Is MMJ Good for my Psychological Problems?
July 19, 2010 6:45 AM   Subscribe

Where can I find relatively unbiased information on medicinal use of marijuana, in particular in relation to mental disorders (list follows inside)?

I'd like to hear about what medicinal marijuana can do for Asperger's Syndrome (and Autism spectrum disorders in general, out of curiosity), depression, and bipolar disorders. Those conditions make me miserable, and while I can function on Effexor and Abilify, with an occasional Adderall to kick the brain fog, I find that I only "function." I don't work well enough that I can succeed in school (I'm on probation) and although I haven't recently held down a job, I doubt I'd be with it enough to work well there, either.

I currently live in a state where there is no MMJ program, and the upcoming one will not cover mental disorders, but my family is set to move within a year (I'm 21, and I live with my mom. I'm male, too, if that matters). If we end up in a state with MMJ, and I could qualify, I'd like to participate in it if it could help. My current psychiatrist has been great, but he doesn't take the idea of medicinal marijuana very seriously when I have discussed it with him (understandable, since it won't be in his toolbox anytime soon).

Can you please refer me to good studies and articles that take an unbiased slant on medicinal marijuana for the conditions I listed? After reading "Why I Give my Nine Year Old Pot", I've been curious about the possibility. I've smoked with friends recreationally, and I've considered even buying my own stash and paraphernalia as I enjoy it so much. I feel more clear-headed and sociable, and it clears up the sexual side effects of the Effexor (Yes, I told my psych about that). So I'm not a person who has a bad reaction. And this was with the herb college kids can get their hands on, rather than premium, named strain bud from a medical dispensary. The problem is that a lot of the information that I've come across has been from people who want to lobby either for or against legalization, so I don't feel that's so reliable.

And just to clarify: No, I don't think it's better because "It's natural" or "It's just a plant, not a chemical." I know marijuana is a collection of 50 or so cannabinoids, which are chemicals. But somehow that mechanism makes me feel normal and, dare I say it, able to be happy where SSRIs, mood stablizers and SNRIs have failed or stalled. I know it's a drug, every bit as potent as what I've been prescribed by my doctor, with the added concern of smoking byproducts (unless I get a vape).

Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Well, according to this article (MeMail me if you want a copy), there are quite a few anecdotal reports of marijuana being helpful in bipolar disorder, and it mentions that "two surveys of medicinal cannabis use in California, where this use is legalized, showed that 15–27% of patients were prescribed it for mood disorders, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, BAD and attention deficit disorder resistant to conventional pharmacotherapy."

I couldn't find anything about marijuana and ASD, sorry.
posted by greatgefilte at 7:11 AM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't think you're going to find what you're looking for. The sort of research that would be valuable to you just hasn't been done. There has been little to no good scientific research on medical marijuana for anything, let alone psychological problems as complex and poorly-understood as autism-spectrum disorders. Even what could be considered "objective" research on marijuana is frequently laden with organizational bias, like where the funding came from, or how the researchers were legally limited in their ability to design experiments.

If you know that marijuana is helpful for you, that knowledge is way more significant than anything else you might read. Frankly, even though we know next-to-nothing about medical marijuana and psychological disorders, we know scarcely more about the utility of prescription medications for those disorders over the long term. They all have side effects, and they all affect people differently. You're taking risks by taking any of them, prescription or illicit. You also may potentially benefit from any of them.

Even if you came across what you considered an "objective" body of research saying, "Medical marijuana is useless for this, so don't bother," or, "Medical marijuana works 10,000 times better for this than SSRIs!", it wouldn't change how that drug affects YOU. In the short term, it might be more helpful for you to find a psychiatrist who is open-minded and doesn't brush off the potential benefit it has for you, but who will still advise you as best he/she can.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 7:11 AM on July 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

There's already a type of "medicinal marijuana" that's FDA-approved called Marinol. It's for AIDS and cancer patients.

It's not what you're looking for, but you might be interested in reading about it. Someone close to me takes it for chemo-related nausea.

I never hear the medicinal marijuana folks talk about Marinol (as far as I can tell, I am not invested in that debate at all). Marinol doesn't get you high like smoking weed does.
posted by vincele at 7:30 AM on July 19, 2010

I can't help with the studies, but I would suggest that instead of smoking pot, you learn how to prepare it as food (think pot brownies). I would argue that eating it rather than smoking pot is a little easier on your lungs.

Also, the stuff college kids get is probably stronger and of better quality than medical marijuana.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:42 AM on July 19, 2010

A former bone cancer patient swore by the real thing since Marinol didn't do squat for him. But others swear by it. Like Overeducated alligator said, it's all about the patient.
posted by stormpooper at 7:42 AM on July 19, 2010

So, have you tried PubMed?

You could try searching on -- might not be anything that directly addresses it but there still might be something useful, and it'll at least focus the search on people who have a lot more access to actual studies. At one of the first hits on searching there, Dr. Lipson mentions the University of California's Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research. They probably know what's going on in that field, and if you contacted them they could probably help you find anything that may be out there.

Here's what Dr. Lipson had to say about the ABC autistic kid/pot story:
"There are no studies to support the use of cannabis to treat the symptoms of autism"

So those, at least, are probably not out there. Maybe they will be someday.
posted by galadriel at 7:47 AM on July 19, 2010

OP, I agree with everyone who has said that you're not going to find the research you're looking for. The federal government won't allow researchers to do many studies of the efficacy of marijuana, and they definitely don't let them do studies of the effects of different strains. If you have reason to believe that marijuana might be helpful for you, and you can find a safe source to get it, I think your best bet is to try it out for yourself. Try different strains, different doses, and different delivery mechanisms. For some people, some strains exacerbate depression and anxiety, but some people find relief from mental symptoms with certain types and doses of the drug. The only way to find out into which group you fall is to try it for yourself.

