- by Marni Meistrell
Few realize that a mood disorder is the world’s leading cause of disability, but depression does indeed hold that dubious distinction.
Across the globe an estimated 350 million adults will suffer from clinical depression in any given year, and that number includes 19 million Americans (7 percent of the adult population).
Men and women with depression may seem fine on the outside, but on the inside their suffering is profound. Like a psychic vampire, depression drains its victims of energy and motivation, making it next to impossible for sufferers to function normally. If left untreated depression can lead to broken relationships, unemployment, multiple health problems and even suicide in the most extreme cases.
The conventional method of treating clinical depression combines psychological counseling with anti-depressant medications, the latter of which work for some but not all who try them. As an alternative to pharmaceuticals, medical marijuana has much to recommend it, and in Puerto Rico medicinal cannabis is fully available to anyone diagnosed with depression.
What Depression Symptoms are Helped by Cannabis?
Clinical depression is often associated with sadness, but it is really a far more complex condition. Depression can cause a variety of debilitating symptoms in sufferers, including:
- A sense of pervasive hopelessness and despair
- Lethargy that makes it difficult to complete simple daily tasks
- Anxiety or panic attacks
- Mysterious physical ailments that appear suddenly and without explanation
- Anger, rage or extreme frustration at even the smallest setbacks
- Troubles with focus, concentration and memory
- Insomnia or chronic oversleeping
- Low self-esteem, guilt or obsessively negative thoughts
Each of these symptoms is a side effect of a mind and body out of balance—as is depression itself. As their illness develops, depression sufferers find themselves marooned in a surreal landscape that seems empty of meaning and purpose.
But the body does have a defense system against depression: the endocannabinoid system, a network of chemical receptors located throughout the brain and nervous system. These receptors are built to bind with chemicals that regulate mood, emotional reactions, pain responses and cognitive processing, and they are associated with a much higher level of functioning.
Chemical compounds that target these receptors are manufactured naturally in the body. But the cannabinoids contained in medicinal cannabis (primarily THC and CBD) are similar in structure and can also attach themselves to these receptors, jumpstarting the endocannabinoid system and heightening its efficiency in the process.
The endocannabinoid system is a miracle of nature and it is what ultimately gives cannabis its healing and wellness-restoring power. By interacting with endocannabinoid receptors, medical marijuana can help depression sufferers gain a handle on their condition by alleviating any and all symptoms associated with depressive episodes.
Why Do Victims of Depression Choose Cannabis?
Anti-depressants like Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Wellbutrin and Cymbalta are prescribed as the first line of defense against depression by psychiatrists.
But up to one third of those with depression who seek treatment do not recover from their conditions. Pharmaceutical medications work well for some but not for everyone, and even when they work they can have troubling side effects that make the cure seem as bad as the illness.
Because of high failure rates and the risks involved with taking anti-depressants, many patients with depression are interested in finding alternative approaches to healing. Cannabis for depression is one of the best natural options available, and as public awareness of its efficacy has grown its popularity has soared.
In contrast to pharmaceuticals, the side effects of medicinal cannabis are minimal to non-existent (if dosages are controlled). Medical marijuana products also work faster than anti-depressants, which may take weeks to make an impact—if they make one at all.
What Cannabis Products Work Best Against Depression?
Medical marijuana products are comprised primarily of two cannabis compounds: THC and CBD. Each has been studied in laboratories, and both chemicals have demonstrated significant therapeutic value when used to treat the symptoms of depression.
In the case of THC, studies reveal it can reduce brain inflammation (a hidden factor in depression) and help restore emotional balance to those who are caught in a cycle of negativity. Too much THC can actually make depression and/or anxiety worse, but as long as consumption levels are kept relatively low, patients with depression can benefit from its mind-altering impact.
Meanwhile, a 2014 meta-review of all the available evidence demonstrated that CBD is a highly potent antidote to the disabling symptoms associated with major depression. Because it has no psychoactive effects, CBD does not carry the same risk of a negative reaction as THC, although individual patients may respond better to THC in some instances. For this reason, any strain recommended by a doctor for depression will contain a relatively equal percentage of each compound.
While medicinal cannabis is useful against depression, helping to regulate brain and body chemistry through its capacity to bind with endocannabinoid receptors, recovery from depression remains a complicated affair. People suffering from depression can benefit tremendously from counseling and are unlikely to overcome their disorder without the assistance of a trained mental health professional.
How to Use Cannabis for Depression
Medicinal cannabis delivery options include edibles, topical creams, tinctures for oral consumption and extract for vaporization.
Specialized cartridges can be purchased for the latter method, and vaporization delivers the most robust initial dosage. But depression is a chronic condition and a rapid-action dose of cannabis is usually not required, since the positive effects of medical marijuana consumed in any form will be felt cumulatively over time.
In addition to vaporized extract, edibles and tinctures are also good choices for daily consumption of medical marijuana and may be preferable for depression sufferers who are trying cannabis products for the first time.
Patients and physicians should collaborate on decisions about the dosage of cannabis for depression. When depression is diagnosed initial dosages should be relatively light (sometimes that’s all it takes), but that can be adjusted if the patient experiences a minimal therapeutic effect.
THC: CBD ratios of one-to-one are common in medicinal cannabis products, including those recommended for depressed patients. However, if doses are to be increased it is important to keep THC levels low, since excessive THC consumption can cause unwanted agitation and anxiety.
Because of the possible risks for those who consume too much THC, self-medicating for depression with illicit cannabis products is ill-conceived and foolish. THC is the psychoactive ingredient that causes the “high” associated with marijuana use and black-market products almost always contain it in abundance.