I have been known to attempt to self-medicate my problems away. I have done ever since I was able to find someone old enough to hit the liquor store for me and I discovered that smoking pot helped me forget my problems. Now, before you shut down this article because that sentence put booze and marijuana in the same category, hear me out: when it comes to mental health, self-medicating with marijuana and alcohol are comparable.
I’ve watched depression at its worse, whether it be in family members, friends, or myself. Clinical depression; bipolar disorder; anxiety, PTSD, and chronic pain leading to depression … the list is endless. I’ve seen strong people hide their troubles behind glazed eyes many, many times.
I come from a province that appears to drown its winter blues with alcohol then celebrate the arrival of summer with more booze; I always come back from visiting my hometown of Edmonton with a hangover that lasts a week. In Vancouver, I see us smoking our brains out to the point where pot starts to do the opposite of what it could do to help depression. Those grey skies, though … at least we aren’t contemplating slitting our wrists when we have smoked ourselves into oblivion; easier to stare at Netflix looping through shows we don’t care about.
Is this really helping us? We keep calling it medicine, so why do we treat it like alcohol in the way many of us consume? The parallels are there.
Alcohol as Medicine
Some time between 10 000 and 8000 BCE, we now have learned, neolithic humans may have actually cultivated grains solely to make booze. The Hebrew text Proverbs (of Solomon) included using alcohol as a cure for depression (Proverbs 31:6-7). Later on, as the Roman Empire fell the ruling class gave their people wine to placate them, which the people gladly took to deal with their stresses. Life on earth has never been easy, and it seems we have self-medicated for a very, very long time.
But scientific research has taught us much since then. We know that alcohol, when used irresponsibly, can tear people apart. Should we say the same about cannabis? There are times when it is a resounding yes when it comes to mental health.
Too Much of a Good Thing
We know that our dried flowers are not physically addictive, but I have seen enough people jones for that pot fix. And around nine percent of users find themselves with a dependency. We shouldn’t ignore psychological addiction; waiting till tomorrow to get more weed is not a pleasant option for some. I’m not just talking about people with a truly genuine need for marijuana to counter side-effects of treatments and medications, or that use cannabis to treat conditions under the helpful eye of their doctors. I’m talking about people like me who smoke even small amounts, without talking to their doctors or anyone else, to deal with mental health — in my case, anxiety. I’ve been the one jonesing. It’s not pretty.
Moderate use of cannabis has been shown to help with mild depression and anxiety. But when that depression turns full blown, it keeps people there. I know that no one likes to point out the negative side effects of marijuana, but they do exist. When one is depressed its reputation of keeping us on that couch with life-sucking apathy holds true. If I am being honest, the whole reason I am writing this is because I feel it’s doing this to me right now. The research here started as me looking for ways to get out of this depressed state. I’ve read pretty frequently online from reputable sources that pot is a depressant; I’m not wrong in thinking so.
Ninety percent of the time, marijuana is the game changer I need to deal with my anxiety without any adverse side effects. But when my anxiety goes deeper? The nasty feelings fester.
This is when self-medicating becomes troublesome: When it starts masking the problem instead of being the solution. Like with alcohol and other drug dependence, you are always chasing that euphoric feeling. I think it is human nature to escape on occasion, even. I don’t think most people would begrudge someone a night of blowing off steam in light of some bad news, even if it isn’t the healthiest choice. But after a few days, if you aren’t shaking it off perhaps it’s time to move on from intoxication and take more positive steps to bring yourself out of the slump. If you can’t bear that, then possibly you might need professional help.
Another factor to consider is people getting their hands on the proper strains, which is incredibly difficult to educate yourself about if you don’t run in the right circles. Dispensaries riding in the grey areas of the law are usually helpful, but are widely unregulated. And like any medication, what is right for one may not be right for another. For example, Watermelon is my favorite day time strain, but I love me some Pink Kush for bedtime. That said, not every bag I’ve ended up with has been on par with others and it’s not always consistent.
If your brain is not computing properly, it might not be the best time to self-medicate too heavily.
I realize much of this has come across as pessimistic and anti-pot; it isn’t meant to be. It’s meant to be a reminder that what may be working for a time might not always be the right thing when your health takes a turn. Your health is more important than cannabis’s reputation. If you have real issues with your mental health, self-medicating with marijuana will not make them go away — particularly depression, especially if it’s heading into acute territory. Mental health crises can destroy relationships and well-being.
It’s important sometimes to talk to a doctor, not light another joint.