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Can Marijuana Help Manage Depression?

By on March 29, 2013

Summary (click to view)

  • Marijuana users are more often diagnosed with depression than non-users
  • Experts say that marijuana use does not cause depression, but share common underlying factors
  • Studies show that marijuana and THC have antidepressant effects
  • More than 1 in 5 medical marijuana patients in the UK use marijuana to treat depression
  • Some studies suggest that THC’s antidepressant effects may be reversed at higher doses
  • Depression can affect anyone and is often hard to diagnosis. ( Image) – A link between marijuana use and depression is often suggested, as studies show that marijuana users are more likely to suffer from depression.

    However, research suggests depression is not directly caused by marijuana use. Instead, experts believe that a common set of genetic and environmental factors may predispose individuals to both depression and marijuana use.

    What’s more, a growing body of research suggests that marijuana may be beneficial in the treatment of depression. This is supported by patients themselves, as a survey conducted in 2005 found that 22% of medical marijuana patients in the UK indicated using marijuana for depression.

    What is Depression?

    Depression (also known as major depression and major depressive disorder) is characterized by a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities. Depression is just one of many mood disorders that affect the general population, yet commonly go unnoticed. Patients who suffer from depression are believed to have shorter life expectancies than those who don’t and up to 15% of depressed individuals will ultimately commit suicide.

    Depression is thought to be caused by low levels of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine. Typical treatments for this disorder include antidepressant medications that act to increase levels of neurotransmitters as well as professional counseling. While antidepressants can be effective for patients who suffer from severe forms of depression, they seem to have little to no effect on patients with mild or moderate depression.

    How Can Marijuana Help?

    Besides the self-reports of patients, scientific evidence also points to the endocannabinoid system – the body’s natural cannabinoid system – as having a therapeutic role in depression.

    For example, studies conducted on rodents have linked suppression of endocannabinoid activity to symptoms of major depression, while other studies have found increased endocannabinoid activity to have antidepressant-like effects. However, despite evidence that activating the endocannabinoid system can improve symptoms of depression, studies suggest that THC can have both depressant and antidepressant-like effects, depending on the dose.

    Specifically, a study published in 2007 found that low doses of a synthetic form of THC (WIN 55,212-2) raised serotonin levels and produced strong antidepressant-like effects in rats, whereas high doses reversed the effects and worsened depression. However, WIN 55,212-2 is approximately 20 times more potent than THC found in marijuana.

    Even still, THC has been found (under certain conditions) to exert antidepressant-like effects in patients suffering from pain associated with cancer and multiple sclerosis as well as improve mood and general well-being in healthy test subjects.

    Interestingly, THC has also been shown to increase neurogenesis – the growth of new brain cells – much like traditional anti-depressant medications do. Stress and depression are known to decrease neurogenesis, which can also be a side-effect of using alcohol, nicotine, opiates and cocaine.

    What This Means For Your Health

    Confirmation of marijuana’s potential for treating depression comes from both patient reports and scientific studies. On the other hand, evidence of THC’s seemingly opposite effects on depression are concerning and provide a good argument for choosing strains of medical marijuana that contain lower concentrations of THC.

    It’s also important to note that most of the scientific evidence concerning marijuana and depression comes from preclinical studies, meaning that human testing has been very limited. While medical marijuana has not been tested in human subjects directly for the treatment of clinical depression, evidence from aforementioned studies conducted on cancer and MS patients certainly seems to support the use of medical marijuana and other marijuana-based treatments for symptoms of depression.

    • madjake

      I am not what the press would present as a typical cannabis smoker: i have a responsible, professional, job ( i would not dream of smoking during work time), I am middle aged, not particularly “alternative” or anti-establishment, and dont associate in any other criminal activity- hell I dont ever even break the speed limit. I do know that I have had to live with depression my entire adult life and there is this “pit” just in front of me waiting to swallow me up. It is always there but at differnet times in my life i feel it more acutely than at others. I run the risk of losing everything by being caught with cannabis. Why? Because i know that when i stop i start to fall into that pit. Im not “addicted”.
      I have stopped many times and i dont move onto drink, or other drugs, or start craving cannabis. I do, however, start to feel myself falling into the pit. And that pit will also take away my job, break up relationaships and put me in the poor house. It is completely debilitating. I have taken my depression to doctors. I dare not tell them about my self-medication because it will be recorded , i get offered shit that really does not help- gives me diarrhea, makes me feel like i have the worst hangover ever, and does nothing to alleviate my nihilistic thoughts. Counselling is nice (who does not enjoy talking about themselves?) But does little to remove or reduce the size of the pit. What am i to do? I am sure many people manage without chemical assistance and good luck to those who do. Please do not judge me though, or pretend you understand what it is like to feel dispair and hopelessness. It is not a passing thought- it has been and will be around the corner my whole life, but a daily spliff helps keep it away, allows me to feel optimistic and be a useful member of society.

