and addiction.

“This is a substance that has potential use for mental health,” Zach Walsh, associate professor of psychology at UBC and lead researcher, told Time. “We should be looking at it in the same way [as other drugs] and be holding it up to the same standard.”

Earlier studies have also shown cannabis to be therapeutically beneficial for PTSD, depression and anxiety. Cannabidiol (CBD), a major cannabinoid found in both marijuana and hemp, has shown to have antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects in both human and animal trials. Cannabis has also shown to block the continuous retrieval of a traumatic event and subsequently reduce the stress and anxiety that commonly plagues those suffering from PTSD.

Walsh’s comprehensive review also found evidence that cannabis helps those addicted to alcohol and opioids kick their habits by serving as an “exit drug.” Cannabis, which doesn’t have the physical addictive components that opiates do, can help road to addiction recovery by lowering the severity of withdrawals. With the help of marijuana, addicts are able to gradually reduce their use of alcohol or opioids.

“We are really excited about the potential substitution effect,” said Walsh. “If people use cannabis as a replacement for opioid medications, or to get off of opioids or cut back, we could see some pretty dramatic public health benefits. The level of opioid overdoses is so high right now.”

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The abuse of opioids, medications commonly prescribed by physicians for managing acute and chronic pain, takes the life of 44 Americans everyday, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Prescription opioid pain medications, like Vicodin, Codeine and Oxycontin, are effective for reducing pain but carry a high risk for abuse and addiction. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that alcohol use disorder affected 16.3 million adults aged 18 and older an estimated 679,000 adolescents between the age of 12 and 17 in 2014.

Evidence indicating that cannabis can help treat addiction has also been found in previous studies. CBD has shown to reduce the risk of an addict relapsing after a period of abstinence. Marijuana’s psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has shown to suppress the dependence on painkiller medications. Most recently, addicts undergoing an 8-week treatment period were found to have a better chance of succeeding if they regularly smoked marijuana.

Medical marijuana is currently legal in 28 U.S. states. Eighteen of those states have approved medical marijuana for the treatment of PTSD. None have approved it specifically for anxiety, addiction or depression, but several states do allow medicinal cannabis to be approved for any condition a physician recommends.

“I think people will derive more benefit if they can speak more openly with providers about whether they are using cannabis and why,” said Walsh.

You can read Walsh’s review, “Medical cannabis and mental health: A guided systematic review” here. Learn more about the studies showing cannabis’ array of medical benefits by visiting our Overview of Medical Marijuana Research page.