By now, we have a pretty clear understanding of the relationship between alcohol abuse and mental health disorder such as depression. We know that alcohol works as a depressant, and we understand how long-term use affects the brain and worsens symptoms of mood disorders.
When it comes to marijuana, the image is less clear, and that’s problematic since it’s becoming increasingly decriminalized and destigmatized, which means it’s also becoming more easily available. Some advocates for medical marijuana even claim that it can be used to treat depression. But what does science have to say about that?
The answer is not a lot. Although there is evidence that marijuana can increase the risk of psychosis in people with psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia, the data on depression is not as robust. However, that does not mean that depression and marijuana are benign partners.
Marijuana and Mood
In 2015, researchers from the University of Buffalo conducted a study which found that the active compounds of marijuana activate the same receptors in the brain as endocannabinoids – neurotransmitters involved in many important processes, including how we regulate emotions and our physiological response to stress.
By performing tests on rats, they found that in states of chronic stress, the production of endocannabinoids is lower. Therefore the chemicals found in cannabis have some potential in developing medications that can alleviate symptoms of depression by restoring normal endocannabinoid function.
Another study from the Journal of Affective Disorders found that self-reported levels of depression did seem to reduce from smoking cannabis, but not long-term.
People struggling with depression are more than twice as likely to use marijuana to alleviate their symptoms than ten years ago, because of increased accessibility, which can have negative consequences.
Although there is some evidence that marijuana has limited antidepressant properties, there are still some important risks to consider.
First of all, using marijuana instead of traditional forms of treatment such as medications and psychotherapy is called self-medicating, which increases the risk of developing an addiction. Marijuana does not alter the underlying brain pathology that contributes to symptoms of depression. It has a sedating effect, so it numbs you for a few hours, and you stop thinking about your problems. On the other hand, heavy use can lead to amotivational syndrome, where you become socially withdrawn and apathetic, reducing your ability to function in everyday life. If you’ve been self-medicating with marijuana, you’ve tried to quit but couldn’t, a better solution is to get professional help. You can search according to your location – for example, addiction treatment Los Angeles. Then inquire about dual-diagnosis treatment options. You’ll have a better outcome if you address both the addiction and depression at the same time.
What makes self-medicating with marijuana so tempting for many people that struggle with depression is that it’s fast-acting, while it can take several weeks for antidepressants to take effect.
However, psychotherapy and medications lead to long-term benefits, while marijuana only offers temporary relief, and there isn’t enough research yet to develop sustainable forms of treatment using its compounds.