Local mental health advocate warns of negative impact of cannabis use

A local mental health advocate is speaking out about what she considers the potential risks of cannabis use.

Zoey Raffay, a published author and former student at Orillia Secondary School, says she has not consumed cannabis recently, and her mind is as clear as ever.

“I find that cannabis really struck my psychosis, my depression, and anxiety,” said the 21-year-old. “It made it all skyrocket and it made my medications go up. Now that I’ve been off it, it’s been amazing. In the long-term, cannabis doesn’t help with things like depression and anxiety. I found it just made It worse.” 

Raffay, who has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, major depressive disorder, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), has been vocal about her mental health struggles. In 2018, she published a personal story about trying to commit suicide in a collection called Brainstorm Revolution: True Mental Health Stories of Love, Personal Evolution, and Cultural Revolution.

For 18 months, Raffay says she smoked up to six grams of cannabis a day. When she finally quit, she says everything improved.

“Now I can hold a knife,” she said. “I didn’t feel comfortable holding a knife before. I would see faces, and now I don’t see faces. It just really sparked my psychosis.” 

Raffay says that cannabis can be a good thing for people dealing with chronic pain. However, she believes people with mental health or addiction issues should avoid cannabis altogether.

“I never classified weed as an addictive drug, I always classified it as a dependency drug,” she said. “But as soon as I got off of it, I realized I was addicted to it. You get massive withdrawal symptoms. It’s obvious that you can get addicted to it, which I didn’t realize.”

To continue to spread awareness on the potential negative impacts of cannabis, Raffay is scheduled to appear on Dela’s Voice, an online talk show about addiction, mental health and grief. She will be on the show on Feb. 6 at 12 p.m. You can watch it here.

Not everyone shares Raffay’s opinion.

Victoria McGillis, the manager of Vivid Cannabis Co. on Progress Drive, says Raffay has much to learn about the benefits of cannabis consumption, even for those dealing with mental health issues.

“Cannabis is actually prescribed by doctors for depression and anxiety,” she said. “Cannabis can help if you have the correct cannabis. There are all kinds of cannabinoids, and if you are using the wrong one, and also depending on how you are using it, it can worsen things.”

McGillis’s husband is a sergeant with the Ontario Provincial Police who deals with PTSD. He was prescribed THC and CBD oil for his depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

“We actually have a ton of police officers, firefighters, and even nurses who are coming to us because of depression and anxiety with what’s going on in the world right now,” she said. “We have almost 50 people in our first responders’ program.” 

McGillis says it is all too common for younger people to access cannabis from the wrong sources without proper education.

“There are still black-market stores out there, and there are black-market drug dealers out there,” she said. “It’s all about education and I believe whoever is selling and whoever is buying have the exact same responsibility for education.” 

McGillis says cannabis can be like other medications. Sometimes you need to try a couple of different consumption options before you find the right thing, she explained.

She also believes that Raffay was likely consuming “way too much” cannabis, if she was smoking six grams a day.

“That is way too much, and I can see why it made things worse for her,” she said. “That is abusing it. That’s like drinking a 24 [of beer] a day. It’s a lot.” 

McGillis invites Raffay and anyone who feels uneducated about cannabis to come by Vivid to learn more.

Meredith Fryia, manager of addiction services for the Simcoe County branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, told OrilliaMatters she is unable to provide a statement or data on the impact of cannabis on mental health. 

“While medical cannabis is prescribed for treating pain and certain other medical conditions under supervision by a healthcare provider, as far as we know the research is inconclusive about its use for treatment of mental health issues,” she said in an emailed response.