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Cannabis and Depression: What You Need to Know

Depression is an unseen but pervasive phenomenon affecting millions of Americans—even as much as 350 million individuals worldwide. Many people just dismiss feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, lack of enthusiasm, or thoughts of suicide as simply “the blues.” They may try out various treatments, from therapy sessions to drugs, with varying results. What they don’t know is that depression is an actual medical condition that needs serious attention and intervention.

Understanding Depression

Depression is a mood disorder that is quite hard to define. This condition is characterized by a few or more symptoms that persist for more than a few weeks. The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition), which is widely regarded as the standard classification of mental disorders referenced by mental health doctors in the United States, outlines some of the symptoms as the following:

  • A feeling of being “down” especially in the morning and most of the day
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Low self-worth or feelings of guilt
  • Indecisiveness or lack of focus
  • Inability to enjoy sleep (insomnia)
  • Noticeable weight loss or weight gain
  • Disinterest in usual activities or daily tasks
  • Recurring or persistent thoughts of suicide or death

If left untreated, depression can significantly impact a person’s life in a detrimental way. Poor health and a lowered immune system can make the body susceptible to other diseases and infections. Social functioning is also impaired long term, affecting work and relationships with others. Suicidal thoughts may be acted upon, leading to serious risk and injury or ultimate death.

Treating Depression

Depression may be classified as being mild, moderate, or severe. There are many ways of dealing with depression, starting with psychotherapy or “talk therapy” which is usually facilitated by a medical or mental health professional. This is an important aspect of dealing with depression as thoughts are sorted out and the mental cause of depression is addressed.

For patients with more severe cases of depression, medication such as antidepressants may be prescribed by the doctor. These drugs address depression on the level of chemicals and processes in the brain or body. These are regulated substances and thus should be taken only under supervision of a health practitioner. Abuse of such medication may lead to even bigger problems and worse manifestations of depression.

Finally, there are many alternative treatments and ways of dealing of depression that many people have found to be useful and effective. Some advocate practices such as meditation or yoga, or involvement in community support groups whether online or in real life. Another highly promising treatment for depression is medical marijuana or cannabis. 

Availability of Medical Marijuana

With the increasing acceptance of medical marijuana in many countries around the world, including the US, its use in treating many other types of diseases is also expanding. Currently, cannabis for medical purposes is deemed legal in Austria, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain. 

Australia has already passed some laws that allow cannabis for regulated medical and scientific use. Meanwhile, in the United States, while marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, the District of Columbia, the State Of California and 28 other states have already passed legislation that allows the possession, use, and distribution of medical cannabis in some form or another.

As society becomes more and more accepting of alternative treatments, marijuana and depression has been a hot topic in many circles these days due to reported stories of success among a number of users. While much research still need to be done to establish how marijuana use affects depression—most clinical studies have involved cannabis on animals—the prospects are nevertheless compelling and exciting for many patients suffering from depression.

How Cannabis Works

Marijuana’s effect on depression may be better understood by knowing more about the plant and how it works in the human body. The vital components of the marijuana plant are cannabinoids, or chemical compounds that work with cannabinoid receptors in the human body. This interaction affects neurotransmitter activity in the brain and peripheral nervous system, which in turn affect things such as appetite, mood, pain, memory, etc. That is why taking marijuana has such a profound effect on the human body.

Cannabinoids are a natural part of the human body’s endocannabinoid system or ECS, and the lack of it is what is seen to be one of the causes of some ailments, diseases, and mood disorders. Thus, the system is improved or balanced by supplementing cannabinoids from plants such as marijuana (called phytocannabinoids). Cannabinoids are so important that scientists have even developed synthetic cannabinoids, which are often used in prescription medication.

In truth, there are many types of cannabinoids found in the marijuana plant, but the most important ones for those using medical marijuana are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is what causes the commonly known psychoactive “high” resulting from recreational use, while CBD is the one more sought after for medicinally beneficial effects.

Methods of Cannabis Intake

There are various ways of using cannabis to enjoy its medicinal benefits. While some might come to the conclusion that the way cannabis is consumed hardly makes a difference to its effects on the body, the contrary is actually true. Also, purchasing and using medical cannabis depends on the parameters set by the laws of a particular state, so patients need to make sure what are the allowable options regarding use of cannabis in their location.

Media portrayals of cannabis use often feature people smoking a pipe or bong or dried cannabis leaves rolled up in paper. This method may work for some, but it poses a danger for people who are suffering from smoke allergies and those who have respiratory disorders. What’s more, long-term smoking can be detrimental to one’s health as it can irritate the lungs. Plus, there’s also the scent to think about.

