Researchers in America have discovered that shortly after states changed their laws to allow for recreational cannabis use, the number of admissions into mental health treatment facilities declined.
Published in Health Economics in June 2023, the study shows that in the two years following a state’s law change to allow recreational cannabis, admissions into facilities providing mental health treatment fell on average 37%. This was found to be consistent in all age groups from 13-20 to 65 years old.
When broken down further, the results also showed a fairly even split in the number of admissions between males and females; male admissions fell 42%, and females 37%.
The results of this study are deemed important due to the fact that mental health concerns, especially amongst younger people, are often cited as a reason against legalising cannabis for recreational use.
Brian Dow of mental health charity Rethink wrote in the Guardian in 2020 that “The needs and unique risks to people severely affected by mental illness must be at the heart of any conversation about the future direction of cannabis policy in this country. We need more research, evidence and education before any significant decisions are made.”
Although there are many studies published investigating the negative impact of cannabis on mental health, there is also evidence to support the theory that cannabis can be beneficial to people’s mental states.
A project founded in America in 2014 called Marijuana Investigations for Neuroscientific Discovery (MIND) conducted studies to ascertain the effects of medicinal cannabis use on mental health. They discovered, 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 reduced use of conventional medications, including opioids, benzodiazepines, and other mood stabilizers and antidepressants.”
While the study shows promising results, researchers recognise the limitations the results have in identifying what drives the decline in mental health facility admissions, although they do acknowledge the possibility that increased cannabis use following deregulation contributes to improved mental health.
“Due to data limitations, it is difficult to identify the mechanisms leading to the decrease in mental health treatment found above. One possibility is that RMLs [recreational marijuana legislation] increase marijuana use and that this improves mental health” the study authors wrote.
“The literature on the impact of cannabis on mental health is still unclear and is likely heterogeneous across mental health conditions and dosage frequency of use.”