Medical research suggests that cannabis can be a mood enhancer, but it has been suggested that people who use marijuana are more likely to suffer from depression. Marijuana is often called “green Prozac” (a popular antidepressant) because of the mood-enhancing properties noted by many people. But can marijuana really be an effective treatment for depression?
Marijuana has been used by people as a mood enhancer for hundreds of years. Many people still share this position today. The head of the Marijuana and Mental Health Research Laboratory notes that “many people report that cannabis is actually effective in helping with depression.”
At the same time, she argues that there can be no one-size-fits-all answer to this question because there are several types of depression. Broadly speaking, depression is defined as feelings of despondency and hopelessness over a long period of time.
Research on the relationship between marijuana and depression
According to a study conducted by University of Buffalo scientists, depression caused by chronic stress can be effectively treated by some components of marijuana. In the study, they found that stress led to a decrease in endocannabinoid molecules in the brain, which in turn led to depression.
Another study from 2007 by a team of McGill University scientists found that giving low doses of THC can increase serotonin levels and thus act as an antidepressant. However, in high doses, THC leads to a decrease in it and exacerbates depression.
“These findings support the claims of people who use cannabis,” admits one of the study’s authors. “Often marijuana promotes euphoria, peacefulness, and sociability, but in some cases there are nightmares and negative feelings.” Overall, not enough research has been done yet to state with any certainty the effective use of marijuana in the treatment of depression. Not only is it necessary to determine the optimal dosage, but also to find out which cannabinoids contribute to mood enhancement.
Cannabinoids are a class of molecules in cannabis including THC and CBD. In total, more than 60 different cannabinoids have been found in marijuana, which is why it is difficult to determine their complex effects on people suffering from depression.
Propensity for Depression
While the medical community confirms the mood-enhancing ability of cannabis, studies with recreational users show that people who use marijuana often feel more depressed.
That is, despite all the research that has been done, it is still impossible to answer exactly what is the cause and what is the effect. In other words, is cannabis itself the cause of depression, or do depressed people resort to cannabis?
An important factor in researching this question is the age of the person using cannabis. A 2009 study found that daily marijuana use by teenagers can lead to depression. “Cannabis use by teens causes anxiety and depression in adulthood, even if they were not previously prone to this kind of mental illness,” states study author Dr. Gobbi.
Cannabis and antidepressants
Although researchers cannot confirm with any certainty the effectiveness of marijuana in treating depression, most other drugs face the same problem.
Many doctors admit that in many cases, popular antidepressants are no more effective than placebos. Yet they have a number of side effects more serious than the side effects of marijuana.
Before a drug can be declared effective in treating an illness, it must be subjected to several stages of clinical trials, which has not yet been done with marijuana.
The medical community agrees that future studies comparing cannabis to common antidepressants should be conducted so that people can make an informed, rational choice.