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Does Marijuana Help Depression? Is There a Link Between Them?

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Marijuana is a popular and commonly used substance that some users say makes them feel better, eases their anxiety and depression. Marijuana can also be prescribed for people to use to ease nausea from chemotherapy, lessen pain from a chronic condition, such as arthritis, and other conditions.

The main ingredients in marijuana are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). CBD and THC are the most common cannabinoids. These chemical compounds found in cannabis act on cannabinoid receptors in the brain.

You will find thousands of products with CBD for sale. Even some pet products contain CBD. There are various grades of CBD and differing amounts of it in these products.

THC is an ingredient in marijuana that can induce a high in those who use it. The higher the THC, the higher someone can become. THC increases dopamine, the “feel good” chemical in the brain.

Does marijuana help depression, or does it cause a person to become depressed? If there is a link between these two, what is it?

Depression in America

Depression affects around 40 million people in the U.S. over the age of 18, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Major depressive disorder is one type of depression that affects around 16 million adults, and persistent depressive disorder (PDD) is another type that affects about 3 million adults. Depression can be debilitating for those struggling with it. It can disrupt everyday activities and cause stress in families and relationships.

Many medications and therapies are available for depression. Some people who have depression may use marijuana to relieve some of their depressive symptoms. Medical researchers have recently begun to study if medical marijuana is a beneficial source to alleviate depression.

marijuana-and-depression

Marijuana and Depression: What Research Finds

University of Buffalo researchers are learning there is a possibility that medical marijuana may restore normal mood stabilization and endocannabinoid function. The university’s Research Institute on Addictions (RIA) has been conducting research that focuses explicitly on brain chemicals called endocannabinoids, which are naturally produced chemical compounds in the brain. They are major players in cognition, motor control, emotions, and behavior. Their chemical composition is similar to cannabis.

As their research has solely been on animals, the university’s researchers have learned that chronic stress might suppress the production of endocannabinoids in the brain. They found that when that happens, it could lead to depressive-like behavior.

Another study about marijuana and depression from the University of Washington found that cannabis reduced depression significantly when the cannabis contained low THC/high CBD levels. Results from this study found that cannabis users “perceived a 50% reduction in depression and a 58% reduction in anxiety and stress following cannabis use.” Two puffs were found to be sufficient enough to lower depression, and 10 or more puffs seemed to relieve the greater amounts of stress.

How Marijuana Affects the Brain

Many people self-medicate their symptoms of depression with marijuana. Nevertheless, self-medicating is not the best way to manage depression or any other mental health condition. While medical marijuana has some medicinal benefits, the substance may interfere with other medication, and heavy use might make depression worse.

When an individual uses marijuana, chemicals in the drug bind to the cannabinoid receptors in the brain. The receptors can change the mind, and the individual might feel euphoric effects.

This is how marijuana affects the brain:

Amygdala: The amygdala is tasked with the regulation of emotions, fear, and anxiety. The THC in marijuana affects the amygdala and can cause some people to experience paranoia or panic.

Neocortex: The neocortex is tasked with complex thoughts, movement, and decision-making. When it is affected by marijuana’s chemicals, it could cause some people to lose their drive.

Nucleus accumbens: The nucleus accumbens’ function is to regulate motivation and reward. Marijuana’s chemicals change the normal function of some chemicals in the brain and can alter the balance of the mind. This is a possible reason why some individuals feel a reduction in depressive symptoms.

Can Marijuana Help Depression?

Some people who self-medicate with marijuana to ease their depression might get a slight sense of euphoria or relaxation. This might cause them to think that marijuana is helping their depression.  However, no research indicates that marijuana can cure depression. There are better treatments to manage depression, like cognitive behavioral therapy, physical activity, and prescription medication.

Medical Marijuana for Depression

Medical marijuana contains lower THC and higher CBD levels than recreational marijuana. Research results have been inconclusive and in contradiction as to whether medical marijuana helps or hinders depression. How one person’s depression is lessened using marijuana and other’s worsens likely depends on each individual’s reaction to the substance, along with any other mental health symptoms, genetics, environment, physical health, regular or non-regular use of the drug. There is no definitive answer if medical marijuana helps depression.

Proven Treatments for Depression

Depression can be rated mild, moderate, or severe. Treatment of it depends on the severity level, and there are evidence-based, proven therapies and medications that can help individuals manage their symptoms.

Healthline notes that mild depression is usually helped with psychosocial treatments, like “talk therapy.” Cognitive behavioral therapy is also beneficial. It involves finding ways to change thinking patterns. Moderate and severe depression can be managed with prescription antidepressant medication and therapies.

Other ways in which to ease depression can be eased are:

  • Reducing stress by reducing the number of responsibilities you have. Delegate some tasks to others, if possible.
  • Spend some time outside in the sun. Even in cold environments, sunshine can boost mood.
  • Add more physical activity to your daily life. Take a break from working and go for a short walk.
  • Avoid self-isolation. Try to spend time with people whose company you enjoy. Call a friend or another supportive person.

Heavy and long-term marijuana use can lead to tolerance, dependence, and addiction. Tolerance occurs when your mind and body do not feel the same effects of marijuana as when you first used it. Dependence may be known if you stop using marijuana and feel withdrawal symptoms.  Some of these are irritability, trouble sleeping, restlessness, decreased appetite, nausea, stomach pains, and cravings for marijuana.

Addiction develops when you actively seek and use marijuana despite negative consequences, such as loss of a job, family trouble, relationship issues, and poor health. Despite being defined as a chronic brain disease, addiction is treatable. 

Vista Pines Health offers therapeutic therapies, which can help you or someone you care about learn how to manage depression in a more healthy way.

Depression can be debilitating, but it does not have to be. There are safe, effective, and useful ways to manage symptoms that do not involve using marijuana.

Sources

Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Facts and Statistics. from https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics

University of Buffalo. (2015, February 4) News Center. RIA neuroscience study points to possible use of medical marijuana for depression. Wilde, C. from http://www.buffalo.edu/news/releases/2015/02/004.html

Science Direct. (Volume 235, 1 August 2018) Journal of Affective Disorders. A naturalistic examination of the perceived effects of cannabis on negative affect. Cuttler, C., Spradlin, A., McLaughlin, R. from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165032718303100

Psych Central. (2017, September 29) Medical Marijuana for Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Anxiety & Mental Illness: Can It Help? Grohol, J., PsyD. from https://psychcentral.com/blog/medical-marijuana-for-depression-bipolar-disorder-anxiety-mental-illness-can-it-help#7

Mayo Clinic. (2018, December 4) Marijuana and depression: What's the link?. Flavin-Hall, D. M.D. from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/expert-answers/marijuana-and-depression/faq-20058060

Healthline. (2018, September 29) Can Medicinal Marijuana Treat Depression? Marcin, A., from https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/medical-marijuana-for-depression#research

American Psychological Association. (2017, July) What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? from https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/cognitive-behavioral

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