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Medical Marijuana and Major Depression

marijuana for depression

We live in a day and age where those with depression no longer have to hide that they struggle with the disorder. It’s now seen for what it truly is — an illness. Like patients with cancer or AIDs, those living with major depression should not be ostracized, but helped.

Marijuana is often used as a form of self-medicating by those struggling with this disorder. Because of this, many have the misconception that cannabis is a cause of depression. But as we understand the nature of marijuana more and more, we see that it may be in fact be an effective treatment for depression.

If you live under the weight of major depression, don’t use pot to self-medicate. Some states are allowing those with this condition to qualify for a medical marijuana card. This means you can get the cannabis medications you need under the supervision of a qualified physician. Read on to find out how medical marijuana could help you fight depression. 

What Is Depression?

Unlike a physical disorder, like glaucoma or Parkinson’s disease, depression is easier to hide. This psychological disorder can be concealed by those who suffer from it. Those around them may have no idea that they are struggling at all. The sufferers themselves may feel miserable or unhappy and have no idea why.

depression mood disorder


Depression is defined as a mood disorder because patients with this condition suffer from persistent feelings of melancholy and loss of interest. The condition affects many areas of daily life such as how you think, feel or behave. Day-to-day activities become difficult. Depression can even lead to thoughts of suicide, as the patient sometimes feels that life is not worth living

Other names for it include:

  • Major Depressive Disorder
  • Clinical Depression

Depression is not a weakness. Patients shouldn’t be expected to just to shake it off. Instead, those with depression should pursue treatment. If you’re suffering from depression, a medical professional can help you cope with these feelings. The most important thing is seeking help and being open about your condition.

Types of Depression

Many people don’t realize that depression is a nuanced and varied condition. The main types of depression include:

  • Anxious Distress

Patients worry about possible events or loss of control which causes restlessness and depressive feelings.

  • Mixed Features

Depression which includes manic features, like elevated self-esteem, increase in energy and talkativeness.

  • Melancholic Features

Severe depression which causes lack of interest in things that once brought pleasure. More frequent in the morning.

  • Atypical Features

Depression that does not present typical features. Patients can be cheered by happy events, and they have increased appetite. May cause a heavy feeling in arms or legs.

  • Psychotic Features

Delusions or hallucinations can accompany this form of depression.

  • Catatonia

Depression which severely impacts motor function, including purposeless and sluggish movement.

  • Peripartum Onset

Depression that occurs during pregnancy or following it (postpartum).

  • Seasonal Pattern

Depression caused by changes in the seasons or reduced sunlight.

What Causes Depression?

The exact cause of depression is unknown. However, there may be many contributing factors that make certain people more susceptible to the disorder. These include:

Social Sources

Depression can be triggered by a traumatic or stressful event. This includes sources like abuse, divorce, bullying, the death of a loved one, financial difficulties and other outside forces that cause a person to experience feelings of anxiety or sadness.

Biological Factors

Researchers have studied the brains of those with depression and have noticed physical changes. Although they’re uncertain about the meaning of this, they hope this could lead to an exact cause and treatment.

Brain Chemistry

The endocannabinoid system plays a significant role in how our body and mind find balance. If cannabinoid receptors or neurotransmitters are not sending signals properly, this could affect a person’s mood stability.

Hormones

If the hormones in a person’s body are out of whack, this could trigger depression. Hormone imbalances can occur because of thyroid problems, menopause, pregnancy or after delivery (postpartum) or because of other conditions.

Inherited Traits

If a blood relative has had depression, bipolar, alcoholism or has committed suicide, depression is more likely to occur. Researchers are trying to discover specific genes that may be involved in the cause of this condition.

Other factors appear to increase a person’s risk of developing the disorder. These include:

  • Personality traits like low self-esteem, co-dependency, self-criticism and pessimism
  • The LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community is more susceptible
  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Chronic illness
  • Certain medications

Depression Statistics

depression stats


Depression’s effects are felt worldwide. Did you know:

  • Depression is a global phenomenon and is the leading cause of disability worldwide.
  • More than 300 million people all over the world suffer from depression.
  • There are over 3 million reported cases of depression in the United States alone.
  • Depression affects all ages, but most often develops in a person’s teens, twenties or thirties.
  • More women than men are diagnosed with depression. However, this could be because more women seek help for the condition.

