The medical benefits of consuming cannabis are many, and the proliferation of new businesses trying to make a profit on the plant has led to something or a ‘miracle cure’ effect. Wonderful claims have come from all directions regarding the possibilities of cannabis in medicine, industry and recreational markets, but as opportunists arrive on the scene, exaggerations build in an effort to win customers and our initial excitement is replaced with cynicism and wariness. As a result, the very real benefits of cannabis in reducing the impact of conditions ranging from epilepsy to multiple sclerosis can often be ignored. One ailment building a major body of evidence behind it with regard to cannabis treatment is depression. Far from the claims of the past, which led many in previous generations to develop an unfair judgement of cannabis consumers, recent studies suggest that cannabis, and particularly the cannabinoid CBD, show promising results in treating a variety of mood disorders. As legal obstacles between science and cannabis fall, substantial amounts of studies are showing positive correlation between cannabis treatment programmes and an improvement in life outlook, mood stability and positivity. But cannabis is complex, and it’s important to be aware that the different cannabinoids within the plant can provide very different effects.
CBD and Depression
CBD is just one of over a hundred different cannabinoids, but by far amongst the most researched. Because scientists are only just being able to investigate cannabis properly and in-depth, there remain very few clinical studies that can be trusted to provide reliable results. However, in 2014 and later in 2018, two reviews were published which gathered various different examples of CBD being shown in studies to have a positive effect in treating depression. Various animal models support CBD being classified as an antidepressant, with one suggesting via a ‘forced swim test’ that the compound not only reduced depressive tendencies but also feelings of helplessness and loss of pleasure and interest in surroundings. Interestingly, it is believed that CBD may present fewer addictive tendencies in users, due to its indirect interaction with the CB receptors in the body’s endocannabinoid system. This is important when talking about treatments for depression, as the current pharmaceutical options on offer coming with several side effects. One of these side effects is a tendency for patients to become severely addicted to their medication, rendering it very difficult for them to fully recover, and keeping them on medication for the rest of their life. CBD is also rapidly becoming a common and popular alternative medicine in end-of-life care, where it shows promising results in improving mood and outlook in spite of patients’ often tragic situations. Currently being investigated for its ability to reduce cravings and depression in those suffering opiate withdrawal, and for its anxiety-reducing properties, CBD again offers an alternative to pharmaceutical programmes which include addictive substitutes and mostly temporary solutions.
THC and Depression
Again, there are far more studies available which used animal models to test the effects of THC on depression than there are that used human models. However, numbers of the latter are growing, and we can expect to see increasing amounts of human-based studies released in coming years, as more countries across the world relax laws controlling scientific investigation into cannabis and its effects. Due to the ‘high’ achieved through consuming THC-containing cannabis products, many don’t recommend its use in treating depression specifically. At least, not on its own. The ‘entourage effect’ suggests that including just a tiny amount of THC alongside full measured doses of CBD can noticeably improve results in patients. Although there are very few, if any, reliable studies which directly relate to cannabis and depression in this context, it can be assumed that if this is the case for the treatment of epilepsy, then it might also be true for the treatment of depression. Indeed, some studies suggest that the use of higher strength doses of THC is risky in treating those suffering moderate to severe depression, with symptoms of depersonalisation and anxiety appearing sometimes within the first day. Clearly, far more research is needed into the effects of the different cannabinoids on the brain, but also how the individual chemistries of our brains can affect our bodies’ reaction to and reception of the cannabis. Given CBD’s well reported successes and general classification as an antidepressant, it is usually recommended that strains with higher doses of this compound are sought out when treating depression, rather than strains with high amounts of THC.
Other Cannabinoids and Depression
There are over a hundred cannabinoids aside from THC and CBD present in each new strain developed, and all of the more traditional strains too. Research into the effects of these cannabinoids is only just beginning, and we can certainly expect to see and hear more about them in the future. Currently, there is not enough evidence available to say whether compounds such as CBN and CBG can act as antidepressants, but there is mounting evidence for their use in combatting a variety of other afflictions ranging from Crohn’s relief, painkiller properties and antibacterial properties in the latter, to appetite and sleep disorders in the former.
Can Cannabis Cause Depression?
There have been many studies over the years linking cannabis use to long-term psychological problems which do include depression. Many of these studies are questionable in their funding, sample size and investigation methods but it can’t be denied that there appears to be some sort of link between cannabis consumption and mood disorders. Some believe that this is not a simple ‘cause and effect’ process as presented by previous media and government drugs programmes and initiatives, but rather evidence of people self-medicating for undiagnosed problems. Whereas government rhetoric has previously focussed on the possible negative side effects of consumption, recent attention has been more focussed on the possible medicinal and therapeutic benefits to the plant. Cannabis, particularly strains high in THC, is a psychoactive plant and as such those with underlying mental health conditions should take extra care and precaution when experimenting with it for the first time. However, the current consensus seems to be drifting further from cannabis consumption being the cause of mood disorders such as depression, and closer towards it being a possible symptom and even likely cure for them.