Cannabis and Depression: Causing or Curing

Depression is one of the most prevalent mental health disorders affecting Canadians, along with anxiety. It’s estimated that 1 in 5 Canadians will have had a mental illness in their life, with that number rising to 50% by the age of 40. Approximately 8% of Canadians will experience a major depressive episode in their lives.

There has been a dialogue swirling around the issue of cannabis for depression that has many confused as to whether cannabis can help, or harm people suffering from this mental health condition. One side of the argument warns of cannabis’ potential for negative psychological consequences while the other sees a promise in cannabis for the management of depression symptoms.

So, is cannabis something that can help or harm people with depression? The answer is both. The following is an investigation of perspectives surrounding depression and the discourse that follows when cannabis is brought into the equation.

Perspective One: Cannabis Helps Those with Depression

Researchers and the medical community who believe that cannabis holds promise for the treatment of depression consistently draw on the role of the endocannabinoid system as a regulator of mood. The following perspectives are shared supporting cannabis’ beneficial uses for depression:

  •       Cannabis provides an alternative to alcohol dependence, and can be useful in managing the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. It was noted early in cannabis legalization, that the states who had legal cannabis saw a drop in suicide rates;
  •       Elevated moods associated with cannabis, particularly derived from cannabidiol (CBD) can help people with depression have the courage to get out and experience more of the world rather than remaining isolated;
  •       Cannabis helps alleviate the use of potentially harmful pharmaceutical drugs commonly used to treat depression or physical and emotional pain, and other issues. These substances include opiates, pain medications, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, pharmaceutical antidepressants and other strong psychiatric medications;
  •       CBD can help increase the degree to which the brain produces serotonin, with small doses of THC being beneficial for these processes as well;
  •       CBD can assist the brain’s hippocampus to regenerate neurons (neurodegeneration) which is an essential brain process of healing itself, resulting in anti-depressant effects;
  •       Cannabis can be particularly helpful in controlling the fear-response when triggered by uncomfortable emotions, making it a very studied topic for the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

The evidence surrounding cannabis and its potential for the treatment of depression has come to somewhat of a swell as more Canadians experience depression in their lives. For some who may not be open to pharmaceutical intervention for their depression symptoms, cannabis may be the answer.

For others, cannabis may be the last thing they need to treat their depression.

Perspective Two: Cannabis Causes Depression

Some mental health advocates are fearful about what could happen to people who abuse cannabis, with the worry that using cannabis can exacerbate symptoms of depression. Within the psychological community, overuse and abuse is a focal point.

Here are the various perspectives surrounding cannabis and depression that has some in the medical and psychological communities instructing those with depression to lay off the weed:

  •       A recent study examined the correlation between frequent and chronic cannabis use and psychological comorbidity, suggesting that those who use cannabis frequently are at a higher risk of developing mental health conditions such as depression;
  •       Although it’s reported that only 9% of those who use cannabis become dependent, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders names something called cannabis user disorder, which has 11 associated characteristics. These include cravings for cannabis, unsuccessful attempts to cut down, recurrent use despite negative outcomes, and demonstrated tolerance. The psychological community is holding on tight to this disorder as a warning sign for what could happen when cannabis is abused rather than responsibly used;
  •       It’s generally accepted within the cannabis community that high levels of THC can exacerbate symptoms of depression, and not recommended that those who have recurrent instances of depression and anxiety consume high-THC strains;
  •       A study examined whether excessive cannabis use and major depression were inheritable traits, passed on through generations. Through survey data, it was confirmed there is “significant genetic overlap” when examining cannabis use and instances of depression in families through generations.

When looked at critically, it can be understood why there are some concerns about cannabis use when looked at in the context of mental health and depression. The spectrum of opinions is vast, yet it’s up to the consumer to determine the best course of action for cannabis use for depression.

Balancing the Scales on Depression and Cannabis

These perspectives show that there does need to be an informed approach of cannabis use for those with depression, and this is where communities like Modern Leaf focused on cannabis education come in.

As the perspectives supporting cannabis use for depression show, there seems to be loads of potential for investigation into exactly how cannabis can help the human brain. The anti-cannabis perspectives show a need to be balanced in cannabis intake and understand the levels of THC present in a strain.

Cannabis should not be prohibited in anyone’s life, but everyone does have their own duty to use cannabis responsibly and in a way that is positive and beneficial to the user.