Symptoms and Side Effects of Depression

Because depression affects people so deeply, it can lead to many problems, both emotional and physical. It can change the way you deal with others in your daily life, such as work or school, and may impact your relationships.

If you have any of the following symptoms for more than two weeks, you may have the condition. There are five categories of depression symptoms:

Changes in Mood

  • Mood swings
  • Sadness/depressed mood
  • Anxiety
  • Hopelessness
  • Apathy
  • Emptiness
  • Guilt
  • Discontent
  • Feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem
  • Loss of interest
  • Loss of pleasure in life
  • Frustration

Sleep Disturbances

  • Excessive sleeping (hypersomnia)
  • Inability to sleep (insomnia)
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Early awakening

Whole Body Symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Excessive hunger
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss/gain
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of energy

Behavioral Side Effects

  • Agitation
  • Excessive Crying
  • Isolation
  • Irritability
  • Angry outbursts
  • Slowed speech or body movements

Cognitive

  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Repeatedly going over thoughts
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty making decisions

The symptoms of depression look a little different in everyone. The above symptoms can vary in how severe they are, how frequent and how long they last. Your depression could manifest in a different way than another patient’s.

Although these symptoms may not be life-threatening, other severe complications can arise because of depression. This includes:

  • Unexplained physical problems, like headaches and back pain
  • Obesity, leading to heart disease or diabetes
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Self-mutilation, like cutting
  • Suicidal feelings or suicide attempts

How to Diagnose Depression

It is normal to get the “blues” or have feelings of sadness or depression. Most people can snap out of these feelings after a time. However, if these feelings last for longer than a few days, you may want to consider professional help, especially if these feelings impair your ability to function normally.

To be diagnosed with depression, make an appointment with a medical professional. Specialists equipped to both diagnose and treat depression include:

  • Clinical psychologists
  • Psychiatrists
  • Primary Care Provider (PCP)
  • Emergency Medicine Doctor

The key symptoms that medical professionals look for to diagnose depression is a depressed mood and loss of interest in things you once enjoyed which last nearly every day for at least two weeks. These symptoms also need to have caused distress or impairment.

The physician will then determine if your depression may have any other cause. This could include another medical condition or the effects of some substance, like medications or drugs.

To achieve a depression diagnosis, the medical professional will use the following:

  • A physical exam
  • Lab tests
  • Psychiatric evaluation
  • DSM-5

The DSM-5 is a manual used to diagnose mental health disorders. If you read through the above symptoms and discover that you have had at least five of them for more than two weeks, you may have depression.

Current Treatments Available and Their Side Effects

Those struggling with depression should not give up hope. Clinical depression is considered a treatable condition. The most common treatments for depression usually include a combination of medication and therapy.

Medication

Medications may be able to relieve the symptoms associated with depression. Patients work with a medical professional to find treatments that work best. This involves trial and error, as each medication produces a different effect depending on the individual.

The use of certain types of mental health medications can also lead to “discontinuation syndrome” if a patient stops using the drug. This can cause patients to get very sick and present with many adverse side effects.

  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor: Relieves feelings of depression and anxiety. Side effects can include dry mouth, nausea, drowsiness, agitation, dizziness and sexual problems.
  • Antidepressant: Can alleviate depressive feelings and elevate a patient’s mood. Side effects include nausea, weight gain, drowsiness, insomnia and blurred vision.
  • Anxiolytic: Can relieve tension and anxiety, as well as promote sleep. Side effects include lowered blood pressure, slowed breathing, dizziness and memory problems.
  • Antipsychotic: These types of medications help many psychiatric conditions. Side effects include blurred vision, dry mouth, dizziness, muscle spasms and weight gain.

Therapy

Therapy involves talking over your thoughts and feelings with a mental health professional. Different types of therapy have proven effective for depression. However, this form of treatment is subjective and may work for some but not for others.

  • Psychotherapy: Also called “talk therapy,” this allows patients to talk about their feelings with a mental health professional who works to achieve goals with the patient.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: This focuses on modifying negative thoughts and behaviors. The mental health professional works on helping the patient modulate their emotional response to distress.
  • Behavior Therapy: This focuses on modifying negative behaviors associated with psychological pain.

How Is Medical Marijuana an Effective Treatment?

