We know that marijuana can offer practical relief for a variety of health challenges. People use various cannabis strains to help manage pain, reduce nausea, promote appetite, and even to help achieve a quality night’s sleep. But what about using marijuana for depression?
In this article, we explain the slightly complicated relationship that exists between marijuana and depression. Should you be considering cannabis as a possible option for your depression? Read on to find out.
Marijuana and Depression: What Users Need to Know
Major depression is one of the most prevalent mental disorders in America. According to recent data from the National Institutes of Mental Health, around 7% of adults have at least one major depressive episode in a calendar year.
Depression is an extremely complex and complicated disorder. There are a number of theories as to the cause, with the most popular one being that it results from an imbalance of certain neurotransmitters (specifically norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine) in the brain.
Since marijuana (specifically the compound THC) works to stimulate neurons that release dopamine, some have assumed/suggested that medical cannabis can effectively treat various forms of depression. However, the “cannabis & depression” relationship is not quite as simple as this.
How Does Cannabis Affect Depression?
There is a possibility that marijuana and depression are linked through the endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex network of naturally-occurring neurotransmitters and receptors that function together to aid in various human behaviors and emotions.
Endocannabinoids and their receptors (namely the CB-1 and CB-2 receptors) are present in everyone. This is true whether we’ve ever smoked marijuana or not. The chemically active cannabinoids in marijuana, called phytocannabinoids, are very similar in structure to anandamide, which is one of the body’s endogenous (i.e., “endo”) cannabinoids. Anandamide is often referred to as the “bliss molecule” because of its role in “heightening motivation and happiness.”
Research on marijuana and depression
The evaluation of medical marijuana for depression is still in its early stages. Right now, researchers share that possible benefits include the restoration of “normal” endocannabinoid function and mood stabilization.
Scientists at the University at Buffalo have begun looking into medicinal marijuana as a possible treatment for depression caused by chronic stress. The school’s Research Institute on Addictions (RIA) has been focusing specifically on brain chemicals called endocannabinoids.
These are naturally produced chemical compounds. They play a role in motor control, cognition, emotions, and behavior. They also have a chemical makeup similar to that of cannabis.
The scientists have performed their studies on animals and not humans. Yet they have discovered that chronic stress may suppress the brain’s production of endocannabinoids. They found that this can lead to depression-like behavior.
Introducing cannabis into the system may help restore normal levels and function. This may ease symptoms of depression.
More studies are needed to assess the true benefits and disadvantages of marijuana as a potential therapy for people with depression.
Risks and warnings
- Side effects may vary depending on the method of consumption.
- Views are mixed on whether marijuana can lead to depression or treat depression.
- Marijuana use may trigger schizophrenia or psychosis in people at higher risk of these conditions. However, research isn’t conclusive.
In a group surveyed about marijuana usage for chronic pain, 71 percent didn’t report any significant side effects. Six percent reported a cough or throat irritation.
There isn’t any clear evidence to suggest that marijuana causes depression. However, there may be a link between the two. Some researchTrusted Source suggests regular or heavy users of the drug are diagnosed with depression more often than non-smokers.
Marijuana has also been linked with other mental health conditions. If you’re at a high risk of psychosis, it’s important to know that marijuana may trigger schizophrenia or psychosis. Psychosis is a serious mental disorder characterized by a detachment from reality. Symptoms can include hallucinations and delusions.
The potential side effects of marijuana use may depend on the way you take it. Medical marijuana can be taken as a spray, pill, or patches. Research is ongoing with traditional recreational methods, such as smoking or vaporizing.
The researchers at University at Buffalo are currently trying to figure out if a certain extract, called cannabidiol, could give the mood-boosting benefits without leading to drug dependency
Tools for coping with depression
After you and your doctor develop a treatment plan, you can take further steps at home to cope with depression:
- Try cutting out extra responsibilities and stressors in your life. Give yourself room to breathe when you’re feeling down.
- Add more structure to your day. You can set reminders on your phone when you have events or other can’t-miss responsibilities.
- Consider journaling. This can be a healthy outlet for you to openly and honestly divulge feelings of sadness, anger, or fear.
- Seek out groups that help with mental health. Your employer or church may have an assistance program that can help. You can also check out the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.
- Try not to isolate yourself. Although this can be difficult when you’re feeling low, having a support network around you has a number of benefits.
- Discover new and fun ways to relieve stress and bad emotions. It could be as simple as taking a daily walk, striking some yoga poses, or trying meditation.
Final Thoughts on Marijuana and Depression
Again, we reiterate the fact that there is no clinical evidence on the therapeutic use of cannabis for depression. A complex physiological relationship likely exists between marijuana and the various symptoms of depression, and much more research is needed to understand how (or if) compounds such as THC and CBD influence the biochemical pathways involved in clinical depression.
That being said, various published studies (as referenced above) have identified the antidepressant properties of CBD in animal models. It’s possible that in the future, CBD – not THC – may be used as a means to mitigate common symptoms of depression. However, much more research is needed before anyone can come to such a definitive clinical conclusion.
If you’re interested in using cannabis for depression, be sure to speak with a medical cannabis doctor (if that is an option in your state) about the possibility of obtaining a medical cannabis card. Medical marijuana dispensaries carry various cannabis products, including CBD-specific products that do not produce an intoxicating high.