Can Marijuana Help Treat Depression?

Can Marijuana Help With Depression?

Can Marijuana Help Treat Depression?

  • Neither marijuana nor its primary chemical constituents [delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD)] effectively treat depression.
  • Marijuana use may actually worsen depression.
  • Euphoria and alleviation of withdrawal can trick users into thinking marijuana use is helping them.

As a general psychiatrist and addiction psychiatrist, I’m asked all the time about my opinions on cannabis, and what I think the pros and cons of marijuana use are for individual or public health.

People want to know if it’s good for sleep, for anxiety reduction, and whether or not I think it should be legal or taken regularly to reduce their post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. Be it in the office, or outside of it, there’s no paucity of curiosity and debate in our current environment about its use.

Source: Kemedo/Shutterstock

But what about for depression? Although anxiety and sleep are commonly cited reasons that people use cannabis, people also sometimes use it to lighten their mood, or to feel better.

Another question that I hear, but which I see less addressed in the current literature, is also an important one: If I or a loved one suffer from depression, what impact does marijuana use have? Below, I’ll do my best to answer this question.

The landscape

As of July 2021, marijuana is legal in 18 states, and many more states have approved its use for medical reasons. Every year sees more and more research into the utility and harms of cannabis-containing compounds and cannabinoid receptor targets for the treatment of psychiatric problems. Some states even allow medical marijuana cards to be issued for the treatment of depression.

So how can my answer be so definitively negative about its ability to improve depression? Well, as we all know, policy doesn’t always follow science.

Marijuana is not an efficacious treatment for depression

The best way for researchers to determine whether a treatment works is to do a randomized controlled trial, and to compare outcomes from an active treatment group with a group that received a placebo.

If, on average, people are found to improve in a single-group study, it’s hard to know why the change happened; It could have been due to the intervention, a “placebo effect” or other study-related factors.

A meta-analysis is also a useful way to find definitive, less-biased answers as it compiles data from numerous pre-existing studies.

An important meta-analysis, including 12 randomized trials and more than 1,500 patients with depression symptoms found no change in depression from pharmaceutical grade THC over 4-12 weeks of treatment. Observational and epidemiological studies using marijuana have also not found a positive long-term effect of cannabis use on the course and outcome of depression.

CBD is another component of marijuana which has less direct effects on the brain and carries a lower addiction risk than THC. Studies show that it might help reduce anxiety and marijuana withdrawal symptoms, but so far it has not been found to reduce depressive symptoms.

Cannabis may make psychiatric symptoms worse

We have known for a while that heavy cannabis use increases the risk of getting a psychotic disorder, especially in adolescents. It also can impair attention and memory, and trigger panic attacks.

Most importantly, though, for the depression question, two large-scale, rigorous meta-analyses have found that extremely heavy use increases depression. One study determined that heavy cannabis use increases the odds of developing depressive symptoms later on.

Another concluded that cannabis consumption in adolescence increases the risk of developing major depression and suicidality in young adulthood. Several expert panels now oppose the use of cannabis for major depressive disorder treatment.

The trickiness of self-medicating and addiction

So how do we explain the fact that so many people report mood benefits from consuming marijuana? For one, THC causes euphoria, just other drugs of abuse. Second, it’s possible that some of these people are confusing mood improvement with alleviation of withdrawal symptoms. Just other addictive substances, cannabis use is habit-forming.

Frequent heavy use will change the brain over time such that withdrawal symptoms set in upon reduction or cessation of use. Symptoms of cannabis withdrawal include irritability, anxiety, poor sleep, loss of appetite, restlessness, depression, and these may start within a week of cessation.

In people who frequently use marijuana, use relieves these symptoms which can trick them into thinking it’s helping their mood.

  • What Is Depression?
  • Find a therapist to overcome depression

The bottom line

Current research does not support the use of marijuana for the treatment of depression, and people who report improvement in mood might just be relieving withdrawal.

An alternate explanation is that, for a subgroup of people, marijuana actually is benefiting their depression.

But, until the science can tell us which subgroup of people are most ly to benefit, it’s best to utilize strategies that have been proven to be effective and for which side effects are better known.

