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Recent scientific studies have validated the use of marijuana to treat many conditions, including some mental illnesses. Users on Leafly — an app that provides information on the growing number of marijuana varieties — have rated hundreds of cannabis strains as effective in alleviating symptoms of depression and anxiety. And your partner smokes weed every day. So, is he or she just enjoying themselves, or are they self-medicating a disease with the green?

Science Supports Using Marijuana for Mental Illness

Most people know that marijuana contains THC, which determines its strength. It is the chemical that gets you high and gives you the trademark calm, relaxed feeling of the drug. But there are other substances in cannabis, called cannabinoids, that react with cannabinoid receptors in your brain and body to produce medicinal effects capable of treating diseases from ALS to cancer, depression, seizures and rheumatoid arthritis. If smoking a little weed can help people feel better physically, emotionally and mentally, it makes sense that humans would seek to self-medicate a number of conditions with a substance they might already consume. In medical cannabis states, experiencing anxiety and depression will qualify you to buy marijuana legally so there is support in the medical community for using marijuana for mental illness.

Not that your neighborhood weed man is a pharmacist.

Ryan Nerz, host of The Cannabis Report on Fusion and author of Marijuanamerica, points out that the weed man’s product has gotten better. While the average marijuana salesman might not be well-versed in medical marijuana, Nerz says the quality and variety of what gets sold has improved due to the growth of legalized marijuana and centralized growing. Basically, the marijuana on sale today will get you higher, and treat what ails you better than that stuff you used to get in college. That’s good news for someone looking to treat mental illness with marijuana, but how can you tell if your mate is engaging in self-medicating behavior?

Signs Your Mate is Self-Medicating with Marijuana

According to people who use marijuana for anxiety and depression, frequent usage is a sign that someone is using for emotional rather than recreational purposes. “Ben,” a married father of two in Los Angeles, found that using more frequently — every day — rather than with friends signaled his awareness that something had changed in his marijuana usage. Though Ben was diagnosed with anxiety and depression while in college, he lived without medications until a death in his family. After that, he began using marijuana “just to turn [his] brain off”. Eventually, however, he obtained a medical marijuana card so that he could select the range of cannabis products that work for his symptoms. He has used teas, candies and cookies in addition to smoking or vaporizing his marijuana.  Ben has found that tea in the morning allows enough of an effect to boost his mood and productivity, two facets of life affected by depression. In the evening he prefers to smoke, enjoying the high without worrying about work. Ben’s daily behavior, coupled with his work during the day, indicates that he does not smoke to get high, but rather is getting other benefits from his weed.

“Jane,” a married mother of teenagers in New York, also moved from social to solitary usage when she began medicating her anxiety disorder with marijuana. She smokes three or four nights a week to help her get a restful sleep. Though she has taken several anti-anxiety medications in the past, Jane would prefer to take marijuana instead because it has no side-effects and no hangover. Her nightly usage keeps Jane symptom-free most days, and she only has to take one of her medications if she has a very bad day. The focus of both Jane and Ben on symptom relief rather than casual enjoyment signals a reliance on marijuana for its more medicinal properties. “Some [cannabis] activists claim that all usage is medicinal,” says Ryan Nerz, “if you look at the reason why you use it.” Still, controlling a disease with marijuana while continuing to function normally clearly resembles the way people use prescription pharmaceuticals. If you or your partner rely on a bowl or a blunt to get to sleep at night, you’re probably taping into the medicinal benefits of marijuana over recreational ones.

Marijuana May Not Be Detrimental to Your Relationship

How weed impacts your relationship might depend on how you’re smoking it. “Carl,” a single man in North Carolina, prefers to date women who either smoke marijuana or are open to smoking. For him, when done recreationally, marijuana becomes like any other activity couples can share. But when recreational use ends and medicinal use begins, marijuana often improves the relationship. Ben admits that he can be an “intense” partner, but using marijuana ratchets down his intensity and makes it easier for him to relate to his wife and children. Jane’s wife agrees that marijuana has a positive effect on Jane’s well-being, and that when Jane is doing well, the relationship is doing well. So weed can bring a couple closer together, if it improves one or both partners’ overall outlook.

Of course, regular medicinal use of marijuana is not the same as being the proverbial pot head: someone who sits on the couch all day, playing video games. Nerz has observed thousands of marijuana users in his work and finds that not everyone can function positively on cannabis. “The variety of responses to marijuana is as great as or greater than the variety of responses to alcohol,” so the weed that makes one person mellow may make another person paranoid and lazy. If your mate isn’t experiencing positive effects of marijuana use, whether medicinal or recreational, you may need to have a discussion.

With medical marijuana legal in 23 states, and recreational cannabis legal in 4 states plus the District of Columbia, more and more couples may be confronting the use of marijuana for various reasons. Whether for mental illness or other diseases, use of marijuana and it’s products should be discussed with your partner to make sure that it doesn’t interfere with your lifestyle, connection or communication as a couple.

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