Marijuana Makes it Worse, Revisited

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Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

There is a perception out there that Marijuana is a harmless drug that can be used liesurely and without worry about side effects. The E. Mail below says other wise as well as some recent research.

This is a recently received E. Mail sent to me from a mother who has a son with Bipolar Disorder and a marijuana smoker.


“Dear Dr. Schwartz,

I recently found your article dated November 1, 2008.  I have a son diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder who regularly uses marijuana. I used to believe that the marijuana eased his symptoms, but I now believe that it has made his situation worse. He has been hospitalized at least 6-7 times in the past year and a half, including a 30 day hospitalization in a dual treatment center. The past five years or so with him has been an emotional roller coaster. He has been banned from one mental health facility because of his abusive treatment of the staff. I believe you pegged it when you say that the marijuana contributes toward an endless cycle of relapses.”

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The original article can be found at this URL:

More recent research lends increasing credibility to the assertions, made by many mental health experts, that the long term effects of marijuana are not known and that there is a lot that is still not known about this drug.

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For example, recent studies completed in places such as Australia and Canada, reveal the fact that daily use of marijuana by teenagers who continue to use into their adulthood, alters the structure and chemistry of their brains. Daily usage was defined as smoking five or more joints each day. One study clearly showed that this amount of cannabis usage lowered the amount of the neurotransmitter in the brain called serotonin. Decreased amounts of serotonin cause such problems as increased vulnerability to stress and depression.

Another study showed that daily usage of cannabis actually decreased the size of the Hippocampus. This is an important part of the brain the regulates emotions and memory. A reduced Hippocampus has a negative effect on memory, the ability to verbalize and regulate emotions.

Those who protest that none of this is true based on their own experiences with cannabis overlook the fact that, while the immediate reaction to the drug is to feel good, the negative results take time to develop. In other words, there appear to be long range dangers associated with daily marijuana usage.

It is important to remember that marijuana is being legalized as a prescription medication in many states. However, those who insist on the notion that this is a harmless substance that can be helpful, seem to fail to take into consideration the fact that marijuana used as a prescription has many of its useless properties removed. This substance, when purchased illegally, is unregulated. This means that there is wide variability with regard to its purity and strength when purchased from illegal providers.

We know that cannabis can have hallucinogenic effects and can be the catalyst for a psychotic reaction in those with the physical potential for a psychotic illness. The same can be said for depression. This is not meant to imply that marijuana causes mental illnesses but that it can hasten its appearance in those with that type of vulnerability.

A Final Note:

I want to emphasize two main ideas that I happen to believe:

1. In my opinion, marijuana should be legalized and its manufacture regulated so that consumers get only the best quality product. This would take the drug out of the hands of criminals and better protect the health of the public.

2. Taking this stance against marijuana does not mean that, ipso facto, alcohol is safe. In my view, they are both dangerous drugs that should be handled with care.

3. The public must begin to understand that, just like all drugs, marijuana is not a benign substance that can be used without caution.

The E. Mail cited by the worried mother above, really says it all.  Marijuana can and does worsen symptoms in the mentally ill and can alter ones memory and ability to regulate their emotions, as a result of daily and long term use.

As always, your opinions and experiences are welcome.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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