Cannabis continues to gain momentum within the medical community as a plant medicine with healing properties. Many states have changed legislation around medicinal and recreational marijuana: it is now possible to obtain a medical marijuana card in 36 states if you suffer from a qualifying condition. Although the list of approved qualifying conditions varies from state to state, they do tend to share one thing in common: they focus on physiological conditions and symptoms. Mental illnesses, like depression, anxiety, and PTSD, are considered qualifying conditions in some states, but researchers and mental health practitioners are beginning to explore the potential for cannabis to holistically treat the causes of mental illness when used in a therapeutic setting: a practice known as cannabis assisted therapy.
What does Cannabis Treat?
Medical cannabis is commonly prescribed to treat arthritis, fibromyalgia, nerve conditions, neuropathic pain for HIV-infected individuals, and inflammation and chronic pain that results from these and other conditions. Cannabis has also been studied to address symptoms of neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.
Cannabis can also work to alleviate symptoms of various psychiatric conditions. It’s been demonstrated to help with psychiatric conditions like PTSD, OCD, and opioid use disorder. CBD, the non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis, has proven especially effective at managing symptoms of:
- social anxiety
- PTSD-induced flashbacks or trauma responses
- panic disorders
- anxiety-related sleep disorders
Though cannabis can be used to manage the symptoms of various mental disorders, it is not a full cure in and of itself. This is where cannabis-assisted therapy comes in. In a therapeutic setting, cannabis serves as a tool allowing patients to understand and investigate parts of their psyche that are at the root of their distress, alongside the guidance of a professional. It is similar to the process used in psychedelic therapy that utilizes the medicinal benefits of ketamine, MDMA, and psilocybin, in which the psychoactive effects and guidance of a therapist work in tandem to help patients uncover and process difficult memories and emotions while usually putting the mind and body in a relaxed state.
The process usually begins with a consultation with a trained therapist to identify any potential medical contraindications to the treatment and to discuss any goals or outcomes that the patient hopes to get out of the treatment. The second phase consists of multiple sessions of ingesting cannabis under the supervision of a practitioner, who will help guide patients through the therapeutic experiences precipitated by the psychoactive properties of cannabis. The treatment ends with an “integration” session, where the therapist and the patient work together to integrate the lessons of the experience into their daily lives.
Although a relatively new practice, psychedelic therapy has shown incredible promise in treating depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction. Like these other mind-altering substances used in psychedelic therapy, cannabis has psychoactive properties that can help patients discover insights that contribute to psychological healing, with the advantage of being fully legal in many states. While treatments using MDMA and psilocybin are mostly reserved for clinical trials, cannabis-assisted psychotherapy is available now in some parts of the country.
Finding a Cannabis-Assisted Therapy Practitioner
Although you do not necessarily need to apply to participate in a clinical trial to get access to cannabis-assisted therapy, this therapeutic modality is still in its infancy, and finding qualified practitioners remains somewhat challenging.
When considering cannabis to treat the symptoms of a psychiatric disorder, it is also important to consult with a medical professional and understand potential interactions with other medications. For example, cannabinoids have been shown to modulate the effects of some anxiolytics and antidepressants. This could be dangerous for patients taking both together.
If you’re interested in exploring the therapeutic potential of cannabis, sign up with Heally to get connected to a physician. They can answer your questions about medical cannabis and help you determine if it is the right option for you.