Cannabis & Mental Health

What Is Cannabis?

Also known as marijuana, Cannabis is a psychoactive drug, derived from the cannabis plant. Other names of Cannabis include Cannabis indica, Cannabis Sativa and Cannabis ruderalis. Some call it marijuana, weed, Mary Jane or pot. In fact, there are literally hundreds of names for cannabis.

Cannabis is consumed for its calming and relaxing effects . In fact, it is medically prescribed to help with some conditions such as poor appetite, glaucoma and chronic pain. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the primary psychoactive ingredient of cannabis. THC goes from your lungs, into your brain, when you smoke cannabis.

When you take marijuana, you feel the psychoactive effects that lead to heightened mood, change in perception and increased appetite. Physical effects usually manifest within 30-60 minutes, and last up to six hours.

Long term effects of taking cannabis include cannabis addiction, individuals who started as teenagers and behavioral problems in children, whose mothers used cannabis, during pregnancy.

Smoking is the most popular way of using cannabis. Ways to smoke cannabis include in a water pipe or bong, rolled into a cigarette, in the form of sticky resins, and in a hollowed-out cigar.

What Is Cannabis?
 Affect Mental Health?

What Is THC and How Does it Affect Mental Health?

THC is the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. It produces the “stoned” or “high” feeling you experience, under the influence of cannabis. The chemical composition of THC is similar to cannabinoid (CBD). CBD combats the effects of THC.

However, THC is also available in edibles, oils, capsules, tinctures and more. Tetrahydrocannabinol mimics the effect of cannabinoid chemicals, which are naturally produced in the body.

Several studies show that marijuana increases the risk of psychiatric disorders such as substance use disorders, depression, psychosis and anxiety. The strongest evidence is present in those with a preexisting genetic condition. Recent research found that people who use marijuana, carry a variant of the AKT1 gene. A second study revealed that individuals who used cannabis daily, had a higher risk of psychosis.

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The concentration of THC on the Streets

Reports in the media show that nearly all Cannabis seized by UK police, is a high-strength skunk. Neil Woods, the chairman of LEAP UK and former undercover cop fighting drug abuse on UK streets explains that high levels of THC result from cannabis in the hands of organized crime.

Cannabis is a controlled class B drug in the UK. Which means it’s illegal, to produce or sell. Data from the Home Office show that cannabis is the most used illegal drug in the UK.

UK researchers analyzed samples of cannabis seized, between 2015-2016. They found that 93.6% of all cannabis was sinsemilla (skunk). Skunk is bred with high levels of THC. 5.8%, contains resin and 0.9% were traditional herbal cannabis.

The BBC reports that addiction to cannabis is rising, among individuals aged over 40 years. In the past decade, the number of women citing cannabis use as their sole concern, increase from 471 to 1008. Addiction lecturer at York University, Ian Hamilton posits that as long as cannabis is cheap, it will cause problems in the UK.

Concentration of THC on the Streets
Cannabis’s Benefits & Risks for the Mental Health

Cannabis’s Benefits & Risks for the Mental Health

Benefits of cannabis include
  • Treatment of glaucoma
  • Decreases symptoms of Dravet’s Syndrome
  • Reverse the carcinogenic effects of tobacco and improve lung health
  • Regulates body weight and eating patterns
  • Control epileptic seizures
  • Alleviates anxiety disorders
  • Prevents cancer from spreading
  • Fights cancer
  • Pain relief
  • Regulates seizures
  • Relieves discomfort from arthritis
  • Helps broken bones heal faster
  • Improves metabolism
  • Improve lung health
Mental health risks of taking cannabis
  • Problems with attention,coordination and memory
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Disrupted appetite
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Acute mental impairment that leads to auto accidents
  • Individuals with a family history of mental health issues are at risk of bipolar disorder and psychosis.
  • Cannabis dependence
  • Risk of overdose, when combined with other psychoactive substances
  • Insomnia

Cannabis & Anxiety

As a quick-fix, marijuana temporarily relieves symptoms of anxiety. This option sounds exciting, if you’ve struggled to manage anxiety disorder for years. The danger is mostly in self-medicating with cannabis, because of the immediate relief, from an uncomfortable symptom.