Marinol is not "medical marijuana." It's synthesized THC. As the OP rightly points out, marijuana contains dozens of different psychoactive substances, of which THC is only one. Marinol might be worth a try, but whether Marinol helps or not for any given patient will not tell us anything about whether marijuana would help.

(vincele, many medical marijuana advocates talk extensively about Marinol. But it's not a substitute for marijuana, both because it doesn't contain the same active ingredients and because many patients are looking to relieve nausea, spasms, and other symptoms that make swallowing pills difficult or impossible.)
posted by decathecting at 8:32 AM on July 19, 2010

I would argue that eating it rather than smoking pot is a little easier on your lungs.

Obligatory WARNING that eating marijuana (even when comparably weak marijuana has been used in the recipe) can get you very, very, very high (to the point of unconsciousness). Not a serious health threat but it can slap you around emotionally (BAD TRIP, even anecdotal visits to the psyche ward).

So be careful if you choose to eat and be aware that it takes as much as three hours for the full effect to be felt. The classic eating mistake is to eat a cookie, feel nothing, eat another cookie, still feel nothing, eat another cookie ... and so on. Eventually, you get hit by a slow motion bus.

As for smoking. Yes, all smoke is bad for your lungs. But comparing marijuana to cigarettes is sloppy. You simply do need to smoke even close to the same amount to achieve the desired effect. (ie: serious cigarette habit = 20-40 cigarettes per day --- serious marijuana habit = 1 to 5 cigarettes per day, depending on strength of weed, depth of habit).

Finally, it's been argued that smoking even one joint is worse for you than twenty cigarettes. THERE IS NO CREDIBLE SCIENCE TO BACK THIS UP.
posted by philip-random at 8:39 AM on July 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

I posed your questions to my "friend," an inveterate (some say addled) medical marijuana user who always begins with the disclaimer that cannabis--even if used for medicinal reasons, blah blah--is illegal in most parts of the US (and world) and should be obtained and consumed with caution.

First, marinol. My friend has dosed with this substance half a dozen times or more. The stronger, 10 mg pill leads to a heavy, aggressive body high that sets in about 45 hours after consumption, and takes 3 hours or so to dissipate. In other words, it's similar to ingested marijuana. Most medical users would probably dislike the heavy-handed buzz of marinol, and its lengthy half-life. Also, the stoney, blurry sensation of marinol differs from the multi-dimensional high of true cannabis, which can vary from cerebral to sleepy depending on different mixtures of cannabinols.

Second, smoking. As philip-randol confirms, there's no credible science showing that smoking joints entails cancer, heart disease, or any of the other syndromes that prey on tobacco smokers. That said, you can avoid inhaling nearly all cannabis carcinogens by consuming marijuana through a vape (vaporizer). Vapes come in all flavors and colors and prices, and can be purchased on the Internet. They also offer a cleaner, gentler, more relaxed high that works better for medicinal use.
posted by Gordion Knott at 9:08 AM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oops, that's "45 minutes after consumption."
posted by Gordion Knott at 9:15 AM on July 19, 2010

As for smoking. Yes, all smoke is bad for your lungs

Possibly, but last I read, smoking even huge amounts of it didn't increase your risk of lung cancer. Slight bump in head and neck cancer rates, but they're rare compared to lung cancer, so the relative risk is small. Feeling too lazy to pubmed that, though.

Pot is relatively safe. It's certainly safer than many (or even most) prescription drugs, and while there's little good medical research on it, it seems reasonable to experiment with in conjunction with traditional medicine. The biggest risk with "alternative" medicine is probably that people use it instead of going to the doctor and thus delay time-sensitive treatment.
posted by pjaust at 9:16 AM on July 19, 2010

Possibly, but last I read, smoking even huge amounts of it didn't increase your risk of lung cancer. Slight bump in head and neck cancer rates, but they're rare compared to lung cancer, so the relative risk is small. Feeling too lazy to pubmed that, though.

Cancer is not even the most significant effect of smoking on _tobacco smokers_. It's just the one people worry about instead of (almost universal in long term smokers) pedestrian cardiovascular issues.
posted by rr at 10:48 AM on July 19, 2010

I never hear the medicinal marijuana folks talk about Marinol (as far as I can tell, I am not invested in that debate at all). Marinol doesn't get you high like smoking weed does.

This is false. There are plenty of Marinol experiences here which are similar to marijuana use, and the warning sheet for the drug makes it quite clear that it does get you high ("you should know that dronabinol may make you drowsy and may cause changes in your mood, thinking, memory, judgment, or behavior, especially at the beginning of your treatment.") Like most drugs, it is possible to become acclimated to Marinol, but it's still 100% synthetic THC, and still gets you high.

overeducated_alligator and Gordion Knott have the best answer. This comes down to you and your own reaction to the drug, just as with SSRIs and other pharmaceuticals. It probably took time and experimentation for you and your doctor to settle on Effexor and Abilify -- it will be the same with medical marijuana. In order to find what works best for you, you'll need to experiment with different strains, doses, delivery methods, and even times of day.

If/when you decide to look into medical marijuana, ask here for advice on finding a psychiatrist who can help you integrate medical marijuana into your treatment plan. Yeah, yeah, I know the banner ads are funny, but that forum is full of people who know the ins-and-outs of applying for medical marijuana in your soon-to-be-state, including which doctors take medical marijuana seriously. It's vital to find a doctor who'll work with you on this, rather than brushing you off.
posted by vorfeed at 2:02 PM on July 19, 2010

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