Cannabis Mental Health Illnesses

Does cannabis legalization improve mental health? According to a recent study published in Health Economics, the answer is yes, probably.

The study found states that legalized cannabis saw admissions for mental health treatment drop. But is this merely a correlation? 

Many studies suggest cannabis worsens or even causes mental health problems. Often, these studies are observational, non-replicable, and thus, merely the opinions of particular researchers with a Science™ label.

When the study suggests cannabis worsens mental health, the researchers call for restrictions to save people from themselves. 

This study suggests the opposite. Cannabis legalization might improve mental health, and we can see that from fewer admissions for mental health treatment.

But as much as we’d like to praise this study, its methodology is open to question just as it would be if the results were negative for cannabis legalization.

So, without further ado, how scientifically rigorous is this claim that cannabis legalization can improve mental health?

Details of the Study

Cannabis Legalization Improves Mental Health?

Despite many studies claiming links between mental health and cannabis, very few have examined cannabis laws and legalization and how they might impact mental health.

Alberto Ortega, a researcher from Indiana University, wanted to investigate this possible link. 

Ortega looked at data from the Uniform Reporting System regarding mental health admissions to state mental health facilities. Patients varied in age from 13 to 65.

Ortega took data from 2007 to 2019 when ten states legalized cannabis. Once parsed out, Ortega noticed a pattern. He found you could correlate a drop in mental health treatment admissions with cannabis legalization in each state.

Ortega controlled for other factors, such as access to Medicaid and pre-existing medical cannabis programs. He also included controls for demographics like age and socioeconomic background.

Public health busybodies demand we “think of the children” regarding cannabis legalization. Yet, according to Ortega’s study, legal states see a drop in treatment admissions among young people.

The results are reasonably consistent across all demographics except race. Mental health admissions for “blacks” fell 27% compared to 9% for “whites.”

The study recommends further research into why some races report fewer admissions than others. But in the meantime, whenever public health associates cannabis with poor mental health, you can just accuse them of being racist.

Problems with Cannabis Legalization Improves Mental Health Study

Cannabis Legalization Improves Mental Health?

Of course, just as the anti-cannabis lobby will use poor research to arrive at their conclusions, cannabis proponents can do the same.

Does this “cannabis legalization improves mental health” study stand under scrutiny?

First, it’s essential to establish what the study is saying. Ortega isn’t claiming cannabis legalization improves mental health. He’s saying the data suggests cannabis legalization results in lower admissions to treatment centres.

It could be that people still have poor mental health, but they self-medicate with cannabis and thus don’t feel the need to enter a formal treatment centre. You could argue this self-medication is harming them in the long run.

Ortega writes that his study speaks “specifically to treatment admissions and should not be conflated with improving or declining mental health.”

Second, this study looks at large-scale trends via population-level data. While Ortega uses robust research methods to establish causality, there is a limitation to observational data and unknown confounding variables. 

All this study can say is that there is an association between lower admission rates to mental health centres and cannabis legalization. Fortunately, the author advises caution in interpreting these findings and crafting policy based on this single study.

But naturally, the public health busybodies will spin it to mean people are staying home “self-medicating” instead of getting their professional help (i.e. A cocktail of pharma drugs they might as well call Soma).

What is Mental Health, Anyway?

Cannabis Causes Schizophrenia- the Study

Ortega’s study takes the standard definition of mental health and begins the investigation there. But the question “Can cannabis legalization improve mental health?” assumes mental health is an objective phenomenon like a healthy heart or a healthy brain. 

Cancer, for example, is a disease of the body. That’s physical and objective.

Anxiety or depression are “diseases” of the mind. And it is entirely appropriate to throw out the “disease” model and reframe the metaphysics to a narrative that better suits you.

Thomas Szasz was a 20th-century psychologist who heavily criticized this over-reliance on “mental health.” He was particularly appalled at the profit-generating drug industry that claimed to solve or cure mental “diseases.”

Szasz believed we should view mental distress as personal problems, conflicts, and responsibilities instead of “mental illnesses.”

He suggested helping individuals understand and address their problems through counselling and assistance. And to recognize that some behaviours are only considered unconventional or abnormal by societal standards. 

And who cares what society thinks?

Szasz emphasized individual freedom and responsibility. His critics, who have captured every major psychological institution, promote the “brain disease” theory of mental distress. 

So, will cannabis legalization improve mental health? It depends on what you mean by mental health. As we’ve discussed, cannabis is like the runner’s high on steroids. Not everyone is going to get something positive out of the experience.

But if cannabis keeps you away from the mental butchers of “public health,” then by all means, continue to use it. And don’t let some schmuck with a degree convince you you have a disease of the mind that doesn’t exist.

There is no such thing as a mental health “expert” because mental health is a philosophical concept. Not a scientific one.