Compounds in marijuana have been found to act like antidepressants.
Depression is one of the most common mood disorders. The low mood and sadness caused by depression can make daily life feel nearly impossible.
Many people believed for a long time that marijuana could help symptoms of depression. Recently, scientists have started to study exactly how marijuana can ease depression symptoms.
Here, we discuss the scientific support for using marijuana to treat depression.
What is Depression?
Symptoms of depression include feeling sad, low energy, lack of motivation, difficulty concentrating, and irritability.
People with depression often lose interest in activities they once enjoyed, and begin to believe negative things about themselves. It is also common for people with depression to suffer from anxiety disorders or to experience chronic pain.
Even though depression is one of the most common mental health disorders, it it still a serious condition. People with depression have an increased risk of suicide.
Depression is typically treated with a combination of prescription medications (antidepressants) and psychotherapy such as CBT.
Can Marijuana Help With Depression?
“A lot of people report using cannabis effectively to treat depression,” says Dr. Zachary Walsh, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia who heads a research lab focused on marijuana and mental health.
Despite a lack of clinical studies, there is some evidence that marijuana could be an effective treatment for depression.
A 2009 study also found that activating the CB1 receptor can have antidepressant effects in animals. THC is also known to activate CB1 receptors, suggesting that it can also have antidepressant effects.
Marijuana may also help to treat depression by increasing serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a naturally-occurring brain chemical that controls mood, sleep and appetite. It’s the brain chemical that most antidepressant medications target.
A 2007 study found that by activating serotonin, cannabis can act as an antidepressant in animals.
The body makes compounds known as endocannabinoids that work in a similar way to marijuana. A 2015 study found that increasing anandamide, one of these natural cannabinoids, can result in antidepressant effects.
THC vs. CBD For Depression
Effects of THC
The study of THC and depression is limited, but research so far has suggested that THC can help to treat depression.
A 2010 study found that THC can act as an antidepressant in animals. The researchers found that there was an optimal dose, and that THC above or below the optimal dose could make depression worse.
Because this optimal dose is likely different for everyone, people who self-medicate their depression should be aware that they will probably need to test a couple doses of THC in order to find what works best for them.
A 2012 study found that long-term treatment with THC increased BDNF — a brain protein that is lower than normal in people with depression. This increase in BDNF by THC resulted in antidepressant effects.
Effects of CBD
There is more research into the antidepressant effects of the non-psychoactive cannabinoid CBD. Overall, studies suggest CBD can likely help depression.
A 2014 study reviewed all the animal studies of CBD and depression, and concluded that CBD can act as an effective antidepressant.
A 2016 study also found that CBD can act as an antidepressant, likely by activating both the endocannabinoid and serotonin systems.
There have also been some studies into which symptoms of depression CBD is able to relieve. A 2016 study found that CBD can treat anhedonia, the symptom of depression that causes people to lose the ability to feel pleasure.
CBD may also be a good treatment option for people that need fast results. A 2016 study found that CBD can act as a fast-acting antidepressant.
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