      • NeoCortexHun

        I feel the same way, if I don’t stimulate my brain with cannabis for a month the demotivation slowly sinking in to my life, making it difficult do do my job, maintain my friendships, workout, can’t even relax and take a break because I’m angry to myself for not being productive. Cannabis is working for me to fix these issues, and I’m not talking about the high effect, the motivation boost it gives is enough for days-weeks.
        (Sorry for my bad english)

      • Toast

        I just broke down last night. I had been hiding it my whole life. I always felt really alone, outcast from others, even when I’m sitting there having a conversation with my friends. I can laugh, but it feels forced. No matter how happy I seem too make them, I’m never sure if they want me around. Whenever I think, my thoughts start turning dark, and I start feeling the urge to cry. The burning hurts. It feels like I’m holding back tears all the time, and I likely am. I have to take deep breaths to relax enough for my throat not to tighten up too much. I had an urge to jump out of the car yesterday, while my mother was driving. She confirmed to me that I do have depression, because that’s how she feels all the time. She was diagnosed at my age, 20. I may not know how it feels to you, exactly, but I can try to relate. It hurts, so very much. It’s pure misery, and when I smoke cannabis, I have relief for a couple days. I actually feel leveled out. I no longer feel the burning in my skull, and the tightening in my throat. I can actually tell that people love me. I don’t get angry for no reason. I don’t think of being impaled, having my throat sliced open, taking a nuke to the face, jumping off a bridge,etc. I actually feel happy. I actually feel peace. I don’t let my self grow addicted, because I have twice, and the withdrawal was that I was angrier than normal, but just for a day or two. I smoke in moderation, and will go several days to months, even once going a year without smoking. It’s the reason why I like cannabis. I can control myself, even when I’m going through withdrawals. I don’t become more depressed, like when I used to drink. I actually feel like the people around me actually love me, and aren’t just saying it, then turning their backs and talking crap about me, or saying they don’t want to be around me. I actually feel like they really want to spend time with me. I don’t have my thoughts turn against me. I don’t think of my baby cousins weeping over my corpse. I think of happier things. I think of my possible children, in the future. I think of living at hogwarts, in peaceful times (yes I’m a Harry Potter fan). I think of being like superman, flying high through the clouds. I actually laugh, and feel the joy within that sweet moment. I actually feel like I’m with people, when I am, rather than just being alone. I can actually be free of the pressure I feel upon my very being. It’s liberation. It’s bliss.

        • Cats and Cannabis

          I’m a 23 year old female and I’ve had extreme depression, axiety, and OCD since I was probably 6 years old or younger. My first legitimate suicidal thought that I can remember was when I was 6. People just don’t understand. They tell you to buck up and try to convince you that the sun is shining. The sun is never shining to me. Life is a constant battle. I feel like my head is going to explode with too many thoughts every second. Uncontrollable negative thoughts all the time (mostly about myself). Weed is the ONLY thing that allows me to feel the warmth of that sunshine. I can whole-heartedly say that I’ve tried just about everything else. These comments saved my life. Depression is ugly and awful. It’s unrelenting and always the topic of priority in my mind. No matter who is around me or what is happening in my life there is always the immense, all-consuming darkness surrounding me just waiting to slowly creep in and strike. I thought I was the only one who fantasizes about taking “nukes to the face” lol and I can’t begin to tell you the relief that has swept over my body just reading these comments. Thank you, really and truly. I lack the ability to express my thoughts or feelings in a concise way so it helps to read from other people I can relate to who are more articulate than I. I’ve never felt like I’ve related to anyone I’ve ever met (I just act like I relate to them) and by reading these comments I no longer feel so unworthy or misfit… at least for now, the darkness will always somewhat linger in my life.