For centuries, people have been using cannabis as a treatment for depression. Its ability to give energy and heighten a user’s mood are well documented. Currently, medical marijuana is used to treat many debilitating conditions, like cancer or HIV. Patients with these illnesses often struggle with depression. Using cannabis helps them cope with depressive feelings.

Medical marijuana research is in its infancy. Many of the studies that have been conducted focus on how cannabis has curative properties for physical disorders. However, not much attention has been given to its treatment of psychological disorders. Now that marijuana is an accepted treatment in many states, researchers are discovering its potential to treat mental illness.

The University of Southern California conducted marijuana and depression research using a survey targeting both marijuana users and people who do not use marijuana. The survey, which utilized "The Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale," showed interesting results. Out of the 4,400 people surveyed, the ones who used marijuana showed fewer signs of depression than those who did not.

marijuana and depression


Further studies were conducted into whether recreational users were more depressed than medical marijuana users as some have suggested and this also showed interesting results. Recreational marijuana does not appear to have more risks in causing or worsening depression.

In fact, medical marijuana users were shown to have more signs of depression than recreational marijuana users, which were attributed to their various illnesses. There is no evidence to suggest that the medical marijuana was causing depression. Prolonged illness has long been known to be one of the risk factors for depression.

The Marijuana and Depression Myth

It has long been said that marijuana increases or causes depression and other mental health maladies. While it is certain that some react poorly to medical marijuana and should be given other treatments, this is no different from other mental health medications in this way.

Furthermore, the statement that medical marijuana is a cause of mental health maladies like major depression seems to have no basis in truth. Circumstances that lead people to use marijuana and the likelihood of people self-medicating with marijuana is likely leading people to believe this myth.

According to Dr. Daniel K. Hall-Flavin on the Mayo Clinic website, marijuana is probably not the cause of any kind of depression. He states that the same factors that lead individuals into depression are similar to the factors that lead individuals to self-medicate with marijuana. In other words, marijuana does not cause depression.

People who are using marijuana that are also depressed were either already depressed or predisposed to depression before they began using marijuana. The fact that so many people turn to marijuana to treat their depression says more for the use of marijuana as a medical treatment than it does for marijuana as a cause of depression.

marijuana medical treatment


Nonetheless, it is important to note that adverse mental reactions do happen in a small portion of marijuana users. Medical marijuana use under the supervision of a mental health professional is always preferable to self-medication.

Depression Symptoms Treated by Medical Marijuana

Which strains of bud are best for treating depression? That depends what symptoms you’re looking to address:  

Mood Problems

The cannabinoids in pot react with the endocannabinoid receptors throughout our bodies. Some of these receptors directly impact mood. This means a product of using cannabis is alleviating depression and causing a more positive outlook.

Best Strains: Jack Herer (Sativa), Pineapple Express (Hybrid), Harlequin (Hybrid)

Loss of Appetite / Weight Loss

One of the few widely accepted uses for medical marijuana is for increasing appetite. Individuals with major depression may experience extreme loss of appetite that can lead to dangerous weight loss.

Medical marijuana can help them eat more after ingestion or smoking. One of its primary uses in this department is for emaciated HIV patients. Nonetheless, it can increase appetite in any individual. In fact, this is one of the most common effects of medical and recreational marijuana.

Best Strains: Granddaddy Purple (Indica), Lemon Kush (Hybrid)

Fatigue

Cannabis, especially Sativa strains, are known for their energetic side effects. For patients struggling to get out of bed, this boost to motivation could be exactly what they need. Also, pinene is a terpene which improves focus.

Best Strains: Cannatonic (Hybrid), Cinex (Sativa), XJ-13 (Hybrid)

Insomnia

While some patients struggle with malaise, others struggle with insomnia. Racing thoughts make it difficult to relax and get a good night’s sleep. Marijuana, especially Indica strains, brings a sense of peace and lead to a deep slumber.

Best Strains: Blackberry Kush (Indica), Tahoe OG Kush (Hybrid)

How to Get Medical Marijuana Treatments

Not all states allow patients to receive medical marijuana treatments for depression. To find out if you qualify, meet with a marijuana doctor in your state. They can answer any questions you have and help you get the treatment you need.

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This information is not provided by medical professionals and is intended only to complement, and not to replace or contradict, any health or medical advice or information provided by healthcare professionals. If you have any questions, please contact your doctor or other healthcare professional.

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