Depression is a major health concern, affecting millions of people around the world. In America alone, over 17 million individuals are living with depression, which is often linked to lifestyle factors such as sedentary lifestyles, lack of sleep, limited exposure to sunlight, social isolation, and stress. These factors can significantly impact people's well-being, work, and overall quality of life.
The relationship between cannabis and depression is complex and multifaceted. While some people may use cannabis to improve their mood, others may find that it worsens their symptoms of depression. Despite this, there have been no clinical trials focused on cannabis as a treatment for depression, making it challenging to determine the plant's impact on individuals with depression.
The research that is available suggests that the relationship between depression and cannabis is nuanced. As more studies are conducted, it may become clearer that the effects of cannabis on depression are influenced by a range of factors such as dose, type of cannabinoid, and patterns of use.
Depression is a term used to describe a range of mood disorders that share certain defining symptoms. People with depression often experience feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and low mood, as well as changes in sleep and eating patterns, low energy levels, and difficulty experiencing joy or excitement.
The most common forms of depression include:
Depression not only affects a person's mental health but also has physical health implications. For instance, adults with depression are 64% more likely to develop coronary artery disease, and 20 to 30% of individuals with heart disease also experience depression.
Depression is a result of multiple interacting mechanisms, including genetic factors, environmental factors, brain inflammation, and other factors. Understanding the diversity of causes behind depression can help to develop a more comprehensive approach to treating it.
In recent years, attention has shifted to the role played by the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in depression. The ECS is a neurochemical signaling network that regulates various processes in the body, including mood, sleep, memory, and appetite.
Cannabis affects the body through the endocannabinoid system and can alter a person's mood, appetite, and level of drowsiness. Although we still have much to learn about the endocannabinoid system, it is clear that a well-functioning ECS is crucial for maintaining mental health.
Recent studies suggest that the ECS may play a significant role in depression. For example, one study found that women with depression had altered levels of endocannabinoids compared to those without depression. Other studies have observed that rodents that lacked CB1 receptors, a part of the endocannabinoid system, had difficulty experiencing pleasure and were more likely to develop symptoms associated with depression.
A 2020 study highlighted the potential of the cannabinoids and terpenes found in cannabis to provide an antidepressant effect, but emphasized that there is currently no
substantial clinical evidence to support the use of cannabis as an effective treatment for depression. This conclusion is based on the fact that no randomized controlled trials have been conducted to investigate this outcome.
Despite the lack of scientific evidence, many cannabis consumers have already formed their own opinions on the matter. Mood elevation is frequently cited as one of the primary reasons for marijuana consumption, with people from all over the world using cannabis for centuries to increase sociability, induce feelings of euphoria, and alter perception. In one meta-analysis, which was a large analysis of multiple scientific studies, 34% of participants reported using cannabis to treat depression and low mood, even though depression is not recognized as a qualifying condition for cannabis use in any state in the US.
While depression is not a qualifying condition for cannabis use, many medical cannabis patients who have depression also experience pain. By alleviating pain, depression is often also reduced. For example, up to 54% of patients seeking treatment for chronic pain have reported depression.
There have also been efforts to determine whether cannabis use causes depression or whether depression leads to cannabis use. The available evidence suggests that both could be true, but there is stronger evidence to suggest that depression precedes cannabis use. One study found that individuals with depression were more than two times as likely to use cannabis daily.
Long-term or heavy cannabis use may also increase the likelihood of developing depression. However, it is important to note that other factors, such as sex, genes, tolerance, and personal circumstances, can also play a role.
It is crucial to understand that the relationship between cannabis and depression is complex and often overlooked by experts. The frequency of use, amount used, cannabinoid concentrations, and terpenes present can all influence whether cannabis contributes to or alleviates depressive symptoms.
Cannabis, like many substances, can produce opposing outcomes at different doses, a phenomenon known as bidirectional effects. For some individuals, very high doses of THC can increase depression, anxiety, and negative mood, while low doses may reduce anxiety and stress and generate mild euphoria or uplift.
It is worth noting that the precise doses required to produce these effects are unclear, as many studies have not specified them. Furthermore, doses can affect individuals differently, based on factors such as personal tolerance, metabolism, and even diet.
Until further research specifically explores the effects of cannabis dosage on depressive symptoms, it is difficult to determine conclusively how dosing affects depression.
Exploring the Role of Cannabinoids and Terpenes in the Treatment of Depression
Cannabis has been used for its therapeutic benefits for centuries, and more recently, scientists have been studying the specific compounds within the plant that may be contributing to its beneficial effects. In particular, the role of cannabinoids and terpenes in the treatment of depression has garnered a significant amount of attention.
The combination of different cannabinoids may play a role in determining whether cannabis can help alleviate or worsen the symptoms of depression. There is some evidence to suggest that the combination of THC and CBD may be beneficial for depression in the short term. A study found that cannabis with low THC and high CBD levels was most effective in reducing symptoms of depression. Conversely, cannabis with high THC and high CBD levels was best at reducing symptoms of stress.
Preliminary research also suggests that CBD alone may have therapeutic benefits for depression. Another study found that oral CBD reduced symptoms of depression in frequent cannabis users. This finding is in line with previous research indicating that CBD can counteract the anxiety caused by THC.
In a survey of 2,409 CBD users, many participants reported using CBD for depression. Of those, nearly 36% believed that CBD was effective in treating their condition by itself. It's important to note that this survey provides an overall analysis of the perceived efficacy of CBD for a range of conditions, not just depression specifically.
Terpenes, the fragrant compounds found in cannabis, may also play a role in the plant's antidepressant effects. Many commonly found terpenes, such as β-caryophyllene and myrcene, are associated with anti-anxiety effects. Anxiety is often closely linked to depression.
There is evidence that other terpenes may have anti-depressant effects as well. In a study comparing various cannabis terpenes to fluoxetine, a commonly used antidepressant, both linalool and β-pinene were found to have an antidepressant-like effect in mice.
The combination of cannabinoids, terpenes, and other compounds in cannabis results in a unique synergy known as the entourage effect. When it comes to treating symptoms of depression, harnessing the right combinations and ratios of cannabinoids and terpenes may be key to maximizing the plant's therapeutic benefits. Further research is needed to fully understand the relationship between these compounds and depression.