Drugs and Alcohol

Drugs and mental health

Cannabis and mental health
Here, young people talk about their experiences of substance (drugs) misuse and mental health problems. When watching the videos below please bear in mind that the direct relationship between individual drugs and specific symptoms is not known.
 
Research shows that mental illness can develop in people who have misused substances such as alcohol, stimulants (e.g. ecstasy, cocaine) and depressants (e.g. cannabis), but it’s unclear whether drugs and alcohol cause mental illness themselves. For example, someone with an undiagnosed mental health problem might use drugs and alcohol to relieve their symptoms, but a substance misuse problem may develop from that. Research also suggests that the use of more than one substance or ‘polydrug use’ may be related to mental health problems.
 
If you’ve got an emotional or mental health problem it is not a good idea to use substances such as (non-prescribed) drugs and alcohol.  Young people we spoke to who’d smoked lots of cannabis to cope with traumatic life events, realise now that it didn’t help at all. All cannabis did was to temporarily block the emotions, which would come back when the effects wore off. Looking back, Chloe thinks it would have been better to try to sort out the emotions she felt after her father died, without the influence of weed or any other drugs.
Some young people who were heavy cannabis smokers in their mid-teens (Harry, Craig, Tara, Sam and Chloe) said that they had experienced depression, low moods, anxiety and paranoia. Paranoia is a fairly common feeling associated with cannabis use. Ben felt paranoid on the occasions he smoked weed. Joe started using cannabis in the year after he moved out of his parents’ home, but stopped out of concern for his mental health.
Some frequent users weren’t convinced that using cannabis caused, or worsened, mental health problems. Raphael has never experienced paranoia and wondered whether it’s more likely to affect people who are already insecure.
Those who already had mental health problems found that even occasional use of cannabis could cause negative effects.
Use of more than one drug (polydrug use) and mental health
Research suggests that using two or more substances or ‘polydrug use’ is connected with mental health problems. As well as cannabis, some young people (like Craig, above) experimented with other street drugs like ecstasy/MDMA, cocaine and ketamine.
 
For some young people, the use of a stronger form of cannabis (skunk) and the regular mixing of illegal drugs over a long period of time seems to have resulted in a longer lasting mental health problem. Harry used to smoke cannabis and mix illegal substances regularly over a period of years. His mental health got progressively worse and he was eventually diagnosed with cannabis-induced psychosis. Sam was a long-term, heavy user of skunk, crack cocaine, acid, ecstasy, ketamine and other drugs. His mental health declined quite rapidly but he continued to use weed, drink alcohol and take ‘other pills’. He described himself as having been someone with no emotions, no feelings and just being exhausted to the point of hardly being able to function.
Mental health problems that develop in people who misuse alcohol or drugs may disappear if they stop taking drugs and/or alcohol for a long period of time. Reducing use of drugs and alcohol may also help improve mental health.

Last updated: January 2015
Review date: January 2017

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