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Alexandra Sifferlin

A new review suggests cannabis may help mental health disorders

Legal access to marijuana, medicinal or otherwise, is growing. In 2016, four states approved recreational use of the drug and four states passed laws related to medical-cannabis access, bringing the total number of states that allow some form of legal marijuana use to 28.

Scientists know that marijuana contains more than 100 compounds, called cannabinoids, that have biological effects on the body. Medically, cannabis can be prescribed for physical ailments like arthritis and cancer symptoms as well as mental health issues like PTSD, depression and anxiety. Still, the role marijuana can play in medicine remains murky. The dearth of research is in large part due to the fact that most studies have focused on illicit use of marijuana rather than its therapeutic potential, and because it’s classified as a schedule 1 drug, making it nearly impossible to study.

Looking for answers about marijuana’s potential mental health benefits, a team of researchers in Canada and the U.S. recently conducted a review of the science. In their report, published in the journal Clinical Psychology Review, researchers found evidence that cannabis can likely benefit people dealing with depression, social anxiety and PTSD, though it may not be ideal for people with bipolar disorder, for instance, for which there appears to be more negative side effects than positive ones. “This is a substance that has potential use for mental health,” says Zach Walsh, an associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia. “We should be looking at it in the same way [as other drugs] and be holding it up to the same standard.”

 

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