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Study Finds Medical Marijuana May Help Treat Depression And Anxiety And Improve Sleep

Can Marijuana Help Treat Depression?

A recent study of people diagnosed with clinical depression has found that those using medical marijuana had lower depression scores than those who were not cannabis users. Researchers also determined that study participants who began using medicinal cannabis in a follow-up period saw a reduction in both depression and anxiety symptoms.

Depression affects more than 300 million people globally, according to statistics from the Hope for Depression Research Foundation, making it one of the most debilitating medical conditions in the world. In the United States, generalized anxiety disorder affects up to 4% of the population, or as many as 9 million people nationwide.

“Anxiety and depressive disorders are highly prevalent,” Erin L. Martin, lead author of the study and a Ph.D. candidate at the Medical University of South Carolina, told PsyPost. “Traditional antidepressants may effectively treat these disorders in a lot of people, but they do not work for everyone and can have unpleasant side effects.”

Many people with mental health challenges are choosing medical marijuana over antidepressants and … [+] other pharmaceutical drugs.


As an alternative to commonly prescribed pharmaceuticals, many people with anxiety and depression turn to cannabis products containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or cannabidiol (CBD), or a combination of the two cannabinoids. However, scientific evidence of the efficacy of cannabis products to treat symptoms of anxiety and depression have not been conclusive.

“We conducted this study to determine if people that used medicinal cannabis products to treat symptoms of anxiety and depression reported improvement in these symptoms, as well as in other important areas sleep and quality of life, relative to people that did not use medicinal cannabis,” Martin explained.

To conduct the study, which was published recently in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry, researchers recruited a group of participants who reported having depression, anxiety, or both. Of them, 368 were medical cannabis users, while 170 said that they did not use cannabis medicinally but were considering doing so.

During a baseline assessment, participants answered questions about their cannabis use and completed assessments that gauge anxiety, depression, recent pain, quality of life, and sleep quality.

Participants were invited to complete follow-up assessments every three months over a period of three years.

Those enrolled in the study completed an average of two assessments during the course of research.

Among the study participants, 34% reported having anxiety, 15% reported having depression and 51% said they had both conditions. More than two-third (69%) also said they chronic pain disorder.

CBD-dominant cannabis products were the most popular, with 82% of study participants reporting their use.

Nearly a quarter (23%) reported using THC products, 7% said they used products with an equal balance of THC and CBD, and 5% used cannabis products with a minor cannabinoid.

Cannabis Users Had Lower Levels Of Depression

The participants who used cannabis at baseline, particularly CBD-rich products, reported lower levels of depression than nonusers. Those who used cannabis also reported higher quality of life, better sleep in the past month, less pain in the past month and were more ly to exhibit symptoms of depression that did not rise to the level of clinical concern.

Anxiety levels did not differ between cannabis users and nonusers at the onset of the study. Participants who were not cannabis users at the beginning of the research but began using cannabis medicinally during the follow-up period showed reductions in both depression and anxiety, as well as improvements in quality of life.

“Medicinal cannabis products, especially products high in CBD, may help to treat symptoms of depression, improve sleep, and increase quality of life,” said Martin. “There is also some evidence that medicinal cannabis may alleviate symptoms of anxiety, particularly if administered over an extended period of time, but this is less clear from our results and warrants further study.”

More Study Needed

Authors of the small study reported several limitations of the research, including a reliance on self-reporting and other factors, and recommended further investigation to explore efficacy and dosage.

“This is an observational study in a convenience sample, so it is possible that the results we observed could be partially attributable to a placebo effect or to people being more ly to complete the study if they found medicinal cannabis products effectively treated their symptoms,” Martin explained.

“Randomized, placebo-controlled trials on the antidepressant and anxiolytic effects of medicinal cannabis are needed,” she added. “Furthermore, it is still unknown how people should be dosing medicinal cannabis products in order to achieve the best effect (How much? How long? What cannabinoid content?) This should also be explored in future research.”

