California was the first state to legalize marijuana for medical purposes in 1996, having come a long way since marijuana was placed as a Schedule 1 drug in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Since then, there have been many debates surrounding the medical benefits of marijuana.

While many states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, the FDA has only approved the use of medical marijuana for two rare forms of epilepsy, Dravet syndrome and Lennox Gastaut syndrome. With regards to mental health, some states have approved medical marijuana in the treatment of PTSD. While research into medical marijuana and its effect on PTSD is underdeveloped, clinical trials and anecdotal evidence from PTSD sufferers demonstrate the positive impact of the drug on their symptoms. This may be due to the fact that cannabis can reduce activity in the amygdala, the brains “fight or flight” center. There is also some evidence that demonstrates the plant’s cannabinoids could play a role in extinguishing traumatic memories.

Advocates for the drug claim it has therapeutic benefits for a variety of mental health conditions, including insomnia, depression, anxiety, stress, and schizophrenia. An internet search on the topic will lead you to believe that medical marijuana is a “cure all”; a natural remedy that has endless benefits. However, when you take a closer look at the information available, one thing becomes clear: there is just not enough research to draw any substantial conclusions regarding the benefit of medical marijuana for mental health. 

Research on medical marijuana extremely limited in the United States. This is due to the fact that it is still not legal on a federal level. From 1968 until now, researchers have only been allowed to use cannabis from one source for research, a facility at the University of Mississippi. However, as of May of 2021, the DEA stated its plan approve more growers, which will allow for more widespread research to be conducted.

Until then, here’s what we know when it comes to marijuana as it pertains to mental health. The main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, THC, stimulates the part of your brain that responds to pleasure. This results in production of the dopamine, a neurotransmitter that results in relaxation and euphoria. Subjective experiences and limited research indicate marijuana may have a positive effect on anxiety and insomnia. However, not everyone’s experience with marijuana is the same. Some users experience increased anxiety, fear, panic, or paranoia. Using marijuana also has the potential to increase the likelihood of clinical depression, or worsen the symptoms of any mental health challenges you already have.

Due to the above risks and lack of evidence of the benefits, self-medicating with marijuana to manage your mental health symptoms is not advisible. However, whatever you chose to do, the most important thing is to talk openly with your doctor, psychiatrist, and/or therapist about your usage and how it impacts your mental health. If you believe medical marijuana to be of benefit for your mental health, ideally it would be prescribed and regulated by a doctor. Due to current laws in the state in which you reside, this may not be an option. In the meantime in addition to being honest with your providers, be sure to explore alternative techniques to manage your symptoms, including mindfulness, psychiatric medications, meditation, herbs/supplements, and exercise.

- Alexandria Baxter, LMSW

Stress is defined as a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances. Stress is an unavoidable, normal bodily reaction to the challenges of daily life. Stress is a sign that you are alive; that you are pushing yourself and have care and concern for the people and situations that surround you.

Stress becomes a problem when the amount and severity of stress exceeds your capacity to cope. Some signs that stress may be taking a negative toll on your body and mind include exhaustion, chest pain, headaches, muscle tension, excessive worry, panic attacks, hopelessness, feeling overwhelmed, irritability, sadness, or engaging excessively in unhealthy behaviors (i.e. drinking/drug use, shopping, overeating, sex, or gambling).

Stress in unavoidable. However, consistent practice of healthy coping skills can reduce the detrimental impact stress can have on your overall well-being. Here are five 5-minute stress busters; 5 simple things you can do in 5 minutes or less to reduce the negative impact of stress in your life.

1. Jump!

Engage in 4 sets of jumping jacks for 45 seconds on, and 15 seconds of rest. Intense cardiovascular exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) while increasing the feel-good endorphins (dopamine and serotonin). Exercise also forces you to be fully engrossed the present moment, giving your mind a welcome reprieve from your current worries.

2. Breathe.

The breathing method known as the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique has been scientifically proven to regulate cortisol, which controls your body’s fight or flight response. Find a comfortable position, and set a timer for five minutes. If you can, close your eyes. Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 7 seconds, and exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds. By doing so, you are teaching your body to counteract the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system that occurs during stressful situations, which will help you to feel calmer and more at ease.

3. Write.

Writing is extremely therapeutic. Writing down the often big, scary, and chaotic thoughts that accompany stress can result in these thoughts becoming more tangible and less frightening than they were when they only existed in your head. Once you can see the problem more clearly, the solution doesn’t seem so daunting and out of reach. Try writing try a stream of consciousness style of writing, in which you write what is causing you stress for 4 minutes. Next, reread your writing and sort out what you can versus what you cannot control of the what you have written down. Recommit to doing your best towards what is within your control, and crumple up the paper to symbolize letting go of the worries that are out of your control.

4. Be Mindful.

Mindfulness is defined as engaging in a set of practices that anchor you to the present moment. Most stress results not only from the events themselves, but the negative projections into the future about how overbearing or overwhelming the stressor will be once we experience it. Being mindful to stay in the present moment can help you to slow down and clear away unnecessary, self-induced stress. Many of our worries never actually come to fruition. Take five minutes to pay attention to the sights, smells, sounds, touches, and tastes that surround. Repeat the positive affirmation “You are where your feet are” in an effort to remind you that you don’t have to be ten steps ahead of yourself; all you need to be is right here, and right now. 

5. Laugh!

Many of us are guilty of taking ourselves far too seriously. Luckily, we live an era where we have endless entertainment at our fingertips, so why not take advantage of it? Type in your internet search engine, “Funniest animal videos”, “funniest TV bloopers” or “funniest stand-up comedy clips,” and give yourself 5 minutes to watch and laugh. Laughing helps to relieve your body’s stress response, relieve tension by relaxing your muscles, enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart and lungs, and increases endorphin production. It’s no wonder that they say laughter is the best medicine. 

Stress can be crippling, but it doesn’t have to be.

Take preventative measures to manage your stress with these helpful techniques, and you will be able to cope effectively with whatever life throws your way. If you need help managing stress give our office a call, we'd love to help you start living a life you can enjoy!

– Alexandria (Alex) Fairchild, LMSW

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