Taming the Mind: Can Marijuana Be Used to Treat Mental Disorders? 

The full extent of the relationship between cannabis and mental disorders is only beginning to be understood. While there may be a significant amount of anecdotal evidence, studies are still in the fledgling stages due to political factors and a long-standing reluctance to legalise cannabis products.

But anecdotal evidence could be sufficient to demonstrate the benefits of marijuana in treating mental disorders. Anecdotal reports have already indicated that cannabis can help treat anxiety, depression, agitation, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), insomnia, seizures, and bipolar disorders.

What Part of Cannabis is of Therapeutic Value? 

Herbal cannabis contains 483 unique compounds. Not all of them are psychoactive. THC is largely responsible for the psychoactive element in cannabis. But increasingly, studies are showing that it is a non-psychoactive compound, cannabidiol (CBD) that is of therapeutic value.

Depending on the condition, either the THC compound or CBD can be effective in treatment. For example, a liquid form of CBD is currently undergoing testing as an effective form of seizure medication. On the other hand, cannabis products with high THC content have been used to treat chronic pain and nausea.

What Evidence Do We Have?

Given the recent legalisation of cannabis product and emergence of a legal cannabis dispensary market, there is little research pointing to the benefits of cannabis for treating mental disorders.

However, we have plenty of anecdotal evidence. Speaking to Psychology Today, Dr. Jeremy Spiegel described a case study of a patient suffering from severe depression and suicidal thoughts. She had spent years trying different medications and forms of therapy, however, nothing helped improve her state of mind (many of the medications came with severe mental and physical side effects as well).

Finally, after some years, she began using medicinal marijuana. Dr. Spiegel acknowledges that she still struggles with her condition, but her mental state and outlook are significantly improved.

The medical field is awash with case studies similar to the one Dr. Spiegel describes. There are also some empirical studies that have yielded preliminary results.

Researchers at University College London published findings that may indicate why marijuana is an effective treatment for PTSD. They showed 48 test subjects a red box, and every time the subjects saw the box, they received a small electric shock.

After several times of being shocked, the subject began to develop a mild fear of the red box, even when it came without the shock. They began to associate it with the shock in much the same way Pavlov’s dog associated the bell with food.

The researchers then attempted to remove the fear, a process known in psychology as “extinction”. They found that when subjects used marijuana as part of a treatment, they were able to undo the fear associated with the red box far more readily.

The ramifications for this study could be significant in the treatment of a number of mental conditions and disorders, including addition and PTSD.

Tests are still underway investigating the use as cannabis, CBD and THC in treating dementia, Schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorders, amongst others. As the findings come back, it should be science and empirical evidence that dictate the use of cannabis in medicine, not politics.


Initial studies are showing a positive link between cannabis and the treatment of mental disorders. But we have only seen the tip of the iceberg. As laws become more relaxed and more studies are carried out, there will no doubt be ground-breaking studies in the field that could drastically alter the way psychologists, doctors, and psychotherapists treat mental disorders.