BlogThe declining mental health of university students and how medical cannabis is helping

The declining mental health of university students and how medical cannabis is helping

11 min read

Sam North

The declining mental health of university students and how medical cannabis is helping

Life is full of ups and downs, highs and lows, stressful periods, and the odd moment of calm. This rollercoaster of emotions can be even more intense and challenging for university students, as there are just so many things to juggle - exams, assignments, social life, work, family, the pressure of figuring out what to do with your life, or if you have even made the right choice with your chosen academic path.


To top it all off, for many uni students, heading off to university often means moving away from home, family, and friends - your whole support network - for the first time.

And while conventional treatment options are available, they are not effective for every single person suffering from mental health issues. This is where medical cannabis comes into play. Cannabis-based medicines offer valuable support as complementary treatments and have huge promise in assisting students grappling with a variety of mental health challenges.

The potential of medical cannabis to help combat the current mental health crisis

Medical cannabis is showing ever-growing potential as a treatment for a range of mental health conditions, including the big two- anxiety and depression. Its therapeutic effects are linked to the body's endocannabinoid system, often referred to as the master regulatory system of the human body.

Research has shown that medical cannabis can help regulate various processes in the brain and body, such as mood, memory, sleep, stress response, and the response to anxiety. By targeting these areas, it can provide a certain level of symptom control to those suffering from mental health issues, especially when other treatment options have failed.

The mental health challenges facing university students

It's no surprise that mental health issues are increasingly common among university students. According to the National Union of Students (NUS), the mental health crisis among UK uni students is skyrocketing. Reported mental health issues have grown over sevenfold in the past decade, and that number is likely to continue its upward spiral in years to come.

The most common mental health issues reported by students are anxiety and depression. Symptoms often reported include stress, panic attacks, and an overwhelming feeling of loneliness.

65% of students facing mental health issues point to coursework deadlines as a major concern, while 54% identify exams as the primary sources of distress. Financial difficulties are highlighted by over half as the main contributing factor, with nearly a third mentioning social pressures and homesickness as additional factors affecting their mental well-being.

The necessity for a patient-centred approach

All the above statistics highlight the pressing need for effective treatment options and, specifically, a patient-centric approach that considers the unique challenges and needs of university students.

As we move through the 2020s, the stigma surrounding mental health is gradually easing, with more people willing to talk about their struggles and seek clinical guidance. But, in a high-pressure university environment where students often juggle a bunch of roles all at once, finding the time to seek treatment is easier said than done.

But as the stigma surrounding both mental health issues and the medical application of cannabis continues to fade, more people are becoming open to trying medical cannabis as a treatment option.

Traditional approaches to mental health treatment

The most common treatments for mental health conditions are psychotherapy and prescription medication.

Psychotherapy usually involves talking to a trained therapist or counsellor about your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. It can help manage symptoms and develop coping mechanisms for dealing with triggers. Therapy options such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) have been shown to be especially effective in treating anxiety and depression.

Therapy may not work for everyone. Some people may find it difficult to open up and talk about their feelings, while others may not have access to therapy due to financial or geographical limitations.

Prescription medications, such as antidepressants and antianxiety drugs, are also commonly prescribed for mental health issues. Many of these options come with unwanted side effects, they can cause dependence issues, and are not effective for all. 

This is where medical cannabis can come into play.

The legalisation and therapeutic potential of medical cannabis

Medical cannabis became a legal reality here in the UK all the way back in 2018, but somewhat surprisingly, the uptake has been a little slower than first expected.

Most put this down to the fact that the NHS will only prescribe cannabis-based medicine in extreme cases. Right now, unless you have one of two forms of rare epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, or nausea relating to cancer treatments, you cannot access medical cannabis through the NHS.

Fortunately, specialists working through private clinics, like Releaf, can prescribe medical cannabis for a much wider range of conditions, including mental health issues. To date, doctors have prescribed medical cannabis for a range of conditions, including generalised anxiety disorder, PTSD, OCD, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, and depression.

This opens up a promising avenue for patients without relief through traditional treatment methods.

Medical cannabis as a treatment option for mental health issues

So, how does medical cannabis help with mental health issues?

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is the largest neurotransmitter system in the body, responsible for maintaining homeostasis and regulating various processes such as mood, memory, sleep, appetite, pain sensation, and stress response.

When activated, the ECS can produce a calming effect and help regulate mood, making it a potential treatment option for anxiety and depression. Medical cannabis works by interacting with the ECS, particularly through its two primary cannabinoids: THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol).

Both have shown promising results in reducing anxiety, and stress, and improving sleep - but through different mechanisms. While THC can produce a euphoric high and has shown potential for reducing anxiety at certain dosage sizes, CBD is non-psychoactive and has antianxiety properties no matter the dose.

Let's dive into the science...

"Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: A Large Case Series" - a study from 2022, found that CBD oil improved anxiety in almost 80% of respondents and sleep scores in 66.7% over a three-month period.

Earlier studies support these results.

In one study, titled "Evidences for the Anti-panic Actions of Cannabidiol", researchers found that CBD application can dramatically reduce anxiety and related panic levels in both animal and human trials.   

Another, "Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders" found that:

"Cannabidiol (CBD) has shown potential as a treatment for anxiety-related disorders such as generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder when administered acutely."