      • Kristan

        iOS If I did not know better, I just read my own biography. ⬆️⬆️⬆️

      • Sarahm1188

        Although I read A LOT of message boards and posts on depression research and depression forums, I have never left a comment or reply to someone’s comment. I feel the compelled to reply to your comment here. The way you described your depression is EXACTLY the way I feel about my own experience with depression. You could not have said it better. I actually took a screen shot of your comment, because it described my own experience so perfectly. I’ve been battling depression now for over half of my life. Last week was particularly bad. Saturday I attended a wedding, in which I had to attend bc I did the hair and makemakeup for the bride. Otherwise, I’m sure I would have made up some excuse to not go. After the wedding, some friends of mine, in a way, manipulated me into hanging out with them. I ended up smoking weed with them. (Typically, I smoke once every year or two.) Since then, the depression has lifted. I mean, I have been in such a great mood, since smoking. There is no other explanation other than the pot. Today I feel myself slipping closer to the “pit”. Therefore, I am planning on smoking with a friend tonight. Hopefully, I have the same results. I am so incredibly relieved and grateful I found something that eases the darkness. The past few days, I’ve not only been actually happy, but motivated as well. It’s been a long time since I have felt this good.

      • chris

        I understand your feelings completely. ..I have just come from the doctor who prescribed medical Marijuana for me good luck to us both

      • Melissa D. Ogando

        I have had the EXACT same depression, no antidepressants have ever truly worked well or for very long at all…my husband has just turned me toward cannabis for chronic physical pain & depression. It is actually working quite well, once I get my mind over the taboo-ness of it & can enjoy it. I agree….depression has taken jobs, relationships from me, certainly. I agree w you 1,000%

      • Easygoing_Erika

        This was a year ago, but wow. I stopped smoking nightly when I started a very stressful semester in grad school. I had chronic stress for the entire three months, and to my despair and disappointment, my depression crept in during the last week. I started up an old bottle of antidepressants and like last time, it just kind of made me flat. I ended up drinking a few beers on Friday, blacked out due to interactions, and have felt close to suicidal for the last few days. What has changed? Weed. I stopped taking the one true antidepressant with the least side effects and least feeling of addiction. I feel so great, so normal the next day. I want to throw these pills out and go back to what I know works for me. I just wish my doctor and therapist would support me. At least make me feel competent in my own health.

    • Josh

      I’ve been lookin for help with this shit it just fuckin sucks to feel like this depressed just thinking on doing the weed thing as my last resort hopely it helps

    • John Andersen

      One cannot trust the high level test above. Humans that smoke a lot of marijuana get MORE cannabinoid receptors…many more than occasional smokers. The amount would be relative. More receptors need more THC et. Cetera. Thanks. TEST ON HUMANS.

    • Jonathan Baty

      I always see these things and feel sympathy and relate to the ones out there with depression and other disorders similar . I was medically diagnosed with major depressive disorder at the age of 7, to be honest it has caused allot of problems in my life growing up as far as loosing relationships with people I’m close with, friends, family, etc…just because i feel unwanted or outcast-ed for no particular reason. Most of the people in my life today say I’m one of the funnest and nicest people they know, but Sadness was always knocking at my door. I have been prescribed a fair amount of anti depressants and even sleeping medication while growing up and I always need a higher dosage or a new medication within a few weeks because they simply did not work for me. Plus they made me gain weight, which I was eventually able to loose. I have had a few suicide attempts and almost been successful. One of the times the Dr. told my parents i was not going to make it through the night. Obviously I Lived from some kind of miracle, lucky me! I quit taking my anti depressants and found that marijuana has dramatically improved my outlook on life and given me a sense of belonging. AND NO I AM NOT A DRUG ADDICT!! My Relationships have gotten much better along with my depression. Stress levels dropped, I feel like things are okay and I’m content with what I have in my life. Not to say my Depressions completely gone , I still have those times but they are vary few and far between. I do not care for allot money or nice cars or anything like that, all I’v ever wanted was to simply be happy. I honestly feel that today. At the moment I’m not smoking because i don’t feel a reason to but, I truly believe it has curved the way i see things in a positive way. I am aware Cannabis does different things to different people but, its the only thing I can relay say helped me through struggles and I have a ton of gratitude for that. If you’re struggling with things or if life’s got you down I’d recommend lighting up a phat bowel or J. So that’s my input and I hope it was somewhat helpful. Thanks!