Can Medical Marijuana Aid Recovery From Alcoholism and Drug Addiction?
A new study from UBC suggests that marijuana, long feared by some as a “gateway” to drug abuse generally, may be able to act as a gateway in the other direction: it could have a medical use in helping people recover from alcoholism and opioid addiction. But more research is needed.
“Research suggests that people may be using cannabis as an exit drug to reduce use of substances that are potentially more harmful, such as opioid pain medication,” said the study’s lead investigator Zach Walsh, associate professor of psychology at UBC’s Okanagan campus, in a news release issued on November 16.
Walsh and his colleagues conducted a comprehensive review of research on medical cannabis use and mental health. That review provided some evidence that cannabis may help with symptoms of depression, PTSD and social anxiety.
But the media release noted that cannabis use might not be recommended for conditions such as bipolar disorder and psychosis. Some of the research studied has found a link between cannabis abuse and bipolar disorder. In one abstract of a case report titled “Cannabis-induced Bipolar Disorder with Psychotic Features,” it is noted that “Clinicians agree that cannabis use can cause acute adverse mental effects that mimic psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Although there is good evidence to support this, the connections are complex and not fully understood.” The Introduction to the case study states, ” The role of cannabis in psychiatric illnesses has been an area of interest. Epidemiological studies have shown that as the frequency of cannabis abuse increases, so does the risk for a psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia.”
The UBC news release continues:
“In reviewing the limited evidence on medical cannabis, it appears that patients and others who have advocated for cannabis as a tool for harm reduction and mental health have some valid points,” said Walsh.
Walsh and his team reviewed all studies of medical cannabis and mental health, as well as reviews on non-medical cannabis use—making the review one of the most comprehensive on the topic to date.
With legalization of marijuana possible as early as next year in Canada, it’s important to identify ways to help mental health professionals move beyond stigma to better understand the risk and benefits of cannabis, added Walsh.
“There is currently not a lot of clear guidance on how mental health professionals can best work with people who are using cannabis for medical purposes,” said Walsh. “With the end of prohibition, telling people to simply stop using may no longer be as feasible an option, so knowing how to consider cannabis in the treatment equation will become a necessity.”
The study was recently published in the journal Clinical Psychology Review. Here is an excerpt from the publicly-available abstract, stressing the need for more and better research:
“Results reflect the prominence of mental health conditions among the reasons for CTP (Cannabis for Therapeutic Purposes) use, and the relative dearth of high-quality evidence related to CTP in this context, thereby highlighting the need for further research into the harms and benefits of medical cannabis relative to other therapeutic options. (Emphasis added –Editor.) Preliminary evidence suggests that CTP may have potential for the treatment of PTSD, and as a substitute for problematic use of other substances. Extrapolation from reviews of non-therapeutic cannabis use suggests that the use of CTP may be problematic among individuals with psychotic disorders. The clinical implications of CTP use among individuals with mood disorders are unclear.”
Walsh’s research was conducted with UBC’s Michelle Thiessen, Kim Crosby and Chris Carroll, Raul Gonzalez from Florida State University, and Marcel Bonn-Miller from the National Centre for PTSD and Center for Innovation and Implementation in California.