Marijuana: A Supporter of Mental Health?

According to a recent study from the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands, marijuana can alter the brain’s response to negative images and emotions, possibly providing a key to natural depression treatment.

Researchers tested a group of men who were “regular” marijuana smokers. They were men who had taken marijuana four times or more in the past year, but not more than once each week. In other words, they were casual smokers, likely similar to the vast majority of marijuana users.

Some of the participants were given tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) while others were given a placebo. Then, they were asked to mimic pictures of facial expressions showing fearful or happy faces. The men who had THC in their bloodstream were able to quickly mimic the happy faces, but had difficulty matching fearful faces with any accuracy.

Then, MRI brain scans were used to verify the beneficial effects of THC on the cerebral, emotion-processing areas of the brain.

“THC administration reduces the negative bias in emotional processing,” said the researchers. “This adds human evidence to support the hypothesis that the endocannabinoid system is involved in the modulation of emotional processing.”

The researchers suggest that marijuana is able to block the bias towards negative emotions, and that because this bias is strong in people suffering from depression, it could indicate marijuana as a viable treatment for the mood disorder.

Obviously, the study has its limitations—mimicking facial expressions hardly provides proof positive. But, it is a step in the right direction.

Keep in mind, these marijuana users were not heavy users of the substance; they did not use it every single day, but instead could be considered moderate users of pot.

Studies showing the potential “damaging” effects of marijuana have also been presented, including one in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology that said teens who use marijuana are more prone to developing schizophrenia. But this study had serious shortcomings. It was done on mice who received very high doses of marijuana compounds for a period of 20 consecutive days, far more than the average pot user. Also, researchers indicated their findings were especially true among people already predisposed to develop schizophrenia.

For every mediocre study indicating ill effects of marijuana use, there are several well-crafted studies to the contrary. And for every single person who has had a negative experience, there are likely hundreds who had a positive or benign marijuana experience. In other words, the good far outweighs the possible bad. Too bad the same can’t be said for the already-legal alcoholic beverages and highly processed foods.

Check out some other research showcasing the marijuana and Alzheimer’s relationship, and how marijuana and cancer are also connected.

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