Published: 01.02.2023

Written by Brian Njenga

Depression is a mental health condition that’s characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a general disinterest or displeasure in engaging in day-to-day activities.  However, depression is much more than just feeling down or having a particularly tough day. This condition can affect your thoughts, emotions, behavior, and overall health and well-being.

Depression is thought to be triggered by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors. It may also affect people of all ages and from all walks of life. However, it’s important to note that depression is a treatable disease and there are a number of effective treatment plans available. This includes psychotherapy, medication, and even lifestyle changes. 

The exact relationship between depression and cannabis use is quite intricate and the various research conducted on the topic have provided mixed findings. On one hand, some studies indicate a potential link between cannabis use and a heightened risk of contracting depression. On the other, some research suggests that cannabis might possess some therapeutic effects for people with depression.

Research on the link between depression and cannabis use

  • A 2019 study published in Jama Psychiatry reviewed the connection between using cannabis and the risk of developing depression among adolescents. This research followed a big sample of adolescents over a couple of years. Its finding was frequent cannabis use in adolescents is linked with a heightened risk of contracting depression in young adulthood. 
  • Yet another 2019 study published in the Journal of Addiction reviewed the connection between cannabis use and depression in adults. This research analyzed data from multiple other studies and found evidence of a bidirectional link. This suggests that cannabis use can contribute to depression and there’s a higher likelihood of people with depression consuming cannabis. 
  • A 2018 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders reviewed the self-reported effects of cannabis use on depression symptoms. This study surveyed people with depression who also used cannabis. Its finding was that the majority of them reported a decrease in depressive symptoms after cannabis use. Still, it is essential to mention that this research relied on self-reporting and didn’t utilize a controlled experimental design. 

It is important to state that cannabis possesses a variety of chemical compounds including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), cannabigerol (CBG) along with many others. All these cannabinoids have been shown to have varying effects on mental health and wellness. 

THC, for example, is the key psychoactive compound in the cannabis plant and it’s linked with the “high” effect. Alternatively, CBD is a non-psychoactive compound that has been shown to possess numerous potential therapeutic properties including mental health and wellness.

Did these studies indicate how cannabis use brought about these effects on depression?

While the studies cited above indicate potential connections between cannabis consumption and depression, they weren’t able to establish a definitive causal relationship. Rather, they simply offered insights into the observed correlations and possible mechanisms that attempt to explain the effects. 

  • The study published in Jama Psychiatry in regard to cannabis use and depression in adolescents indicated a connection between frequent cannabis consumption and a heightened risk of developing depression. Yet, it didn’t explore the exact mechanisms by which cannabis can cause depression. However, it’s feasible that frequent cannabis use during adolescence (a crucial brain development period) can disrupt brain circuits and neurotransmitter systems, which can potentially lead to the development of depressive symptoms.
  • The research published in the Journal of Addiction was centered on the bidirectional connection between cannabis consumption and depression in adults. Its findings suggest that people with depression can be more likely to utilize cannabis as a sort of self-medication. Also, this study indicated that cannabis use can lead to depression potentially, because of the direct effects of THC on brain function or via other indirect pathways. Still, the exact mechanisms behind these connections weren’t completely explained. 
  • The third research published in the Journal of Affective Disorders depended on self-reported effects of cannabis use on depressive symptoms. Its findings indicate that people with depression can experience decreased symptoms after using hemp. Yet, this study didn’t utilize a controlled experimental design. While the self-reported effects can be subject to a number of biases.

It’s important to note that research on cannabis use,  particularly in the context of mental health is still ongoing. While the cited studies offer insights, more studies are necessary for us to be able to establish causality, understand the underlying mechanisms, and review various factors like dosage, frequency of use, individual differences, and the exact strains or compositions of the cannabis used.

What are the potential positive and negative effects of cannabis use in regard to depression?

When analyzing the potential positive and negative effects of cannabis in the context of depression, it’s always prudent to remember that individuals respond differently to cannabis use. Some people can find certain effects to be beneficial, while others can experience negative consequences.

Potential positive effects

  • Cannabis consumption, especially with strains with higher CBD content or balanced CBD : THC ratios can potentially deliver temporary mood elevation and feelings of relaxation or euphoria.
  • Cannabis use is thought to alleviate stress and anxiety symptoms for some people, which may be beneficial in the management of depressive symptoms.
  • There is evidence that certain strains of cannabis, especially those with higher THC levels can help improve sleep quality, which might be beneficial for people that experience sleep disturbances attributable to depression.

Potential negative effects

  • In some situations, cannabis consumption, particularly of strains high in THC can exacerbate depressive symptoms, heighten feelings of anxiety or induce feelings of paranoia.
  • Cannabis use has the potential of being habit-forming and can result in dependency or addiction in susceptible people. Substance use disorders, in this case, cannabis use disorder, may co-occur with depression and further complicate the management of both health problems.
  • Cannabis consumption, especially in higher doses or with higher THC content may impair cognitive function including memory, attention, and decision-making. In turn, this can negatively impact day-to-day functioning and exacerbate challenges related to depression.
  • Cannabis use can interact adversely with particular anti-depressant medicine, which can affect their efficacy or trigger negative effects.
  • Lastly, depending on the jurisdiction, cannabis use may have legal implications. Additionally, social stigmatization or negative societal attitudes toward cannabis consumption might affect personal and professional relationships.

It’s always important to approach cannabis use with caution, particularly if you’ve got a history of depression or mental health concerns. Should you be thinking of using cannabis to help you manage depressive symptoms, it’s wise to consult your healthcare provider who will be able to offer personalized guidance, help you evaluate potential risks, and consider alternative treatment options.

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