Pros and Cons of Medical Cannabis use by People with Chronic Brain Disorders

Curr Neuropharmacol. 2017;15(6):800-814. doi: 10.2174/1570159X14666161101095325.


Background: Cannabis is the most widely used illicit drug in the world and there is growing concern about the mental health effects of cannabis use. These concerns are at least partly due to the strong increase in recreational and medical cannabis use and the rise in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels. Cannabis is widely used to self-medicate by older people and people with brain disorders such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), multiple sclerosis (MS), Alzheimer's disease (AD), Parkinson's disease (PD), bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

Objective: This review provides an overview of the perceived benefits and adverse mental health effects of cannabis use in people with ALS, MS, AD, PD, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

Results: The reviewed studies indicate that cannabis use diminishes some symptoms associated with these disorders. Cannabis use decreases pain and spasticity in people with MS, decreases tremor, rigidity, and pain in people with PD, and improves the quality of life of ALS patients by improving appetite, and decreasing pain and spasticity. Cannabis use is more common among people with schizophrenia than healthy controls. Cannabis use is a risk factor for schizophrenia which increases positive symptoms in schizophrenia patients and diminishes negative symptoms. Cannabis use worsens bipolar disorder and there is no evidence that bipolar patients derive any benefit from cannabis. In late stage Alzheimer's patients, cannabis products may improve food intake, sleep quality, and diminish agitation.

Conclusion: Cannabis use diminishes some of the adverse effects of neurological and psychiatric disorders. However, chronic cannabis use may lead to cognitive impairments and dependence.

Keywords: Cannabis; bipolar disorder; cognition; dependence; neurological disorders; schizophrenia.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Humans
  • Medical Marijuana / adverse effects*
  • Medical Marijuana / therapeutic use*
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Substance-Related Disorders


  • Medical Marijuana