Medicinal Cannabis: CBD, THC and Mental Health
Though I am a huge advocate for the benefits of both CBD and THC based on personal experiences, last year I decided to study a Cannabis and Mental Health Course so I could deepen my understanding of cannabis products and make sure that I had an awareness of exactly how they influenced mental health. As someone that has battled anxiety amongst a range of other mental health issues throughout their life, the course gave me incredible insight, while also validating some of the thoughts I had towards the impact of cannabis on mental health.
Throughout this handy guide I’ll talk you through everything I learnt, including the main links between CBD, THC and mental health plus the benefits and potential risks of using these products. I’ll also offer up some of my favourite products. Keep reading to find out more! If you’re after a quicker read, you can find an infographic explaining How Medicinal Cannabis Impacts Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) plus the potential risks and benefits of cannabis products at the bottom of this article.
Note: this article is for informative purposes only and should not be viewed as medical advice. Please consult your GP if you want to discuss the options discussed in this article safely as I am NOT a medical professional and this piece is simply my opinion and collection of evidence.
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What’s The Difference Between CBD and THC?
Cannabidiol or CBD is one of the active natural compounds found in the Hemp plant (cannabis sativa). It is one of many cannabinoids found in cannabis. It is non-psychoactive, so it won’t get you high, but has been found to have numerous medicinal benefits. It can be used on its own or alongside THC.
Tetrahydrocannabinol, more commonly known as THC, is the main active compound found in cannabis plants and is the one that gets you high, but it can also have an anxiolytic (anxiety minimising) effect, especially when paired with CBD.
How Do CBD and THC Impact Mental Health?
CBD works to help anxiety, panic and stress by targeting the limbic system in the brain, which is responsible for your fear and stress responses. When CBD targets your limbic system, it helps reduce the misfiring of your fight or flight system, a common occurrence when it comes to anxiety.
In our brains, we also have something called an endocannabinoid system. When CB1 receptors in this system are activated with CBD, we see additional benefits like enhanced fear-extinction, which means a decline in fear-responses to a conditioned, non-threatening stimulus — such as irrational worries about everyday activities AKA anxiety.
Though research has already shown us that CBD can have an anxiolytic-like effect in animals, more recent research has confirmed that this theory also applies to humans. In a 2019 study, researchers found that 300-600mg of CBD significantly reduced symptoms of anxiety in 57 men, compared to those who had a placebo. More evidence keeps coming forward that CBD is beneficial to mental health — especially when it comes to episodes of anxiety, depression and psychosis.
Psychiatric conditions that research has shown CBD to help include: generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, social anxiety, stress disorders and OCD. CBD has also been shown to help depression, as research shows that CBD and THC can have antidepressant-like effects in animal models.
Further to this, studies have found that the most effective use of cannabis to benefit mental health is that with high levels of CBD and low levels of THC, as low levels of THC can have anxiolytic-like effects, so keeping an eye out for strains or oils that contain this is a handy tip. Another thing you can do if using high-THC products is pair them with high-CBD products to help boost the medicinal effect.
CBD, THC and BPD
Trust me when I say I don’t tend to carry out these kinds of studies in my spare time, but just speaking from my own experiences, both CBD and THC significantly benefit my mental health, specifically the daily management of my Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
To describe it to you the best I can, living with BPD feels like being an exposed nerve in the world, like I’m missing some sort of thick skin that helps neurotypical people to regulate their emotions. It’s everything, or nothing, all of the time, leaving me with extreme highs and lows throughout my day. It is full throttle emotions constantly. It is feeling everything deeply.
The impact that I have found CBD and THC products have on the nervous system is one of the only things I have found that helps to rebalance my mood, calming and balancing those extreme swings. These products soothe and dull daily anxiety and panic that used to leave me feeling restless and uncomfortable constantly. Now, if I feel that restless energy creeping up, I can instantly soothe those physical sensations and racing, intrusive thoughts with a choice of CBD and THC products. I absolutely swear by them. I’ve never been happier.
Potential Risks of Using Cannabis Products and How To Minimise Them
Studies have shown that high levels of THC can induce episodes of panic, paranoia and increased anxiety and a lot of people still associate this feeling with cannabis. Though there are ways around these anxieties, simply put, THC is just not right for everyone! CBD however has no psychoactive effects on the user, and so is suitable for nearly anyone, with very few reported risks.
