Cannabis and Depression

Reading time - 7 minutes - September 1, 2022

Diving into depression statistics makes for uncomfortable reading. Depression is one of the world’s most prevalent mental health disorders, affecting an incredible 16% of all adults in England. That’s 1 in 6 adults around you, affected by this right now. As society’s focus has sharpened on mental health, so has an awareness of weed, and occasionally, the two are interlinked. Whereas some believe that weed is a natural medicine which can help relieve depression, others firmly believe it can cause depression. So, which is it? A harmless way of treating the illness or a precursor of poor mental health?

To date, the science is murky. No study has confidentially associated weed with the development of depression, and there is stacks of conflicting evidence available. Plus, mental health is complex to diagnose and directly associating the two is, perhaps, unfair.

What is depression?

Depression is being colourblind and constantly told how colourful the world is,’ Atticus, an anonymous Canadian poet, once said. For many, it is a complex illness to describe as it is so much more than just a low mood. It is an all-consuming, persistent sadness which disrupts everything from sleeping to eating and relationships, to the ability to work. Depression presents itself in many ways, and there are several specific types, including:

Bipolar disorder: depression which causes extreme mood swings. It is known for its manic highs and overwhelming lows.

What are the symptoms of depression?

Many of us will navigate life without encountering depression. Others, however, will have a lifelong battle with the illness. Why is that? The answer for many decades was that a chemical imbalance in the brain causes depression. This chemical is serotonin, the body’s ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter. In July 2022, a study turned this theory on its head by concluding that depression is not the result of a chemical imbalance. This evidence brings us back to the drawing board, but for now, we can link several factors to depression, including genetics, life experiences and environment.


Does cannabis help or hinder depression?

Depending on which camp you talk to, cannabis is the world’s natural medicine with anti-depressant properties or one which causes the illness. The truth is that the relationship between weed and depression is complex and still requires further study.

One of the natural cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, CBD, is now legal in the UK. Thanks to a better understanding of the plant, research has revealed it to be a non-addictive substance with many benefits. CBD doesn’t give you a ‘high’ or a night-time urge of the munchies like THC does and, as a result, it is often touted as a safe treatment for anxiety and depression. This Natural Library of Medicine report discovered that CBD helped alleviate feelings of anxiety as it positively interacts with receptors in the brain. As anxiety and depression are often linked, it is safe to assume that CBD can help, not hinder, many who suffer from depression. Taking CBD via capsules, tinctures or even adding to your recipes can various ways amongst many other for you to reap the benefits of CBD.

THC, a cannabinoid responsible for the ‘high’ sensation, is currently illegal in the UK, although it is slowly ebbing its way into modern life in other parts of the world. THC is by no means a new drug, and it has been used to help pain, insomnia, anxiety and more for generations. THC is more addictive than CBD, so there is a little more caution around its use.  

Many who use CBD and THC report that they help to alleviate depression and anxiety symptoms.

Depression and your endocannabinoid system (ECS)

Our understanding of the ECS is still in its infancy, but we know it is vital for moderating our psychological behaviours. The ECS regulates our sleep, pain, memory, mood, inflammation and a range of other bodily functions. If your ECS is off kilter, you are more likely to develop illnesses like depression.

We have CB1 and CB2 receptors throughout the body, which respond when we take cannabis. While CB1 receptors are found in the central nervous system, CB2 receptors are located in the immune system. CBD and THC both interact with these receptors and impact our neurological behaviours. Research has found that CBD interacts with the CB2 receptors, helping to relieve pain and inflammation. THC, on the other hand, powerfully binds to the CB1 receptors, causing cognitive changes, including mood and pain tolerance. Research suggests that CBD could be beneficial for relieving depression as a result of pain, and THC can work to relieve stress whilst improving your mood.


Cannabis and depression, what’s the link?

The link between weed and depression isn’t straightforward, and there are several factors to consider when looking at whether cannabis causes depression. 

We all know the saying, ‘everything in moderation. Well, it is sensible to take this into account when you indulge in any substance. One bar of chocolate isn’t going to give you diabetes, but several bars a day might. 

Research into dosage and depression is far from conclusive. Some experts believe that low dosages of weed can help modify symptoms of depression by reducing stress and creating feelings of positivity. Others deem that high dosages of THC can intensify symptoms of depression. For now, it is difficult to determine if the dosage impacts on developing depression. Still, it is reasonable to be sensible about how much and often it is taken. 

Keeping an eye on dosage isn’t always easy; however, there are ways to do so. Using a dry herb vaporizer allows you to have quick hits here and there, as opposed to a joint where it is all inhaled at once. Click here to check out our Nectar Platinum Vaporizer, which has complete temperature control, convection heating and an interchangeable battery.

There are over 100 cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, and CBD and THC are two of the most prominent. Some experts believe that the combination of these cannabinoids can either cause or help depression. Recent trials have shown that a combination of low CBD and high THC has effectively alleviated symptoms od depression. Further research is needed to discover the ideal cannabinoid balance, but so far, it looks promising.

One animal study implicated that CBD alone works well as an anti-depressant and could be far more beneficial than prescribed drugs. CBD has fewer side effects than typical anti-depressant medication, which can include loss of appetite, insomnia and mood swings.

A 2020 study with almost 40 participants all reporting poor mental health, pain, and neurological issues found that their symptoms improved after being prescribed CBD for three weeks. Most significantly, those with anxiety and depression also noted improvements in their mood.

That incredible scent and aroma that you get when you vape weed? It has a scientific name: terpenes. Terpenes are the organic compounds that give cannabis varieties distinctive flavours, such as citrus, mint and berry. Better still, they also have a range of therapeutic effects, one of which is an anti-depressant. 

When combined with cannabinoids, it is understood that terpenes create an ‘entourage effect’. This is when both cannabinoids and terpenes work together to create uniquely beneficial effects, which could aid depression. Researchers have found that certain terpenes such as Beta-Caryophyllene, Myrcene and Linalool all have anti-anxiety properties. 

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There is no single answer as to why some individuals develop depression whilst others don’t, but it is believed that your environment plays a hand. Life events such as long-term unemployment, abusive relationships and difficult childhoods can all have an impact on whether you will become depressed. Evidence surrounding cannabis and depression can be conflicting, as it’s also been discovered that people with depression may be more likely to use weed for its uplifting benefits. A little like the chicken and the egg scenario, it is challenging to prove that weed directly causes depression.

Your genes may indicate whether you are at risk of depression. Scientists believe that up to 40% of those with depression have a family history and that an isolated gene is responsible. That said, just growing up in a home where a parent is depressed may even lead to learnt behaviour.


Should you use weed to help depression?

It is never a good idea to rely on any substance for depression without the guidance of a GP. That said, used responsibly, cannabis can help many find symptomatic relief. The UK approved CBD for use in 2018; since then, it has rocketed in popularity. It has found itself everywhere, from supermarket shelves to an ingredient in beauty products, and shows promise in treating many health issues. Most importantly, CBD is not addictive, is safe to use and has minimal side effects. 

A multitude of products contain CBD, including:

There’s no ‘number one’ cause of depression; instead, it is often a result of several complex and contributing factors, from genetics to lifestyle. Depression and weed are often linked, but as it stands, there is no clear and robust evidence that marijuana directly causes depression. Quite the opposite, many studies have revealed that weed can help relieve the symptoms of depression. Research still has a way to go, so watch this space for now!

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