The good, the bad, and the ugly with weed and mental illness.
I Feel Like a Guinea Pig
I’ve been living with mental illness my entire adult life. During that time, I’ve seen dozens of doctors, clinicians, therapists, and psychiatrists. I’ve also ingested an extensive menu of prescription medications, in an effort to quell the never-ending chaos in my mind.
In varying dosages and combinations, I’ve experimented with Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) like Paxil and Zoloft, Serotonin Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs) like Effexor, and atypical antidepressants like Wellbutrin and Trazadone. I have also been prescribed antianxiety drugs like Xanax, mood stabilizers like Lithium, and antipsychotics like Zyprexa.
I have to report that, to date, I’ve yet to find any substantial relief from my extreme ailments by popping all these pills. In fact, many times, my symptoms worsen or I experience intolerable side effects like constant nausea, emotional numbness, diminished libido, and increased suicidal thoughts and depression.
I typically give prescriptions several months to work with my system before deciding they’re not providing enough relief to justify taking them. On two occasions, I experienced promising results and stuck with those particular medications for over a year. Unfortunately, even in those cases, my unique ailments came back stronger in the end.
Self-Medicating With Marijuana
In the past, I always returned to a controversial form of self-medicating. This is the form of medication that has (so far) provided the most comfort, improvement in life quality, and control of my symptoms. I’m referring to marijuana.
I am not advocating for the use of marijuana to treat anxiety disorders. In my opinion, it would be the wrong decision in most cases. I have to admit, it helped me through some tough times, but not without risks or creating problems of its own. It’s a taboo subject and if you use medical marijuana to treat anxiety, you’re probably going to have people cast judgment and look down their noses at you. Perhaps they’ll be right.
When you tell someone you smoke weed for medicinal purposes, it garners the same reaction a man gets when he claims to buy Playboy for the articles. I think it’s a safe bet, that when most people hear the word marijuana, images of Cheech and Chong, tie-dye t-shirts, Grateful Dead concerts, and lazy teenagers fill their minds. The point is you’re going to face judgment, which might add to your anxiety.
In addition, if you obtain marijuana illegally, you’re creating even more potential for additional stress and anxiety. Getting arrested and going to court to face criminal charges will never be soothing experiences. I could induce a panic attack right now, just by closing my eyes and imagining such a foreboding process.
In most places, it’s currently illegal unless you have a medical card and a prescription. Obtaining these can be difficult, and you’re likely to suffer scrutiny before approval… rightfully so. Too many people who want to get high and don’t have a legitimate need are applying for these cards.
At the same time, people who do have a genuine need, end up abusing their scripts and creating a new problem for themselves. Examples like these perpetuate stigma and give those who are firmly against medical marijuana plenty of reasonable ammunition for their cause.
Medicine Shouldn’t be “Fun”
You’re certain to have issues if, like me, you enjoy the sensation of being stoned. I believe the best candidates for medical marijuana, are people who don’t like it. Any time your party favor of choice and your prescription medication are one in the same, it’s going to be next to impossible to prevent going from use to abuse.
It’s easy to let the one or two hits you might need in the morning, turn into a private mini-party, where you end up smoking half a joint by yourself. It’s far too easy to lie to yourself and justify why you need an extra couple hits today… every day. I have to be honest; I’ve fallen into those traps myself.
At times like that, you’re no longer medicating… you’re a pothead, and you’re abusing drugs. You’ll lie to yourself and others with great conviction, but on some level, you’ll feel the truth. I did. It’s an ugly feeling, and again, you’re increasing your problems instead of reducing them.
Why I Used Marijuana
I live with Social Anxiety Disorder, Agoraphobia, Chronic PTSD, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I’m a survivor of physical, emotional, verbal, and sexual abuse. I also suffered years of social isolation, the death of half my family, being orphaned and homeless as a teenager, and two decades of suicidal tendencies.
I’m prone to severe panic attacks, blackouts, self-harm, self-starvation, insomnia and extreme dissociation. During the times in my life, when I use pot for medicinal purposes, it consistently eliminates my insomnia, does wonders for my appetite, and reduces my panic attacks in, both, frequency and intensity. Attacks that would otherwise escalate into traumatic events and possible blackouts become minor inconveniences that I can easily endure.
It’s also noteworthy, that I very rarely engage in self-harming behavior when I use marijuana. Using this substance helped me leave my house on a limited basis, when agoraphobia had me homebound, and it seemed to give me a little more control over my OCD too.
The calming effect of the drug allows me to think clearly when my mind is swarming with erratic thoughts, and I have never experienced any obvious negative effects on a short-term basis. It’s for those reasons I have continuously gone back to self-medicating with marijuana.
I will always acknowledge that it kept me alive during some desperate times, and allowed me to function on days I would have otherwise stayed in bed… afraid of the world. For me, nothing else has proven so beneficial, but I am definitely concerned with possible ramifications from long-term use, and I’m convinced I can find better quality of life through other avenues.
Why I Stopped Using Marijuana
I dream of a day when most of my symptoms are unnoticeable, and the more stubborn ones are easy to manage. I need medication to achieve that state, I’m sure of it. Marijuana simply isn’t good enough, and will likely become counterproductive in the long run.
In my opinion and experience, there are obvious benefits and minimal side effects from short-term medicinal marijuana use in a case like mine. However, there is also strong evidence to suggest, that prolonged use of this drug could complicate your problems and potentially amplify the very symptoms that were initially relieved.
Should You Treat Anxiety With Marijuana?
If you honestly think marijuana will improve the quality of your life, and you want to explore it as part of your treatment for anxiety or other psychological disorders… approach with extreme caution.
Apply for the medical card, and if you’re denied more than once, you probably shouldn’t have one, and you should open your mind to other possibilities. Getting weed on the street is risky both legally and medically. There are so many different strains of Cannabinoids and concentrations of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), you’re flipping a proverbial coin when it comes to the effects you’ll experience.
One strain might help you relax, but the next batch you get could have the opposite effect, making you paranoid and even more anxious. That’s no way to treat any condition.
Imagine if your doctor gave you Paxil today, Lithium tomorrow, and Effexor the day after that. What if he prescribed five milligrams this week, then ten milligrams next week, and then two milligrams the week after that? Would you see this as a healthy way to treat your illness? It’s something to think about when you’re buying weed on the street. There’s no control over exactly what you’re getting.
If you do acquire a medical card and receive a prescription for medicinal marijuana to treat an anxiety disorder, make sure you’re strict about using the prescribed amount at the proper intervals. If you find yourself lying to your family, friends, or doctors about your usage, or you feel a need to supplement your prescription by obtaining additional marijuana on the side… you have a problem.
I firmly believe that many psychological disorders can be treated effectively without any medication at all by implementing forms of talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), meditation, or other learnable coping skills and relaxation techniques.
Some people, however, will need medication, at least temporarily, to aid in their treatment plan, and others still, like me, could possibly require medication for the rest of their lives. Smoking weed has undeniably helped me endure living with mental illness, but I think it would be a poor choice for lifelong treatment.
Research is slow, partly because of the stigma associated with this drug. I don’t think there’s enough solid information available right now for anyone to be adamantly for, or against, the use of marijuana to treat mental illness. I don’t think anyone should generalize either way, labeling it “good,” or “bad.”
I think we have to continue studying the positive and negative aspects with an open mind, on a case-by-case basis, because there are so many variables involved. As for myself, I’m once again exploring other avenues of medication. It’s a frustrating process, but giving up is not an option for me, and I remain confident that I’ll eventually find the right medicine to make my recovery more progressive than my illness.
Photo credit: Flickr / PabloEvans