Depressed and in a Rut? How Medical Cannabis Could Help | cannabisMD

Depressed and in a Rut? How Medical Cannabis Could Help

Depressed and in a Rut? How Medical Cannabis Can Help

A woman sits in a field of long grass with her hands over her face as the suns sets behind her.

Medical cannabis could save your life. It has probably saved hundreds, if not thousands of lives. One study has shown that the legalization of medical cannabis reduced the suicide rates of young men by as much as 11%. Suicide is the leading cause of death for people under the age of 50, and for every person who has severe depression that leads to thoughts of death, there are dozens who are depressed.

The Types of Depression

While depression is a general term that is often misused, there are a number of specific types of depression, ranging in duration from short term to lifelong, including but not limited to:

  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder
  • Postpartum Depression
  • Major Depressive Disorder

Common Symptoms of Depression

There are ancient sources that point to examples of depression. Achilles in the Iliad could be said to have been depressed, and he was one of the greatest heroes of all time. Depression is common and serious, and our modern world seems to be the perfect recipe for depressive disorders.

There are many symptoms of depression and these symptoms can vary extensively from patient to patient. However, some of the most common symptoms of depression include:

  • Loss of interest in life
  • Insomnia
  • Lethargy
  • Dramatic weight loss or gain
  • Irritability or short temper
  • Sudden drop in self-esteem
  • Unshakable feelings of sadness and hopelessness
  • Self imposed social isolation
  • Unwillingness to spend time outside of the home in contact with other people
  • Inability to concentrate or focus
  • Total lack of motivation
  • Decreased personal hygiene
  • Feelings of self-loathing
  • Suicidal thoughts

Chronic stress, the “always on” mentality, job uncertainty, the future of humanity looking increasingly bleak, poor diets, lack of exercise, excessive medication, social isolation, substance abuse, withdrawal from nature are all examples of the ways our modern day lives can lead to depression.

Learn more about the causes of depression here.

Treatments for Depression

The list is extensive and expanding for the causes of depression. Even though this mental illness is so common, there have not been any major breakthroughs in treating depression since the widespread adoption of SSRI’s in the late 1980’s.

It is turning out that those antidepressants are not as effective as they were thought to be. They are extremely difficult to come off after a period of treatment, and the underlying conditions are not addressed. For someone suffering from clinical depression, they are much the same as putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.

Better solutions need to be found for the rising tide of depression sweeping our “developed” world. Fortunately, the potential of medical cannabis to treat depression and depressive symptoms is now being explored in the scientific world.

Medical Cannabis and Depression

However, many people are still very suspicious of medical cannabis due to its link to marijuana, the well known drug. The link between marijuana use and psychosis has been well established for a while, as has its link with schizophrenia (both conditions have a small chance of being triggered by heavy marijuana use).

What they don’t realise is that marijuana is just one type of cannabis, and that not all of the products derived from cannabis have the psychoactive properties that cause the addictive ‘high’ associated with marijuana use.

However, the use of cannabis as a treatment for depression has not been so well explored. Nor has the link between the risk of developing depression and cannabis use.

Adding a chemical to the body that affects the mind is going to have effects. Used excessively or for the wrong reasons, those effects are almost guaranteed to be negative. The negatives of medical cannabis and depression have been focused on for a long time, now the picture is transforming into a more balanced composition.

Although more research into the benefits of cannabis is needed to reach any clear conclusions, studies now suggest that medical cannabis can help with the feelings of sadness, chronic pain and anxiety many people with depressive disorders feel.

There have been some large-scale studies on the effects of medical cannabis and depression, but there has not yet been enough to make conclusive claims strong enough to overcome the wide scale suspicion of cannabis.

In one study, teenagers who used cannabis were observed for 7 years. The study found that frequent use of cannabis caused a significant increase in depression and anxiety later on in life. This was cannabis use in an unregulated manner in a country that had made cannabis illegal. The quantities were not well established, nor was the quality of the drug. These teenagers were using the drug recreationally.

However, now that medical cannabis is more easily available in some countries, the potential for properly establishing the efficacy of medical cannabis and depression when used in a controlled and responsible way is finally being seized upon.

One large scale 3 year study in Sweden showed that out of 8598 men and women, the cannabis users were no more likely to develop a depressive or anxiety disorder than the rest of the population. The study has flaws, that is clear, but it does present cannabis as much safer than previously believed.

One of the chemicals found in cannabis, cannabidiol (CBD), has proven to have immense mood stabilizing effects. While it is said that this effect has been conclusively proven, the science is not up to the standards that other drugs, such as fluoxetine (Prozac) have been subjected to. Small studies, poor replicability, no double-blind control trials are all issues with this study. This makes it hard to have total confidence in the results.

Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the chemical in cannabis that gives the user the addictive “high” that is so well known. However, THC isn’t all bad. THC and CBD appear to have the effect of increasing neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to form new connections.

One characteristic of a depressive disorder is the difficulty the patient finds in thinking in alternative pathways. It is theorized that drugs that affect neuroplasticity, like LSD, psilocybin and cannabis, can help the patient form new connections in their brains that allow for other narratives and thoughts to emerge, countering the depressive ones. It is early days for this theory but the experience of the great many people who have used medical cannabis for depression would support it.

The enormous campaigns of misinformation that governments around the world have been using for the last 60 years with regards to psychedelic drugs have led to two things. Firstly, they have succeeded in misplaced and misinformed fears of the drugs on a mass scale. And secondly, they have led to the illegal trade of drugs, in turn causing the problem of low quality drugs which are unregulated and dangerous.

Since the decriminalization and the increased use of cannabis for medicinal use, there has been a sharp rise in the amount of research into the effects of cannabis on a host of mental health and mood disorders such as depression. Medical cannabis and depression seem to go well together, especially when compared to the effects that many antidepressants have on patients.

Cannabis has low toxicity, is generally enjoyable to imbibe, has few side effects and is impossible to overdose on. This makes for a very hopeful future for the drug.

The prohibition of cannabis is slowly but surely being eroded and the number of reputable scientific studies into its effects is increasing. At present, the picture is far from clear but it is improving. For the moment, the use of medical cannabis (where legal) can be recommended as a low-risk and relatively effective treatment for some depressive disorders. It is up to the patient, in consultation with their doctor, to decide if the lack of conclusive evidence is enough to deter them from trying the drug for effectiveness.

Life can be very bleak for someone suffering from depression and other mental health conditions. With the number ofsuicides and suicide attempts increasing, it has never been more important to find a viable solution to this illness. With the effectiveness and safety of current treatments being so limited, it is no wonder that hopelessness is one of the defining symptoms of this widespread illness. Caution is advised, and the use of any illegal drug is not recommended, but where appropriate, cannabis it is a drug ripe for experimentation.

If you would like to learn more about depression, or other mental illnesses, visit the American Psychiatric Association or the National Institute of Mental Health.

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