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Cannabis and Depression: Is It Right For Your Symptoms?

,  September 09, 2021  Written by Matt Cascio
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Before really diving into this topic as it relates to cannabis, let’s talk: what is depression?  

Depression is a very common and serious medical condition that deals with mood disorders. The most common types of depression are Major Depression and Bipolar Depression, with other forms including Postpartum Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder. 

Struggling with depression? You're not alone: 

  • Depression affects approximately 17.3 million American adults, or about 7.1% of the U.S. population over the age of 18 in any given year
  • Depression is more prevalent in women than men
  • 1.9 million children between the ages of 3 – 17 have a diagnosis of depression
  • Adults who have experienced a major depressive episode is highest among individuals between 18 and 25
  • Nearly 50% of all people diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder
  • 3.1 million young people between the ages of 12 and 17 have experienced at least one major depressive episode in the past year in the United States
  • 60% of children and adolescents with depression are not getting any type of treatment 

(NIMH, 2017)

 

Depression is a somewhat complicated condition because there are many symptoms and causes that can affect an individual. Below is a brief summary of a few of the common symptoms and causes:

 

Symptoms of Depression

Symptoms of depression include feelings of hopelessness, sadness, emptiness, excessive guilt, anger, anxiety, irritability, fatigue, lack of energy, insomnia, suicidal thoughts, aches and pains, overeating and weight gain, lack of appetite, poor memory, poor concentration or decision making.

 

Causes of Depression

Causes of depression include brain chemistry imbalance, physical health problems, stress, substance abuse, poor nutrition, traumatic events, and female sex hormones.

The traditional treatments for depression include making lifestyle changes as well as using antidepressants and antipsychotics. Both drug categories have serious withdrawal symptoms and many unpleasant side effects. These drugs include Zoloft, Prozac, Lexapro, Cymbalta, Parnate, Depakote, Seroquel, Zyprexa, as well as benzodiazepines for depression related anxiety. Some of the other forms of therapy available include group, individual, and cognitive therapy, as well as mood stabilizers like Lithium and Carbamazepine.

All this being said, as individuals look for alternatives to traditional pharmaceutical treatments, depression is a fairly common qualifying medical condition that is being used for determining eligibility to obtain a medical cannabis certification in many states.

 

How Cannabis May Help Depression

It’s important to remember that when we’re discussing cannabis, we are talking about both hemp and marijuana. This includes THC, CBD, CBG, CBN, terpenes and other phyto-cannabinoids that make up these amazing cannabis plants. 

The current research is showing (but not yet proving) that people who use cannabis to help treat their depression have better success managing their symptoms when using a 1:1 CBD:THC cultivar or a high CBD/low THC product (as opposed to using a high THC product with no CBD). THC at low doses may help with symptoms of depression, but because of the biphasic properties of cannabis, a high dose may cause anxiety and paranoia. 

Another problem with larger doses of THC is that it has been shown to trigger mania or psychotic episodes in people with bipolar depression or a family history of psychosis. There’s also research stating that the side effects of high THC consumption may create depressive side effects such as decreased motivation and, over time, cannabis dependence syndrome in some people. 

Furthermore, many people are sensitive to the THC molecule and aren’t wanting to feel the psychotropic effects that high-THC products tend to cause. Research has shown that CBD works with our 5-HT1 Serotonin receptors in our brain by mimicking Serotonin and binding to the 5-HT1 receptor, creating anti-depressive effects. In contrast, THC does not tend to produce similar effects, so therefore, using only high-THC products will not likely be beneficial when it comes to treating depression related symptoms.

Lastly, terpenes, such as Limonene, Linalool, Myrcene, Beta-Caryophyllene and Terpinolene, also play a role in helping to treat depression related symptoms. 

 

Cannabis Products to Consider for Depression

There are various 1:1 CBD:THC cultivars that are generally recommended for assisting in managing depression. Here are a few examples of some of the more popular ones:

  • Harlequin: A sativa-dominant strain with around 4-7% THC and 8-16% CBD; terpenes include Myrcene, Beta-Caryophyllene, and Alpha-Pinene
  • Cannatonic: A hybrid strain with around 7-10% THC and 6-17% CBD; terpenes include Myrcene, Beta-Caryophyllene and Limonene
  • Sour Tsunami: A sativa-dominant strain with around 10% THC and 13% CBD; terpenes include Myrcene, Alpha-Pinene, and Terpinolene

Cannabis is obviously a non-traditional therapy for depression. Although there is some research available, there still needs to be more done. The most important thing to remember is that when you are seeking to help treat your symptoms from depression with cannabis, products with low or no THC and high or more CBD seem to be the best. 

 

Sources

  • National Institute of Mental Health “Major Depression”, 2017
  • Journal of the American Medical Association, 2003; Jun 18; 289(23): 3095-105
  • Centers for Disease Control “Data and Statistics on Children’s Mental Health”, 2018
  • Leafly, 10 CBD Dominant Strains That Our Readers Love, Jeremiah Wilhelm, July 29, 2020
  • Way of Leaf, 5 Best Cannabis Strains for Mood Disorders, Jessica Anderson, Dec 31, 2019
  • Weed News, Top 5 Best Marijuana Strains for Depression: THC, CBD And Terpenes, Johnny Baldwin, May 11, 2020
  • Health and Well Being Relationships, The Depression Project, Jan 28, 2020
  • The Queensland Brain Institute, Depression: Brain Diseases and Disorders, July 3, 2018
  • Haven, Is Cannabis A Viable Depression Treatment? Haven, Medical Cannabis, May 8, 2019
  • Leafly, Cannabis and Depression, July 28, 2018

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