Medical cannabis may help treat mental health problems and opioid addiction

Using marijuana could help some alcoholics and people addicted to opioids kick their habits, a UBC study has found.

"Research suggests that people may be using cannabis as an exit drug to reduce the use of substances that are potentially more harmful, such as opioid pain medication," says the study's lead investigator Zach Walsh, an associate professor of psychology at UBC's Okanagan campus.

This comprehensive systematic review of research on the medical cannabis use and mental health also found some evidence that cannabis may help with symptoms of depression, PTSD and social anxiety. However, the review concluded that cannabis use might not be recommended for conditions such as bipolar disorder and psychosis.

"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," says Walsh.

Walsh and his team systematically 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 reports to date on the effects of medical cannabis on mental health.

With legalization of marijuana possible as early as next year in Canada, its important to identify ways to help mental health professional move beyond stigma to better understand the risk and benefits of cannabis is increasingly important, adds Walsh.

"There is not currently a lot of clear guidance on how mental health professionals can best work with people who are using cannabis for medical purposes," says Walsh. "With the end of prohibition, telling people to simply stop using may no longer be as feasible an option. Knowing how to consider cannabis in the treatment equation will become a necessity."


University of British Columbia Okanagan campus


  1. Philip Olson Philip Olson United States says:

    I have used morphine for chronic pain since 2006.  I use it concurrently with an oil extractive of marijuana, this almost completely negates the rebound back pain often associated with opiates.  I was told it was the marijuana the prevented a tolerance build up as well.
    This was incorrect, I am one of the ten percent that can take opiates with out craving more or building a tolerance.  I take the same 7.5 mg daily now as I did in 2006 and receive the same effect.
    There is another ten percent of the population that becomes addicted almost immediately.  In the small group counselling sessions it became obvious two members were addicted, one died from opiate complications, the other was hospitalized until the withdrawal was no longer life threatening.
    Taking out those two addicts and my intolerance the balance of the pain clinic members had varying degrees of success.  Dosages went up, some faster, some slower, but other than myself all had dosage increases.  Other than the two addicted members the increases in dosage remained within the safe range.  The third that used marijuana had fewer problems than the two thirds that did not.
    A single blanket law is not going to change the biological effects on humans.  Politicians need to butt out and let the doctors handle this on individual patient needs.

  2. Lj Jean Lj Jean United States says:

    As someone who has been in recovery for over 20 years I can see a great deal of harm coming from your irresponsible statements that cannabis is less harmful than other drugs of abuse!  This is particularly true with regard to the youth that are addicted to alcohol or opioids.  It is well documented that cannabis is devastating to the brain of persons younger than 25.  I have seen the fMRIs of those brains. Making broad statements on the use of cannabis for those with the disease of addiction is insulting and dangerous.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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