Cannabis: a safe treatment?

I recently met with Javier, a college sophomore, who sought help for his anxiety attacks. In a follow-up session that included his mom, he disagreed with her about how helpful marijuana may serve in treating his anxiety. Javier said that smoking weed is the best way to calm himself down. Mom worries about its safety, however. Javier disagrees. They ask for my thoughts.

Javier: Marijuana is a natural product and safe.

Me: We have plenty of natural products that are used safely as medicines…and can also are poisons. I’m thinking of lithium. Or warfarin/coumarin, which occurs in moldy hay, treats blood clots, but also is rat poison. Natural does not equal safe.

Javier: Weed is safer than alcohol!

Me: Both can cause damage to the brain of developing adults. Plenty of people use both alcohol and marijuana. Plus, the THC potency of marijuana has tripled in recent years.

Mom: I worry that marijuana causes mental illness, puts him at risk for schizophrenia.

Me: Data can be contradictory, but these two studies stand out. The Lancet journal (2007) indicated cannabis makes psychiatric illness worse rather than better. JAMA Psychiatry (2016) connected heavy cannabis and psychiatric illnesses.

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