Holistic Approaches to Alleviating Depression

bypeterg6 minutes

Depression is an unwelcome ghost that dampens joy, devastates relationships, ruins careers and sometimes ends the lives of many Canadians.

Nearly everyone in Canada has experienced a mental health issue—either personally or through a family member, friend or colleague. According to Statistics Canada's 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) on Mental Health, “5.4% of the Canadian population aged 15 years and over reported symptoms that met the criteria for a mood disorder in the previous 12 months, including 4.7% for major depression and 1.5% for bipolar disorder.”

The survey also notes that nearly one in eight adults (12.6%) identified symptoms that met the criteria for a mood disorder, including 11.3% for depression and 2.6% for bipolar disorder.

More and more people are searching beyond the usual antidepressant medications to explore more natural, holistic treatments to ease depression symptoms. These can include:

  • Herbal supplements
  • Exercise
  • Meditation
  • Cannabis

Yes, now many people suffering from depression turn to marijuana as a way to uplift mood, impart energy and ease other related depression symptoms.

Depression is often co-occurring with chronic pain or other health issues,” says Zach Walsh, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia. He also notes that now some consider marijuana an effective part of their depression treatment plan: “Many say medical cannabis improves mood while also addressing primary symptoms.”

Traditional Methods of Coping With Depression

Traditional treatments—decided in conjunction with your doctor or a psychiatrist—may include medication, psychotherapy or a combination of both.

Common psychotherapy options include:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy
  • Interpersonal therapy
  • Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation

Then, there’s a wide range of antidepressants available, some of which you may be familiar with, like:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
  • Atypical antidepressants
  • Tricyclic antidepressants
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)

But sometimes it can take a long while for the effects of antidepressants to kick in. Many people also experience powerful side effects, which can include:

  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Weight gain
  • Blurred vision

Work the Body to Treat Depression

Alternative, complementary or integrative therapies is a broad category that can include a range of different treatments like:

  • Acupuncture
  • Dietary changes
  • Exercise regimes
  • Hypnosis
  • Yoga
  • Aromatherapy

Some of these methods can treat the body directly. For example, exercise regimens have been shown to:

  • Lower stress
  • Reduce depression
  • Impart energy
  • Help practitioners relax

Yoga, especially, with its body awareness and special breathing techniques can help you find calm and stay centred during depressive episodes.

Massage also promotes the body-mind connection, using touch to release tension and promote relaxation. It also releases serotonin and dopamine, and decreases cortisol, often helping improve depression, pain control and sleep.

Meanwhile, acupuncture and reflexology work with the body’s energy flow and nervous systems, targeting specific trigger points to promote physical and mental wellness.

Many people also turn to herbal remedies—such as St. John’s wort and gingko biloba—to treat depression and improve memory. Although a lot of anecdotal evidence exists for the products’ effectiveness, there’s little scientific evidence to back this up.

Use the Mind to Raise Your Mood

Like yoga, meditation uses awareness to find calm through full immersion into the moment. And also like yoga, there are many different forms of meditation, like:

  • Traditional Zen meditation, which follows the breath to harmonize with the here and now, breaking the bonds of past (guilt, depression) and future (fear, anxiety).
  • Transcendental meditation, where participants repeat a sound or mantra while meditating.
  • Body scan meditation, where the practitioner checks in on different parts of the body to focus and break the pattern of negative thoughts.
  • Guided imagery meditation techniques that create a harmony between mind and body to achieve relaxation, and successfully deal with stress, anger, pain, depression and insomnia.

Or in a Canadian winter, some use light therapy as a treatment for seasonal affective disorder (SAD). A light box mimics natural outdoor light, positively affecting brain chemicals connected to mood and sleep. It may also help with other types of depression and sleep disorders.


Fighting Depression With Cannabis

Research shows that cannabis may hold some promise in dealing with depression. For example, there’s evidence that it can combat some of the side effects of traditional antidepressants, including nausea and sleep disorders.

While more research needs to be done on how medical marijuana affects depression, some promise has been shown. Scientists at the University at Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions (RIA) have been using animal models to study chronic stress and depression, with a focus on endocannabinoids, which are brain chemicals similar to substances in marijuana.

“Chronic stress is one of the major causes of depression,” said senior research scientist Samir Haj-Dahmane in a university press release. “Using compounds derived from cannabis to restore normal endocannabinoid function could potentially help stabilize moods and ease depression.”


And a research review by Canadian psychologists—considering more than 60 published articles and studies—found that “marijuana can help battle depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and even addictions to alcohol and painkillers.”

That said, there’s some evidence that suggests regular or heavy consumers of cannabis are more often diagnosed with depression than cannabis non-smokers are.

And some with depression respond negatively to the cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). What this means is that finding the right kind of cannabis to help treat your individual depression symptoms is extremely important.

  • For a mood uplifter, try an energetic sativa or sativa-dominant hybrid strain. Not only do they tend to make consumers feel happier, but they may just impart some motivation to get out of the house and move around. Some options include:
  • If depression is disrupting sleep patterns, an indica cannabis strain may be your best bet. These sedative marijuana strains can help you fall asleep at the right time and stay asleep through the night so that you’re well-rested at the right time and don’t feel you need to sleep the day away. Some popular indica marijuana strains include:

At the end of the day, you need to try different treatments (consulting with your doctor) to find what works best to help alleviate your depression, so you can begin the journey back to mental health and happiness. Cannabis may be able to help, but you should talk to your doctor about how the plant could best fit into your mental health plan.

Photo credit: Sasha Freemind