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The Pandemic Has Caused a Surge in Cannabis Use for Mental Health

October 9, 2020 04:51 pm ET Estimated Read Time: 6 Minutes
The Pandemic Has Caused a Surge in Cannabis Use for Mental Health

COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, Coronavirus… whichever name you choose to refer to the pandemic, has recently held many countries captive to its contagiousness. The virus first appeared in China in December 2019 and has impacted the lives of countless people, whether due to the virus itself or due to the restrictions imposed by governments as a result. Many people have suffered at the hands of the COVID crisis, which includes experiencing compromised mental health. As such, it makes sense that a recent study found an increase in medical cannabis consumption in order to maintain sufficient mental health.

What is Mental Health and Its Importance?

Mental health can be defined as the condition of an individuals’ emotional, psychological, and social well-being. The state of our mental health can affect how we feel, think and act as well as how we handle stress, relations, and decision making… and when it is compromised, problems in those aspects begin to arise. Maintaining mental health is important for retaining quality of life and for avoiding the adverse effects of going through mental health issues. 

Mental health problems are very common. Just because one hasn’t been diagnosed, does not mean that you are immune or unable to be affected by mental health issues. This includes children. Many people hold the belief that mental health problems make one violent and unpredictable when the reality is that most of those individuals are no more likely to be violent and unpredictable than others- with the exception of more serious mental illnesses. 

Additionally, many others think that personality or character flaws and weaknesses cause one to have mental health issues but the truth is that mental health problems can be caused by biological factors, family history, and even life experiences, such as the COVID-19 crisis which has left many in despair.  

COVID-19 Effects on Mental Health

The virus has recently left its mark all over the world, not just on those that caught the virus but also on those who are struggling with fear, anxiety, and stress caused by the restricted nature of the pandemic. The restricted nature included social distancing, self-isolation as well as heavily controlled movements around the world. Such actions have caused many to feel alone, suffering from increased stress and anxiety, which can all have a very negative impact on mental health. 

Mental health can suffer under the pandemic, according to the CDC, due to: (1) fear and worry over one’s own health and the health of loved ones, (2) changes in everyday activities such as eating, sleeping, and social activities as well as (3) increased use of substances such as tobacco and alcohol. Additionally, COVID-19 has caused mental health problems, such as anxiety, due to fearing the unknown, remaining in isolation, panicking over resources and financial situations, being overwhelmed by information as well as having to indefinitely postpone social engagement and travel plans. 

It should be understood that every person responds differently to stressful situations such as that of the COVID crisis. How one responds is largely dependent on personality, background, environment, social support from friends and family, financial situation, health, and emotional background as well as many other factors such as the COVID-19 regulations employed by the authorities where one lives. 

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Research Shows a Surge in Cannabis Use

A recently published study done by Denise Vidolt, Jessica Islam and team, assessed the results of cannabis use during COVID-19. The study published in the Journal of Addictive Diseases illuminates how adults are coping with the stress of the pandemic by consuming cannabis.  

The study assessed 1202 medical cannabis users who have been treating chronic conditions through cannabis. The team wanted to find out how users have changed their cannabis consumption behaviors in light of the pandemic. The team made use of an internet-based questionnaire to ask their sample of adult cannabis consumers about their health conditions and cannabis use since the start of the pandemic. The study found that the majority (65%) have been consuming cannabis daily during COVID-19. Additionally, the study also found that the biggest increase in cannabis consumption was with those who struggle with mental health issues with a 91% average increase in cannabis use since the beginning of the COVID crisis. The researchers suggest that the increase in cannabis use for mental health issues during the pandemic is a result of all the stressors which accompanied it. However, the reliability of surveys is not as preferably concrete, which means there may be an issue of self-reporting bias from the respondents.

Cannabis for Mental Health During COVID-19

While there is conflicting evidence on the effects of cannabis on mental health conditions, one thing is for certain, the root of the mental health issues caused by the pandemic can be treated with cannabis- the root being stress and anxiety. This is thanks to the cannabis compounds known as cannabinoids and terpenes, both of which have varieties of compounds that offer up different benefits. For example, the cannabinoid called CBD is notorious for its medical benefits, including for alleviating anxiety, while the terpenes such as limonene and linalool offer up anti-anxiety properties and can even be aromatherapeutic. 

 A 2020 published study found evidence that cannabis can alleviate symptoms associated with mental health issues such as anxiety and irritability. The study found a 67% reduction in irritability and a 57% reduction in anxiety but that the reduction was only temporary. 

Another recently published study examined medical cannabis for psychiatric disorders and found that a cannabinoid called cannabidiol (CBD) is effective for reducing anxiety and stress, improving sleep, and alleviating PTSD symptoms but that the present scientific evidence is weak. Despite that, the researchers stated that “There is currently encouraging, albeit embryonic, evidence for medicinal cannabis in the treatment of a range of psychiatric disorders”. 

Personally, I would not have been able to maintain my mental health during South Africas’ harsh lockdown without cannabis. My country went as far as banning the sale of cigarettes and alcohol during, and that alone made anxiety increase in South Africa… not even mentioning the state of medical facilities, the number of infections, etc. 

Let us know what your COVID-19 mental health situation is like and whether you were able to find relief through cannabis in the comment section below!

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