The problem with this logic is the lack of exhaustive research on the efficacy of marijuana, to cure medical conditions or its long-term consequences.

Dr Peter Roy-Bryne stated that higher rates of marijuana use in individuals with anxiety and mood disorders, result from self-medication. Research showed most cannabis users displayed more severe symptoms and lower rates of remissions. Some studies went further to show links of symptom improvement, after individuals stopped using marijuana.

Cannabis & Anxiety
Cannabis & Depression

Cannabis & Depression

There is research that posits cannabis may treat depression effectively. The study found that endocannabinoids, a chemical compound in the brain, link to the feelings of overall wellbeing. Endocannabinoids activates the same receptors as THC. The researchers concluded that cannabis could alleviate symptoms of depression, by restoring normal endocannabinoid function.

Conversely, many scientists argue the drawbacks far outweigh the positives. Amotivatonal syndrome is a situation, where chronic marijuana users become socially withdrawn, apathetic, and perform below normal levels.

Smoking cannabis increases the risk to the respiratory system, because it is ’ not filtered like tobacco. Instead of helping, evidence points to an increased risk for depression and other mental health problems.

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Cannabis & Suicidal Ideation

A study published in the Cambridge Core concluded that there is a strong association between cannabis use and suicide. They showed evidence of 600 suicides from undetermined causes. In each case, cannabis use was associated with a risk of suicide. To what extent remains unclear, due to the lack of empirical evidence.

In an Australian study of twins, scientists found an association between cannabis use and suicidal intent in a cannabis-using twin (7,805 dizygotic and 6181 monozygotic twins). The study suggested that marijuana use is causally linked to suicidal thoughts or behaviors, and depression.

Research published in November 2018 suggests that psychological distress is stronger for women than men. The area of brain cannabis acts on, develops differently in females. The study analyzed data from 43,466 individuals. They found that recreational users tended to report suicidal thoughts, major depressive episodes, and psychological distress.

Cannabis & Suicidal Ideation
Cannabis Addiction & Eating Disorders

Cannabis Addiction & Eating Disorders

Eating disorders describe an illness characterized by severe distress, with bodyweight or shape and irregular eating habits. The NHS describes an eating disorder, as when you have an unhealthy attitude to food.

The most common form of eating disorders includes Binge Eating Disorder, Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. Symptoms that don’t match the above mentioned, are categorized under Other Specific Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED).


Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder, where you have an obsessive fear of gaining weight and an unrealistic perception of body image. People with anorexia have a skewed perception of weight, thinking they are overweight, when they are underweight. Health conditions include heart difficulties, multi-organ failure and brain damage.

There are diverging views on the relationship between Cannabis and anorexia. One school of thought suggests that medical cannabis could treat anorexia. Sadly, there is little proof of whether cannabis could treat anorexia.

However, anecdotal evidence suggests the natural production of CBD in the body, combined with cannabis, could influence appetite for someone with anorexia. A 2011 Belgian study explains that underlying imbalances and dysfunctional regulation, within the endocannabinoid system, are prominent among individuals with eating disorders. A cannabinoid derived treatment, could correct endocannabinoid deficiencies.


Bulimia shares features with anorexia. Individuals alternate between near-complete loss of self-control, over their eating habits and careful restriction of food intake. They forcefully purge themselves when they lose control, injuring their teeth and oesophagus. The ability to instill a sense of bodily control, while suppressing depressive feelings, can be rewarding.

The most documented effect of medical marijuana with bulimia, is the potential to increase appetite. While it would seem that cannabis ‘munchies’ mean more purging, it’s not the complete picture.

Medical marijuana could activate receptors in the insula and make you less likely to purge. The insula allows you to integrate sensory aspects of food, such as oral texture and taste. It also tells you when you’re hungry and responds to the reward associated with eating.

