Cannabis and mental health
The latest controversy surrounding cannabis, a widely used recreational herb has involved much media coverage generating debate and discussion in the scientific community, the medical profession and the public. Public perception is such that the downgrading of cannabis to Class C renders it a soft option in comparison to the dangers associated with the harder narcotics such as heroin or crack cocaine. Systematic or prolonged exposure to cannabis is associated with heart disease, lung cancer, bronchitis and emphysema, all serious physical health problems. There is a risk that heavy use can lead to loss of memory or a lack of motivation. A decline in libido and fertility is also possible.
There are also a number of observational references to the onset of paranoid psychosis and schizophrenia although a clear, established causal link is yet to be shown. However, many patients with psychosis often smoke cannabis to alleviate their symptoms. Other medicinal or health benefits of cannabis is as an effective analgesic in the relief of chronic pain often experienced with serious, debilitating diseases such as cancer, multiple sclerosis (MS) and AIDS. In parts of the world where cannabis is legal, it is the whole herb that is used for a range of medicinal applications. Many of the benefits observed appear to directly contradict what is scientifically researched and recorded in terms of active constituents, toxicity issues and side- effects. Without doubt, a call for establishing a clear, diagnostic rationale that justifies the medicinal uses of this herb should be supported by proper and thorough investigations that conform to academic protocol and research that has withstood scientific rigour.
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Mental Health Practice journal is a Royal College of Nursing publication