The study, “Antidepressant and Anxiolytic Effects of Medicinal Cannabis Use in an Observational Trial,” was published by the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry last month.


Does Weed Help With Depression? What The Research Says

Can Marijuana Help Treat Depression?

More than 264 million people around the world suffer from some form of depression, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). For some people, depression is a mental illness with serious psychiatric implications. For the vast majority of individuals, though, depression represents a mood disorder that may be responsive to alternative treatments, such as medical marijuana.

In this article, we'll explore the research on marijuana and depression and discuss whether medical marijuana may be a possible treatment for depression.

An overview of the research

There are scarce clinical studies on the topic of cannabis and depression involving human participants. There is, however, some emerging research that cannabis may exert a similar effect to antidepressants without significant side effects. 

There is some evidence that the cannabinoid CBD may assist with anxiety, a condition that is often present alongside depression.Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

Further, there is some evidence that the cannabinoid CBD may assist with anxiety, a condition that is often present alongside depression. In the words of Dr. Melanie Bone, board-certified OB-GYN and cannabis specialist, «anxiety and depression go together peanut butter and jelly.»

The following studies have considered the potential therapeutic effects of cannabis on depression and/or anxiety.

Studies on cannabis and depression

Certain cannabis strains such as Strawberry Banana and Motorbreath are reputed to have mood-boosting effects. Other strains Lemon Garlic OG and Pennywise reduce anxiety, according to some consumers. Clinical and non-clinical studies may shed some light on the anecdotal evidence.

A study conducted on mice examined the antidepressant- effects of CBD, along with the role of the neurotransmitters serotonin and noradrenaline. In this 2018 study, which was published in the journal Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, researchers found that CBD may relieve symptoms of depression through the action of serotonin in the central nervous system. 

In addition, a 2019 literature review published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine examined preclinical and clinical studies that support the use of CBD in psychiatric disorders.

The review did not consider depression specifically but rather schizophrenia as well as generalized social anxiety disorder (SAD), the latter of which is frequently linked to depression.

The authors of the review asserted that “results from these studies are promising and suggest that CBD may have a role in the development of new therapeutic strategies in mental diseases, and they justify an in-depth commitment in this field.”

Some research, however, has demonstrated a potential relationship between heavy cannabis consumption and depression. But even these studies are largely inconclusive or show a weak association.

For example, one 2020 literature review published in the American Journal of Addiction noted that cannabis use is common in people with anxiety and mood disorders.

The authors of the review concluded that the lack of long-term clinical studies highlights the need for more rigorous, focused clinical trials to understand the connection between mood disorders and cannabis.

Bottom line: The biggest takeaway from the current research is that more anecdotal evidence exists than clinical evidence on the relationship between cannabis and depression. 

Laura (name changed for privacy) is a busy working mom in Florida. Under chronic stress from her demanding dual roles as a customer service manager and parent of two young children, she visited a psychiatrist.

The psychiatrist suspected a mood disorder and prescribed her an antidepressant which made Laura experience flat, dulled emotions. Other antidepressants made her feel edgy to the point of experiencing road rage.

Frustrated, Laura visited Dr. Bone seeking an alternative treatment for her ongoing depression. Dr. Bone noticed that Laura's efforts to mask her depression at home and at work were leading to increased anxiety. They discussed the cannabinoids that might help with mood disorders, specifically CBD's calming effects along with THC's uplifting and energizing effects. 

Ultimately, Dr. Bone prescribed Laura a twice-daily sublingual cannabis tincture with a combination of THC and CBD that led to significant improvements. Laura reported that medical cannabis «has helped her tremendously.»

Cannabinoids have been shown to help with mood disorders. CBD commonly has calming effects and THC has uplifting and energizing effects. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

Weedmaps spoke on the phone with another woman, Katelyn (name changed to protect privacy), who has been struggling with postpartum depression since giving birth to her son in March 2020. 

“He was a pandemic baby,” Katelyn sighed. “Everything just hit me all at once and I didn't want to be on antidepressants, but I knew I needed help. I couldn't deal with the two hours of sleep and all the changings.”

