A Look Into Cannabis & Depression
Unlike other illnesses and conditions where cannabis had some good data to support its use, mental health conditions are not as clear-cut.
Psychiatrists and psychologists often warn of the dangers of using cannabis by people with underlying mental illnesses.
Let’s take a look at cannabis and depression, self-medicating, and the things we do know about the combination.
Cannabis & Depression
One of the critical issues revolves around how depression is diagnosed. Of course, we all know how it feels to be down in the dumps sometimes, but this is not a medical definition.
To be diagnosed with depression, an individual must suffer from persistent feelings of sadness, lack of interest in things they once enjoyed, having feelings of worthlessness, and may or may not have physical symptoms such as weight gain or loss, headaches, gastrointestinal complaints, or chronic pain.
These symptoms must cause distress to the individual and interfere with their daily functioning.
Suicidal ideation or having a “death wish” is not necessarily required for the diagnosis.
Some articles about cannabis and depression refer to major depressive episodes, but others use much broader definitions of depression, often self-diagnosed.
Some depressed people are high-functioning and keep their suffering to themselves while acting ‘normally’ in front of others. On the other hand, some depressed people are agitated and irritable, and some are stuck in bed and cannot muster up the energy to get out of bed.
These varied tells of depression complicate both diagnosis and treatment. In addition, given the world's stress with the COVID-19 pandemic, political strife, financial problems, and global climate change — rates of situational depression have begun to increase.
People with depression can self-medicate with food, sex, alcohol, drugs, and exercise. A prevalent form of self-medicating is cannabis. They do so to avoid needing to see a doctor or even the thought of trying to find a doctor to help them may become too overwhelming.
For these reasons, depressed individuals often turn to cannabis for relief. This can be associated with cannabis being able to help with low-energy moods or sadness.
Unfortunately, due to the development of tolerance to THC over time, some of these sufferers end up using more and more cannabis to support their mood-altering needs. This may also contribute to the risk of cannabis use disorder.
Some experts believe that cannabis causes depression or, at the very least, worsens it, but this remains debated to this day. However, a 2009 meta-analysis of over 3,000 studies on the subject concluded that the risk of developing depression for adolescents using cannabis was comparable to non-users.
At this time, most cannabis practitioners would agree that both depression and cannabis use are so every day that the relationship is less about cause and effect than co-existence. Those who believe that cannabis use contributes to depression point out that more teens who attempt suicide will report recent cannabis use.
Unfortunately, there is no current data on depressed youth who never interact with the healthcare system and use cannabis successfully. They abandon it as they age and no longer suffer from that same youthful depression.
What We Know About Cannabis & Depression
We truly may never get to the real core of the cannabis-depression relationship. Instead, many may have to live with the fact that people feel cannabis helps their mood and supports their use until they exhibit signs of having a cannabis use disorder.
It’s not for others to judge, and it’s similar to being concerned that a person who takes a daily anti-depressant is being ‘addicted,’ and that is unfair to those suffering from their own unique experiences with depression.
Any cannabis use referenced above is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The writer is not a medical doctor. The legality of cannabis products varies by state, and readers are encouraged to check their local laws before purchasing and using cannabis products. Possessing, using, distributing, and selling marijuana or marijuana-based products is illegal under federal law as of this article, regardless of any conflicting state laws. Nothing in this article should be construed as advice regarding the medical use of cannabis products.