CBD has also been shown to interact with the 5-HT1A receptor, which is responsible for regulating serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain. These neurotransmitters play a key role in mood regulation, and imbalances have been linked to various mental health issues. By interacting with this receptor, CBD can help regulate mood and reduce anxiety symptoms.

The results when looking at THC are a little more varied and less conclusive, with some studies suggesting it may increase anxiety in certain individuals.

"Effects of Marijuana on Mental Health: Anxiety Disorders", from 2017, found that THC, when taken in high doses, can be linked to episodes of acute anxiety and panic attacks. But, when combined with CBD and taken in moderate doses, reduces anxiety and improves symptoms of depression.

The takeaway?

Medical cannabis treatment for mental health conditions is not a one-size-fits-all solution. By working with a specialist qualified to prescribe medical cannabis, you give yourself the best chance at finding the right combination and dosage that works best for your specific needs.

The stigma surrounding medical cannabis in the student population

Despite its proven effectiveness and growing legalisation in various countries around the world, there is still a heavy stigma attached to medical cannabis. This is less common among the younger population, especially in the student community.

Many fear being judged or labelled as a "stoner" if they were to seek medical cannabis treatment for mental health issues. This can be attributed to a lack of understanding and education about the therapeutic potential of cannabis-based medical options. But as more research is conducted and more success stories are shared, we are starting to see a shift in attitudes towards this new treatment option.

University housing policies often contribute to this issue, with many not allowing cannabis on campus or in subsidised housing, but as long as you have a legal prescription, you should be in the clear. 

Remember, seeking help for mental health issues is not something to be ashamed of. It's a sign of strength and self-care. So don't let the stigma surrounding medical cannabis or mental health hold you back from exploring all treatment options.

Responsible medical cannabis administration and the importance of professional guidance

It's no secret that uni students and recreational weed go together like, well, uni students and weed - the temptation to misuse medical cannabis for recreational purposes is going to be there. You need to keep in mind that medical cannabis is a prescribed medication, not a bit of fun. It should only be taken as directed by a specialist doctor.

Taking more than the recommended dosage or using black-market cannabis without a prescription can lead to adverse effects, especially if you are already dealing with mental health issues. Plus, recreational use of medical cannabis can lead to tolerance and dependence, making it less effective as a treatment option overall.

Reach out to a qualified specialist doctor who is knowledgeable about medical cannabis before starting any treatment. They can help you determine the right dosage, cannabis-based product, and administration method for your specific needs and monitor your progress to ensure safe and effective treatment.

Remember, responsible medical cannabis use is key to experiencing its full potential as a mental health treatment option. Misuse may lead to long-term adverse effects and hinder the progress of your treatment plan.

FAQs on medical cannabis and student mental health

Is medical cannabis safe for treating mental health conditions?

Yes, when prescribed and taken under the guidance of a qualified specialist doctor. It has shown promising results in treating anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other mental health issues.

How does medical cannabis work to improve mood and sleep?

Medical cannabis interacts with the ECS (endocannabinoid system), which plays a crucial role in regulating mood, sleep, and other bodily functions. THC and CBD can activate certain ECS receptors to produce calming effects and reduce anxiety, leading to improved sleep.

Can I use medical cannabis alongside my current medication for mental health?

Chat with your doctor about potential interactions before starting any new medication, including medical cannabis. A qualified specialist can help you find the best treatment plan for your specific needs and monitor any potential interactions.

Will I experience side effects from using medical cannabis to treat mental health conditions?

As with any medication, there is a possibility of experiencing side effects from using medical cannabis.

They are typically mild and may include dry mouth, drowsiness, or changes in appetite. Reach out to your doctor if you experience any adverse effects from taking medical cannabis.

Is there a risk of dependency or addiction when using medical cannabis for mental health treatment?

If you are prescribed a CBPM that contains THC, then yes, there is a risk of dependency or addiction. That's why following the recommended dosage and consulting with your doctor regularly is essential to ensure safe and effective treatment.

CBD-only products, on the other hand, do not have psychoactive properties and are generally considered non-addictive.

Wrapping up

So, there we have it. A comprehensive overview of the mental health issues faced by university students here in the UK, and why medical cannabis is a viable treatment option for many. 

Open and honest conversations about mental health and medical cannabis are essential in breaking the stigma and promoting understanding and acceptance. With professional guidance, responsible application of medical cannabis has the potential to significantly improve the quality of life for those struggling with anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions.

Remember, your mental well-being is a priority, especially during such a pivotal time. University can be overwhelming, but you don't have to face it alone. Consider exploring medical cannabis treatment and speaking with a specialist doctor to see if it's right for you.

Releaf understands that embarking on your medical cannabis journey can be overwhelming and even slightly intimidating – that's why we offer tailored monthly packages, specialist consultations for medical cannabis, and our unique medical cannabis card to give you the peace of mind that your treatment is protected, all based on your medical cannabis prescription.

It is important to seek medical advice before starting any new treatments. The patient advisors at Releaf are available to provide expert advice and support. Alternatively, click here to book a consultation with one of our specialist doctors.

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Sam North, a seasoned writer with over five years' experience and expertise in medicinal cannabis, brings clarity to complex concepts, focusing on education and informed use.

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