Cannabis might help with calming the manic desire to exercise obsessively, in spite of the body’s protest. Cannabis could help you sleep better, soothe depression and ease anxiety.

Binge Eating Disorder

Here, individuals lose control of their eating. The marked difference from bulimia is that episodes of binge-eating aren’t followed by excessive exercise, purging or fasting. People suffering from binge eating disorder tend to be obese, and at risk of other medical conditions. They struggle with distress, guilt and embarrassment, related to their binge-eatingbehaviors.

Many people experience an increased desire for food, when they use marijuana. Scientists are still trying to uncover why THC drives overeating. One study published in Nature Neuroscience found that chemicals in cannabis, may stimulate neurons that drive binge eating.

They posit that cannabis switches send a strong message of hunger, by switching the brain’s wiring even when you aren’t hungry. Another study posits chemicals in cannabis stimulate overeating. Usually, these neurons are turned on with cannabis use, and shut down hunger cues.

You’re more likely to overeat the more you smoke marijuana. It is important that you cease marijuana use, to reduce the risks associated with binge eating disorder such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease.

People who struggle with both an eating disorder and cannabis addiction, have a co-occurring disorder. All co-occurring disorders are dangerous, but the combination with an eating disorder increases the risk.

  • Your body is weaker and less healthy.
  • Cannabis use intensifies eating disorders, increasing the desire to engage in unhealthy eating behaviors
  • Cannabis abuse hides your eating disorder. You take marijuana and forget your harmful eating habits.

Seek professional help, to address a co-occurring disorder. Not getting treatment could worsen the problem and lead to anincreasing severity of the signs, symptoms and negative effects of the disorders.

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Does Cannabis Help Mental Health?

Some scientists conclude that THC,the active ingredient in medical cannabis, has a positive effect on mental health. The cannabis sativa plant has medicinal properties. In the short-term, it may be useful for treating depression and anxiety.

Cannabis induces the release of endorphins, to improve your mood. Another study suggests that cannabis sharpens cognitive abilities , and acts as a therapeutic treatment, to improve mental health.

Cannabis also has anti-seizure effect that helps patients deal with epilepsy. War veterans are sometimes prescribed medical marijuana, to deal with PTSD and relieve trauma,related to an unpleasant experience.

Can Cannabis Cause Mental Health Issues?

Cannabis is an illegal drug in the UK. It could have an adverse effect on your mental health. In its’ natural form, cannabis lifts mood and alleviates symptoms of mood disorders. However, most of the cannabis on the UK street is the highly potent skunkstrain.

Researchers have loosely established a link between cannabis use and the onset of schizophrenia or psychosis. The immediate effects are pleasant, but the unpleasant symptoms could last several weeks in your body.

Unpleasant effects of cannabis abuse on mental health include hallucinations, anxiety attacks and depersonalization. Pleasant effects include the feeling of “highness”, happiness and relaxation. While cannabis use relieves symptoms of mood disorders temporarily, the long-term effects are more damaging.

How Does Cannabis Affect Your Mental Health?

The effect of cannabis on mental health issues such as anxiety, eating disorders, mood disorders, dementia and schizophrenia, depends on your mental state, genetics, length of use and many other factors. Mild use of cannabis relieves anxiety and mood disorders. Chronic abuse can be problematic, as it leads to memory loss and cognitive issues.

If you have bipolar disorder, cannabis might affect your thinking and memory. Marijuana also worsens manic symptoms, according to a 2015 review. People with schizophrenia or psychosis are more prone to abuse cannabis. Extended use could worsen hallucinations and deluded thinking. Cannabis abuse also increases the risk of schizophrenia, with correlations found with dose amounts and duration of use.

Is Cannabis Used in Mental Health Treatment?

Researchers conducted a review of treatment effects of cannabinoids and cannabis on Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder among others.

They used a small population with targeted psychiatric conditions, to prove that CBD and Dronabinol (a synthetic cannabinoid) reduce anxiety levels. However, the study was very small and the result was limited in generalizability. At the moment the research is inconclusive in this area.

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