Barker: Cannabis can benefit mental health, should not be stigmatized

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(Graphic illustration by Trin Bonner)

Lindsay Barker, Cannabis Reporter

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

Cannabis has long held a negative stigma. People who smoke weed are thought of as lazy, unmotivated and always hungry — they can’t hold a conversation because they’re so zoned out. While this may be true for people who are unapologetically stoned, it’s not true for everyone who uses cannabis.

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“For things like depression, anxiety and PTSD, what we see is that for some people, (cannabis) seems to really help, and for other people, it makes it worse,” said Mark Prince, a Colorado State University psychology professor. “At this point, we can’t really predict who’s going to have a good, beneficial reaction and who’s going to have an adverse reaction.”

I have a hyperactive, anxiety-prone brain and a mood disorder, and consuming cannabis makes these things more tolerable. My buzzing brain slows to a hum, and my emotions don’t feel as overwhelming. It helps me organize my thoughts and actually focus on the task at hand. 

“Humans exhibit different responses to the same stimulus depending on the time and their own internal state.” -Joseph DiVerdi, Ph.D., CSU associate chemistry professor

In early American society, the production of hemp was encouraged. “In 1619, the Virginia Assembly passed legislation requiring every farmer to grow hemp” and even allowed it as legal tender in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland, according to PBS Frontline. In the late 1800s, cannabis was used in many medicinal remedies sold over the counter at pharmacies. It was a widely used and widely accepted form of medicine.

Cannabis started to be stigmatized in the early 1900s after the Mexican Revolution, when immigrants were traveling to the United States. Immigrants smoked “marihuana,” and the term became a weapon in Harry Anslinger’s vocabulary.

Anslinger was the Federal Bureau of Narcotics’ first commissioner. He essentially created the war on drugs, using racist and prejudiced stereotypes to spread propaganda and demonize people who consumed cannabis. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics was a precursor to the Drug Enforcement Agency and decided cannabis possession would hold the same legal consequences as possession of heroin or cocaine.

1960s and 1970s hippie counterculture also contributed to the stigma surrounding cannabis — specifically the lazy and unmotivated part. People thought lazy hippies smoked weed and not for a good reason.

Although, with cannabis medically legal in 37 states and recreationally legal in 18, it seems the stigma is slowly subsiding. A large push for federal legalization is also in the works with bipartisan support. Democrats introduced the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2020 to the House of Representatives, while Republican Representative Nancy Mace recently introduced the States Reform Act. Either bill would end federal cannabis prohibition.

Cannabis is steadily becoming reaccepted as a legitimate form of medicine.

“Overall, I think there’s definitely potential for cannabis to be used in a medical context, but at this point, we just don’t know,” Prince said.

Studies conducted by the Marijuana Investigations for Neuroscientific Discovery program, founded by Harvard-educated Staci Gruber, “have found that the patients who used cannabis to treat a range of medical problems, including anxiety, had largely improved cognitive performance, reduced clinical symptoms and anxiety-related symptoms as well as a reduced use of conventional medications, including opioids, benzodiazepines and other mood stabilizers and antidepressants.”

Although cannabis shouldn’t entirely replace psychiatric treatment, it can have beneficial effects when used as a supplement. It can also sometimes increase anxiety. Personally, I’ve found certain strains of cannabis ease my anxiety while others increase it. Cannabis can be beneficial to a person’s mental health in many ways but should always be considered on a case-by-case basis.

“Humans exhibit different responses to the same stimulus depending on the time and their own internal state,” said Joseph DiVerdi, a CSU associate chemistry professor.

DiVerdi teaches CHEM 442 on the chemistry of hemp and cannabis and said that on a molecular level, all types of cannabis are the same, although cannabis has many different strains that have many different scents.

“Humans are incredibly affected by fragrance; fragrance is very important,” DiVerdi said. “It can have effects on mood, but unfortunately, what happens is we as humans confuse some of the details.”

DiVerdi said consuming cannabis can affect people differently based on the state of mind they’re in, but consumers may inaccurately attribute their reactions to the type of cannabis they’re smoking.

“We know that mental attitude contributes so much, so there’s no denying the impact of mental attitude and internal state,” DiVerdi said.

Reach Lindsay Barker at cannabis@collegian.com or on Twitter @barkerlindsayj.