Depression is a serious condition that affects up to one in four Canadians at some time in their life. Existing treatments for depression are wide-ranging, from drug-based therapies and mood stabilizers to psychotherapy and electro-convulsive therapy. However, many of these treatments have potentially harmful side effects and could lead to long-term dependency. Marijuana, on the other hand, offers a safer alternative with very little to no side effects.
Folks suffering from depression report that some cannabis strains provide relief from the condition and related symptoms like anxiety and sleep disorders. Conversely, some say that certain cannabis strains actually make them feel more depressed. That’s why it’s important that you do your cannabis homework before you turn to marijuana to help ease depression.
What Is Depression?
The myth that depression is merely a bad mood or negative outlook has long been busted. There are many different types of depression including postpartum depression, disruptive mood dysregulation disorder and seasonal affective disorder, to name just a few.
The many types of depression share several symptoms and signs. Some of the most common depression indicators include:
- Fatigue and low energy levels
- Low self-confidence and self-esteem
- Dramatic weight fluctuations
- Loss of interest in activities previously found to be enjoyable
- Disturbed sleeping patterns (including insomnia and oversleeping)
- Suicidal thoughts and tendencies
- Physical symptoms including digestion problems, migraines and cramps
The Science Behind How Marijuana May Ease Depression
The body contains an endocannabinoid system (ECS), a network of receptors that affects many processes like pain responses, mood and inflammation. The receptors are split into two groups: CB1 and CB2. These receptors react with the active ingredients, or cannabinoids, in marijuana. The two main cannabinoids in cannabis are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), which work together to act as anti-inflammatory and pain-reducing agents. THC is especially effective as an antidepressant and mood elevator.
Although users report some strains cause or worsen depression instead of provide relief, research indicates that cannabis use doesn’t increase the risk of experiencing depression.
However, a study from McGill University showed that higher doses of marijuana high in THC, which is a psychoactive agent, may worsen already-existing depression. That said, this particular study, which was conducted on rats, showed that if doses of marijuana are kept low, cannabis shows good potential as an anti-depressant by increasing serotonin, the feel-good hormone associated with feelings of happiness.
There’s a greater risk between cannabis use and schizoaffective disorder, so if this accompanies your depression, cannabis use isn’t recommended. If you find your symptoms of depression worsen with cannabis use, discontinue use immediately and try other strains that users report to be effective for mood elevation.
Practical Tips for Consuming Cannabis for Depression
Some cannabis strains with lower THC content that may help ease depression symptoms include:
It can be difficult to find the correct dosage and strain of marijuana to treat your depression, especially as higher doses may worsen your symptoms. Start with a small amount of cannabis and see how it affects you. If you feel like increasing your cannabis dosage would be helpful, do so slowly and in small increments in order to monitor the changes in your mood. A good starting dosage is 2–5 mg of THC.
Meanwhile, you can choose from a number of consumption methods. Smoking or vaping cannabis provides fast-acting effects. Marijuana capsules will take longer to produce effects—between 45 to 90 minutes or more. It’s up to you to decide what form of cannabis works best for your depression symptoms and lifestyle.
Remember to start low and go slow with any cannabis products. And if something isn’t working for you, change the cannabis strain and/or consumption method, and see if that provides the effects you’re after. It may take a bit of experimentation, but this trial and error will help you find the cannabis regimen that works best for you.
Photo credit: Tiago Bandeira