Katelyn is a resident of a state where cannabis is legal, so obtaining medical marijuana was not a challenge. “I'm unable to breastfeed for medical reasons, so I felt that it would be safe for me to try weed.”

Rather than consult with her doctor first, Katelyn went straight to a licensed dispensary and purchased an array of smokable and edible products. “The gummies are my favorite,” she told Weedmaps. “Just thinking about chewing one makes me feel better. I can't say my depression is 100% gone, but I can actually cope, which is more than I could say back in March.”

Bottom line: Even if you live in a state where cannabis is legal, please consult with your psychiatrist or physician before consuming cannabis for depression. 

What the experts say about marijuana and depression

Cannabinoids may be remarkably targeted in their ability to relieve specific depression and anxiety symptoms.

«CBG, for example, may benefit those with a predominance of anxiety in their depression and CBN can add a dimension of relaxation and better sleep, which is often restorative in those depressed patients whose minds race and prevent them from getting enough quality sleep,» Dr. Bone said.

Terpenes, the naturally-occurring chemical compounds that give cannabis its aroma and flavor, have been shown to elevate mood.Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

Terpenes, the naturally-occurring chemical compounds that give cannabis its aroma and flavor, may also offer powerful therapeutic benefits. Dr. Bone said, «Terpenes are the secret sauce to get the most cannabis products. Limonene, for example, has been shown to elevate mood, and pinene helps with mental clarity and energy.

These are commonly found in sativa strains and can turn a day from staying under the covers hiding from the world into a get-up and get-productive one. On the other hand, for those who wring their hands and clench muscles in their neck and back, adding a dash of caryophyllene and myrcene might take the edge off those ragged nerves.


In terms of treating anxiety apart from depression, Dr. Bone asserted, «It is well accepted that cannabis can help with anxiety.

We often recommend a CBD-weighted product to bring more inner peace and calm and to lessen the gripping sensations of a panic attack.

I have personally seen many medical marijuana patients decrease or even completely abandon use of benzodiazepines such as Xanax and Klonopin.»

If you have been diagnosed with depression and are seeking treatments beyond prescription antidepressants with their often unpleasant side effects, medical marijuana could help address your symptoms. Be sure to consult with your healthcare practitioner and discuss any prior substance abuse issues before consuming cannabis as a treatment of depression, anxiety, or any other condition.


Does Marijuana Help Depression? Is There a Link Between Them?

Can Marijuana Help Treat Depression?

Marijuana is a popular and commonly used substance that some users say makes them feel better, eases their anxiety and depression. Marijuana can also be prescribed for people to use to ease nausea from chemotherapy, lessen pain from a chronic condition, such as arthritis, and other conditions.

The main ingredients in marijuana are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). CBD and THC are the most common cannabinoids. These chemical compounds found in cannabis act on cannabinoid receptors in the brain.

You will find thousands of products with CBD for sale. Even some pet products contain CBD. There are various grades of CBD and differing amounts of it in these products.

THC is an ingredient in marijuana that can induce a high in those who use it. The higher the THC, the higher someone can become. THC increases dopamine, the “feel good” chemical in the brain.

Does marijuana help depression, or does it cause a person to become depressed? If there is a link between these two, what is it?

Depression In America

Depression affects around 40 million people in the U.S. over the age of 18,according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Major depressive disorder is one type of depression that affects around 16 million adults, and persistent depressive disorder (PDD) is another type that affects about 3 million adults.

Depression can be debilitating for those struggling with it. It can disrupt everyday activities and cause stress in families and relationships.

Many medications and therapies are available for depression. Some people who have depression may use marijuana to relieve some of their depressive symptoms. Medical researchers have recently begun to study if medical marijuana is a beneficial source to alleviate depression.

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Marijuana And Depression: What Research Finds

University of Buffalo researchersare learning there is a possibility that medical marijuana may restore normal mood stabilization and endocannabinoid function.

The university’s Research Institute on Addictions (RIA) has been conducting research that focuses explicitly on brain chemicals called endocannabinoids, which are naturally produced chemical compounds in the brain.

They are major players in cognition, motor control, emotions, and behavior. Their chemical composition is similar to cannabis.