Studies suggest that CBD actually works to reverse the anxiety-inducing effects of high levels of THC. Medicinal cannabis allows you access to strains with high levels of CBD and low levels of THC, the ideal blend to feel mental health benefits. Studies have found low levels of THC to have anxiolytic effects, especially with the combined use of CBD. If you’re using high-THC cannabis products, consider using high-CBD products alongside to combat any of these potential mental risks.
While we’re on the topic of risks, I also wholeheartedly believe that cannabis use is not for children. Yes, that includes 16 and 17 year olds. Of course that’s easy to say now that I’m older, but I smoked a hell of a lot when I was 16/17 — while my brain was still developing — and I can’t say I think it had the greatest impact on my mental health.
As mentioned above, adult brains are full of CBD receptors that are activated by CBD and THC, causing anxiolytic-like and antidepressant-like effects. However in a child, THC actually binds to these receptors as the brain develops, blocking them from soaking up vital endorphins that link directly to low mood and anxiety. This is also why we link psychotic disorders — like schizophrenia and schizo-affective disorder — with young cannabis use, as there is further research suggesting a link between the two.
Obviously, teenagers are probably gonna get their hands on some weed and try it at some point, but consistent, regular use could be a potential problem and, in my opinion, something we should reconsider our attitude towards. Why are kids self-medicating with cannabis? What are they trying to escape? How can children become educated on cannabis when discussing it is considered taboo? More education is what we need, not more punishment.
Important Note: I just want to mention here that while access to medicinal cannabis is a great development for Western countries in which it was previously inaccessible, it is important to understand the racist history of marijuana-related sentences against people of colour (POC). Developments in our current access to medicinal cannabis are great for the present and future, but do little to fix this not-so-ancient history.
If there are still people that need to have their sentences overturned for cannabis-related crimes, should governments be able to rake in profit for the same thing? Do your research, understand the problematic history of cannabis before blindly accessing the benefits, and do what you can to help combat it.
Are CBD and THC Products Right For Me?
As CBD has no psychoactive effects, it will not get you high. It is purely medicinal and safe, so it is potentially suitable for anyone looking to combat symptoms of poor mental health or mental illnesses like anxiety (with some exceptions).
Whether or not THC products are right for you is more nuanced. It’s great for some and maybe not so much for others. If you want to give it a try but are worried about the potential anxiety or paranoia, I recommend that you:
- Do your own research (or studies) in relation to actual cannabis effects and stigma
- Start with a low dose and going from there
- Pair with a strong CBD oil or supplement
- Consider an appointment with a UK medicinal cannabis clinic — a good option if you are wary of staying within the lines of the law, want to gain access to high CBD and low THC products, or get actual medical advice on cannabis products and mental health.
If you use this advice but still find that THC products are causing any unwanted side effects then it might not be for you! At this point I would discontinue use.
Can I Get Medicinal Cannabis in the UK?
Though medicinal cannabis products have been legal to prescribe in the UK since November 2018, these CBD and THC products are not easily accessed through the NHS, especially not for mental health conditions. Due to their high cost, there are only exceptional circumstances that the NHS will prescribe medicinal cannabis products in the UK.
If you want to ensure you’re following legal precautions with your cannabis products, there are numerous UK cannabis clinics with medical professionals that will triage and assess you based on your condition (mental health options usually include anxiety disorders and depression, amongst others) and prescribe you cannabis products completely legally.
If you don’t think THC is for you, you could simply find a great CBD brand to utilise, and leave the weed alone, as you do not need a prescription (or a dealer) for CBD. You just need to make sure you do some research and opt for a reliable brand. One point to note is that CBD can take a while to build up in your system before you start to feel the benefits, so don’t expect CBD alone to work as a quick-fix.
Having said that, there are some great products out there that I would recommend building into your daily life to help with anxiety amongst other things. Two great UK-based CBD brands that I use are:
- LoveHemp for oils and jellies. (I add their tincture oil to my morning coffee, plus use their delicious jelly sweets and mouth spray for boosts throughout the day.)
- CBDoMore for a range of CBD supplement tablets with different benefits. (I take one of their REST tablets in the morning along with my other medication. So simple and handy!)
Cannabis Vs Alcohol
As most people know, I gave up booze a few months back. Since then, I have been amazed by the perspective I’ve gained. I’m not going to go on about this too much here, but I do want to say that if you were to line up the benefits and potential risks of cannabis use alongside those of alcohol use I can guarantee which would be more problematic. If you actually consider how we as a society treat a legal poison like alcohol versus how we treat an ‘illegal’ medicine like cannabis, the taboo and stigma become even more clear. Keep this in mind when mulling over your judgement.