Depression is an epidemic that affects roughly 350 million people worldwide. This painful condition is a leading cause of disability in the world today. There are mixed reports on the effects of medical cannabis use on depression. Some experts believe that using their California medical marijuana card can help ease the symptoms of depression, while others believe depression symptoms can be worsened by cannabis use.
Lester Grinspoon, professor of psychiatry at the Harvard School of Medicine, says “I think cannabis has a lot of potential in the treatment of mental illness”, but he goes on to say that, like with any drug, “it will not work for everyone.”
Many depression sufferers refer to marijuana as ‘green Prozac’ because they feel that it hugely alleviates their depression, by lifting their spirits, controlling their painful ruminating, aiding with sleep, and giving them energy.
There are many forms of depression treatment currently available. It’s possible to successfully manage and eradicate even severe depression. All levels of depression can respond well to skilfully applied talk therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Medication is usually not recommended as a first course of treatment for mild or moderate cases of depression, but can be very helpful in managing severe depression. Unfortunately, there is anecdotal evidence that medical professionals can be all too willing to prescribe powerful, mind and life-altering drugs even before talk therapy has been given a fair shot.
There are many different types of antidepressant drugs on the market. Many of them have unpleasant side effects. Of the four most common forms of antidepressant drug, tricyclic antidepressants, MAOIs, SSRIs and SNRIs, all have potential side effects that can sometimes be even worse than the symptoms of the initial depression. What’s more, some studies have shown antidepressants to be no more effective than a placebo. An analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that antidepressants are only effective for people with severe depression, and that patients with mild or moderate depression see little or no benefit from their use. Antidepressants are big business. In 2008 pharmaceutical companies profited $9.6 billion from antidepressant sales alone. Could this mean that unscrupulous doctors are being persuaded to be too trigger happy in prescribing antidepressants?
There is a growing body of research on the benefits of medicinal marijuana as a treatment for depression.
Scientists at the University at Buffalo have been exploring whether marijuana could be effective as a treatment for depression caused by chronic stress. They have been focusing on naturally produced chemical compounds found in the brain called endocannabinoids. These compounds play a role in cognition, emotions, and behavior, and they have a chemical makeup similar to that of cannabis. Chronic stress may suppress the brain’s production of endocannabinoids, which can lead to feelings of depression. It appears possible that introducing cannabis into the system may lead to the restoration of normal endocannabinoid function and therefore mood stabilization.
A 2007 study by researchers at McGill University in Montreal showed that low doses of THC can increase serotonin. However, high dosages of THC seemed to decrease serotonin, which worsened depression. “These findings confirm what has been reported by people who smoke cannabis,” said Dr. Gabriella Gobbi, who co-authored the study. “Often it produces euphoria, calmness, sociability, but in other circumstances it can produce bad dreams and negative feelings.” As with everything, sensible dosing is crucial.
There is still a lot of research to be done. According to Dr. Gobbi at McGill “Not only do we have to determine the dose-effect of cannabis on depressive people, but also which kind of cannabinoid may have a positive effect on mood.”
Thomas F. Denson, PhD, Professor of Psychology at the California State University at Long Beach, and Mitch Earleywine, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychology at the State University of New York at Albany, wrote in their 2006 study titled ‘Decreased Depression in Marijuana Users’, “Those who consume marijuana occasionally or even daily have lower levels of depressive symptoms than those who have never tried marijuana.”
Jay Cavanaugh, PhD, National Director for the American Alliance for Medical Cannabis, wrote in his 2003 article ‘Cannabis and Depression’ “Patients who use cannabis to ‘relax’ may be treating the anxiousness sometimes associated with depression. Cannabis aids the insomnia sometimes present in depression and can improve appetite. Better pain control with cannabis can reduce chronic pain related depression. While cannabis cannot yet be considered a primary treatment of major depression it may improve mood when used under physician’s supervision and in combination with therapy and/or SSRI’s.”
It is definitely best to be careful when using your medical card California whilst on conventional antidepressants, and to seek medical advice before going off conventional medicine. Many antidepressants have bad withdrawal symptoms, and if you suddenly stop taking them you can become very ill. Patients must taper the dose down gradually with a physician’s supervision.
It is often not a good idea to be too hasty in letting the pleasant effects of using your California medical card inspire you to give up on your conventional medication. Allan N. Schwartz, PhD, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Psychoanalyst, stated in his article ‘Marijuana Makes It Worse: Severe Mental Illnesses’, “I have directly witnessed the tragedy of patients going off of their medications for Bipolar Disorder, using marijuana and ending up re-hospitalized in worse shape than any time prior to the relapse…Leaving aside anxiety, those who experience severe depression and who use marijuana end up feeling much more depressed, at least that is what I have witnessed.”
Depression is a complex condition, and it is important to take it seriously and to be thorough in tackling it. It is crucial to get to the bottom of what is causing a patient’s depression. Treating the root causes of the depression is the single best way to cure it for good. Antidepressants can be effective, but they can have very debilitating side-effects. Marijuana can, as studies and anecdotal evidence are now showing, be a very useful weapon in some people’s battle with depression. It is very dependent on the person and their unique circumstances.
It is possible to use your 420 card if you suffer from depression, but only if your physician and therapist are on-board with the idea. Depression is a brutal and life-destroying condition, and must be fought with all of the knowledge, will and determination one can muster.