As their research has solely been on animals, the university’s researchers have learned that chronic stress might suppress the production of endocannabinoids in the brain. They found that when that happens, it could lead to depressive- behavior.

Another study about marijuana and depression from the University of Washington found that cannabis reduced depression significantly when the cannabis contained low THC/high CBD levels.

Results from this study found that cannabis users “perceived a 50% reduction in depression and a 58% reduction in anxiety and stress following cannabis use.

” Two puffs were found to be sufficient enough to lower depression, and 10 or more puffs seemed to relieve the greater amounts of stress.

How Marijuana Affects the Brain

Many people self-medicate their symptoms of depression with marijuana. Nevertheless, self-medicating is not the best way to manage depression or any other mental health condition. While medical marijuana has some medicinal benefits, the substance may interfere with other medication, and heavy use might make depression worse.

When an individual uses marijuana, chemicals in the drug bind to the cannabinoid receptors in the brain. The receptors can change the mind, and the individual might feel euphoric effects.

This is how marijuana affects the brain:

Amygdala: The amygdala is tasked with the regulation of emotions, fear, and anxiety. The THC in marijuana affects the amygdala and can cause some people to experience paranoia or panic.

Neocortex: The neocortex is tasked with complex thoughts, movement, and decision-making. When it is affected by marijuana’s chemicals, it could cause some people to lose their drive.

Nucleus accumbens: The nucleus accumbens’ function is to regulate motivation and reward. Marijuana’s chemicals change the normal function of some chemicals in the brain and can alter the balance of the mind. This is a possible reason why some individuals feel a reduction in depressive symptoms.

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Can Marijuana Help Depression?

Some people who self-medicate with marijuana to ease their depression might get a slight sense of euphoria or relaxation.

This might cause them to think that marijuana is helping their depression.  However, no research indicates that marijuana can cure depression.

There are better treatments to manage depression, cognitive behavioral therapy, physical activity, and prescription medication.

Medical Marijuana For Depression

Medical marijuana contains lower THC and higher CBD levels than recreational marijuana. Research results have been inconclusive and in contradiction as to whether medical marijuana helps or hinders depression.

How one person’s depression is lessened using marijuana and other’s worsens ly depends on each individual’s reaction to the substance, along with any other mental health symptoms, genetics, environment, physical health, regular or non-regular use of the drug.

There is no definitive answer if medical marijuana helps depression.

Proven Treatments For Depression

Depression can be rated mild, moderate, or severe. Treatment of it depends on the severity level, and there are evidence-based, proven therapies and medications that can help individuals manage their symptoms.

Healthline notes that mild depression is usually helped with psychosocial treatments, “talk therapy.” Cognitive behavioral therapy is also beneficial. It involves finding ways to change thinking patterns. Moderate and severe depression can be managed with prescription antidepressant medication and therapies.

Other ways in which to ease depression can be eased are:

  • Reducing stress by reducing the number of responsibilities you have. Delegate some tasks to others, if possible.
  • Spend some time outside in the sun. Even in cold environments, sunshine can boost mood.
  • Add more physical activity to your daily life. Take a break from working and go for a short walk.
  • Avoid self-isolation. Try to spend time with people whose company you enjoy. Call a friend or another supportive person.

Heavy and long-term marijuana use can lead to tolerance, dependence, and addiction. Tolerance occurs when your mind and body do not feel the same effects of marijuana as when you first used it.

Dependence may be known if you stop using marijuana and feel withdrawal symptoms.

  Some of these are irritability, trouble sleeping, restlessness, decreased appetite, nausea, stomach pains, and cravings for marijuana.

Addiction develops when you actively seek and use marijuana despite negative consequences, such as loss of a job, family trouble, relationship issues, and poor health. Despite being defined as a chronic brain disease, addiction is treatable.

Vista Pines Health offers therapeutic therapies, which can help you or someone you care about learn how to manage depression in a more healthy way.

Depression can be debilitating, but it does not have to be. There are safe, effective, and useful ways to manage symptoms that do not involve using marijuana.


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