If you’re among the 23% of adults with a mental health disorder who use marijuana, learn how the drug can worsen your symptoms.

Marijuana has been legalized for medicinal and recreational use in some states across America, more specifically:

  • Currently, 34 states legalized marijuana for medicinal use
  • Eight states and the District of Columbia legalized marijuana for both medicinal and recreational use

Common Co-Occurring  Mental Health Disorders and Marijuana

Mental Health and Marijuana Studies and Statistics

Similar to alcohol, some people think marijuana doesn’t cause potentially harmful effects because it’s legal. According to the Pew Research Center, 57% of adults in America support the legalization of marijuana and 69% of adults believe alcohol is more harmful than marijuana.

According to Mental Health America, approximately 23% of people with mental illnesses use marijuana compared to about 11% of people without mental illnesses. It’s difficult for researchers to determine if marijuana use caused the development of a mental health condition or if the condition was underlying. According to the American Psychiatric Association, marijuana use worsens the symptoms of existing psychosis.

Several studies researched the connection between marijuana use and the increased risk of mental health disorders. There are various factors like the amount of marijuana used, the age of the person upon first use and genetic vulnerability, that can determine the severity of the mental health disorder.

Relationship Between Mental Health and Marijuana

Does marijuana affect mental health? In short, yes, it can, but it depends on some different factors.

There is an increasing amount of evidence showing there are some very real concerns to be aware of when looking at marijuana and mental health, particularly in younger people, long-term users and people who have a predisposition for mental health disorders.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that marijuana can cause mental health problems, but it does mean that it could heighten some symptoms of mental health disorders.

If you’re someone with a genetic predisposition for mental health disorders, in particular, the ones below, it’s important to be cautious with the use of marijuana.

Marijuana Effects on Mental Health

Marijuana contains psychoactive chemicals, and anytime something is affecting your brain, even in the short-term, it can have lasting effects on mental health.

When someone uses cannabis, certain compounds bind to receptors in the brain. With marijuana, there’s a lot of variation in the makeup and potency of the drug, and since it’s illegal in most places, there’s very little regulation.

When someone smokes marijuana, it quickly enters their bloodstream and then crosses the blood-brain barrier, and the person feels high. The high from marijuana can range from feeling very relaxed to feeling panicked or highly anxious.

At higher amounts, the risk of having a negative experience is even higher, and people can have symptoms like paranoia and hallucinations.

However, it’s also important to keep in mind that marijuana can also be used to alleviate the symptoms of certain mental health conditions.

Factors Affecting Mental Health and Marijuana

When answering the question does marijuana affect mental health, there are a few individual factors to keep in mind because they can play a significant role. The first is the age someone started using marijuana. When adolescents or teens use marijuana, it impacts their brain significantly when neural connections are developing, as well as white matter.

Also important is how heavily you use marijuana, including how often, and how much, as well as the overall length of time you’ve used it in your life.

The more THC you’re exposed to over time, the more likely it is that the drug will play a role in how your emotions are regulated, which can mean marijuana affects your mental health.

It’s important to exercise caution when using any drug because it can change the chemical makeup of your brain in a way that may leave you more vulnerable to mental health issues.

Treating Marijuana Use and Comorbid Mental Health Disorders

If you or someone you know lives with a marijuana use disorder and a co-occurring mental health disorder, getting treatment for both disorders is the most effective option. At The Recovery Village, a team of professionals design an individualized treatment program to address substance use and co-occurring disorders. Call and speak with a representative to learn more about how treatment can work for you.

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Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more

Campolongo, P. “Perinatal exposure to delta-9-tetrahydro[…]ransmission in rats.” Addict Biol., June 18, 2007. Accessed May 14, 2019.

Mental Health America. “Risky Business: Marijuana Use.” Accessed May 14, 2019.

Motel, Seth. “6 Facts About Marijuana.” Pew Research Center, April 14, 2015. Accessed May 14, 2019.

DISA. “Map of Marijuana Legality by State.” Accessed May 15, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.