A new study is shedding light on factors that might predict if a session of cannabis use will help ease an individual’s symptoms or just make things worse. The study, released online this month in the journal Comprehensive Psychiatry, found that the severity of mental health symptoms, before a session of cannabis use, could usually predict whether that session would be beneficial for the person using it.
This is important information for those using cannabis because the psychoactive plant can create a wide variety of different experiences and effects. Individuals using cannabis have reported everything from deep relaxation, happiness, energy and pain relief to intense anxiety, paranoia, lethargy and depression. Sometimes the same individual can use the same cannabis on two different occasions and get different results. While most cannabis users are aware of this phenomena, what is less understood is how to predict what kind of cannabis experience you’ll have before you make the choice to use it.
Thus far, the science predicting what kind of high someone would experience has mostly focused on factors like what chemical compounds could be found in the cannabis used, or how the cannabis was consumed. But to learn more about what other factors might exist, researchers utilized AI-powered machine learning to find patterns in 68,819 unique observations of cannabis use.
The data on these cannabis experiences were taken from 1307 cannabis users using the app Strainprint. This app allows cannabis users to record their own experiences while using cannabis to manage mental health symptoms. Machine learning models were then used to predict self-assessed symptom changes after cannabis use. Factors tracked during the process included anxiety, depression, insomnia, age, gender, and ratio of CBD to THC.
Interestingly, researchers found that the severity of mental health symptoms before cannabis use could predict whether an instance of cannabis use would be beneficial in terms of reducing that symptom. Age, gender, and CBD to THC ratio also played a predictive role.
For example, researchers found that those reporting lower severity in their depression scores before using cannabis, had a higher likelihood of having symptom relief from cannabis. While those reporting higher-severity depression tended to have worse symptoms after a session with cannabis. This could suggest that cannabis might be helpful for those with mild depression, but likely to be more harmful for those in a more severe depressive state.
In contrast, those suffering from mild insomnia saw almost no improvement after using cannabis. But those reporting higher levels of insomnia usually found some level of relief from cannabis use. Results surrounding anxiety were less clear, but researchers noted that the only anxious respondents who benefited from cannabis use were those with the highest levels of anxiety symptoms before use.
These findings suggest that cannabis may impact mental health conditions differently, depending on the severity of the symptoms. With more research, guidelines could potentially be established to help guide users to only use cannabis when their symptoms predict it will help.
Still the authors of the study encourage caution, given limitations of the study. The study utilized subjective perceptions from individuals, which may not reflect the kind of assessments of mental health symptoms a doctor would provide. How individuals rate their own mental health symptoms may vary between individuals and this could shift the results. The study also can’t tell us about how cannabis use might impact mental health over time – only how individuals felt immediately after using cannabis.
Still, the study does expose the complex nature of cannabis’ interaction with mental health symptoms, suggesting that future studies are warranted. The authors of the study conclude that “the current study provides additional rationale for future studies investigating specific symptom profiles within diagnosed mental health disorders. Moreover, findings from this study provide valuable insight into current cannabis use patterns.”
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