The most beneficial way of consuming cannabis would be by using cannabis oil. Cannabis oil can come in many forms, some of which include CBD oil and tinctures. These can be ingested directly or sprayed under the tongue (called sublingual” administration). For those who prefer a different culinary experience, cannabis oil can be used as an ingredient for desserts, salads, or even gourmet recipes. Mixing cannabis with food is also one of the most potent ways of delivering cannabinoids into the body, since it is metabolized directly by the liver. Eating cannabis also provides a strong “high” that takes quite a long time to wear off. Alternatively, cannabis oil can also be mixed into ointments, creams, salves, and lotions for topical application. 

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How Medical Marijuana Addresses Depression

So how can one exactly go about using medical marijuana to address depression? According to experts, consuming marijuana products with high levels of THC is not ideal in treating conditions such as depression because it has been found to cause even more anxiety and paranoia. Therefore, the right balance of THC and CBD must be achieved if treating depression is the target.

Additionally, not many people know but there are different types of cannabis strains, and there are particular ones that are beneficial for specific diseases and conditions such as depression. There are two types of cannabis plants—Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica—and it is said that generally, strains from the sativa variety have been observed to be more effective in treating depression and mood-related disorders.

Finally, more than THC and CBD cannabinoids, the terpenes secreted by the cannabis plant glands have a positive effect on depressed individuals. Terpenes are oils that give cannabis varieties varied and distinctive aromas and flavors, such as citrus, berry, mint, pine, etc. Many factors influence a plant’s production of terpenes, such as climate, weather, plant age/maturation, and the types of soil and fertilizers that have been used. There are more than 100 different terpenes that can be found in the cannabis plant.

Cannabis Strains for Treating Depression

Here are some of the particular cannabis strains that are recommended in helping treat depression:

Jack Herer

Also known as The Powerhouse Cannabis Strain, Jack Herer is one of the most popular and sought-after sativa-based marijuana strain for depression. When consumed in low dosages, it has been found to effectively boost one’s mood and increase feelings of overall well-being. In terms of terpenes, it is piney and lemony, along with a slight sweet and spicy taste.

Girl Scout Cookies

While this strain is classified as being dominated with Indica strains, it also has a high Sativa content that helps in relieving tension and anxiety. By providing relaxation and bringing about euphoria, it effectively addresses depression in general. The Girl Scout Cookies strain is a result of cross-breeding of OG Kush, Durban Poison, and Cherry Kush varieties.

Pineapple Express Also known as The Hollywood Cannabis Strain, it is another popular and well-liked sativa-based marijuana strain that lightens one’s mood. A combination of Trainwreck and Hawaiian strains, Pineapple Express gives just the right euphoria and high to enable one to be focused and level-headed.

Harlequin

This strain possesses a balanced 1:1 ratio of THC and CBD, making it an ideal concoction for patients who wish to be lifted out of depression while still maintaining a clear head. The CBD effectively counteracts the potential anxiety caused by THC, creating a perfect formula for calming the nerves.

Other Medical Uses of Marijuana

Aside from providing stress and anxiety relief for depression, medical marijuana or cannabis is increasingly used for its many other medical and health benefits:

Deeper sleep

Cannabis can help cure insomnia and give users a deeper, more relaxing sleep. It thus gives the body an opportunity to rest and rejuvenate itself, leading to an overall sense of well-being.

Appetite stimulation

Cannabis has appetite-inducing capabilities that can help anorexics or those convalescing from a major disease to gain proper weight.

Pain relief

Cannabis has wonderful analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties beneficial for those in chronic or severe pain due to physiological conditions, accidents, etc. Cannabis as a natural form of treatment is gaining popularity as an alternative to addictive and costly pharmaceutical painkillers.

Cancer prevention

Studies involving animals have shown that cannabis can eliminate cancer cells and prevent them from spreading or multiplying. The prospective effect on humans is potentially astounding.

Healthy heart

Antioxidants found in cannabis are effective in maintaining a healthy heart, regulating blood pressure, and preventing cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack, atherosclerosis, stroke, etc.

Healthy skin

Cannabis products such as oils and creams can be applied on the skin to bring out a healthy glow due from cellular regeneration. They can also prevent wrinkles, skin dryness, and relieve other skin disorders like eczema and psoriasis.

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Is Medical Cannabis For Everyone?

Depression is just one of the many conditions that medical marijuana is touted to treat, and while it is tempting to embark on this kind of alternative treatment immediately, keep in mind that the guidance and supervision of a medical practitioner is still required in order to procure and utilize medical cannabis properly.

Medical cannabis may not be the end-all and cure-all for depression, as it can be used in conjunction with other traditional treatment regimens such as psychotherapy or even pharmaceutical drugs. What works for one individual may not also have the same effect in others, so it is very important not to self-medicate or recommend cannabis treatments unconscientiously.

Before taking medical cannabis for depression or any health condition for that matter, be sure to consult a doctor and study the various options available. Medical marijuana is also not yet covered by government health insurance programs, so the costs involved in undertaking such alternative treatment must be taken into consideration.