by Gus Dunworth, B Psych (Hons)
Approximately half of all Australians suffer from some form of chronic illness, such as arthritis, back pain, or cancer. Managing these conditions can be a lifelong process, and that process is rarely easy. The reality of living with a chronic illness takes its toll on a person’s mental health, often leading to depression, anxiety or trauma. A deteriorating mental state can then lead to the worsening of the person’s chronic illness. This downward spiral can become increasingly hard to escape or seek help for.
We know regular exercise is quite beneficial for depressed people, but if a person suffers from a poorly managed chronic illness that prevents them from exercising, their depression may worsen, which in turn makes it more difficult to seek treatment for their chronic illness.
For many suffering from chronic pain, the treatment itself is a source of anxiety. Opioid tolerance is a big concern for people in need of long term, effective pain relief. Increasingly high doses of opioid painkillers can be detrimental to patients’ physical and mental health, but going without pain relief is rarely a viable option. For many of these patients, medicinal cannabis becomes a much healthier, less stressful option.
The beauty of regulated medicinal cannabis is that patients and prescribers know exactly what is present in the medication, along with the specific ratio and dose. This means that treatment can be tailored to specifically address chronic conditions while avoiding unnecessary detriment to mental health. If a patient has a history of psychosis, then the cannabinoid “Tetrahydrocannabinol” (a.k.a. THC) is not recommended due to its potential to trigger psychosis in those with a predisposition. However, a different cannabinoid, “Cannabidiol” (a.k.a. CBD) may be beneficial to this same patient for pain relief. Modern medical cannabis gives Doctors the option of treating this patient with a “CBD only” medication. This means that the patient can manage their pain without unnecessary risk of psychosis or opiate tolerance and will likely experience an overall positive effect on their mental health as a result. Patients considering medicinal cannabis as an option can schedule a screening at a medicinal cannabis clinic or discuss if their GP is willing to refer them to one.
Successful treatment of chronic disease is often the first step to a holistic life improvement. Once a patient has taken the plunge and gained access to reliable, safe treatment, such as medical cannabis, they may find it is easier to do many things that were previously inaccessible to them. Simple, yet beneficial activities such as socialising with friends and family, exercising, or walking the dog are suddenly an option again, once the constant burden of chronic illness is lifted. Often, this can spark an upward spiral towards better mental health and overall quality of life. Once that happens, a lot of big positive changes are possible, such as successfully re-entering the workforce, independent living or visiting distant family.
When managing chronic illness, it is important to remember the interplay between our physical health, our mental health and our day to day life. Often a positive change to one of these things is what is needed to facilitate a positive change in the others. Successfully managing your physical illness may be the first step to improving your mental health, and for an increasing number of Australians, medical cannabis is the answer.