Cannabis and Depression: Harmful or Helpful?

According to a story from Medical Xpress, as cannabis has become more legally tolerated and widely available in the US, a greater number of people are using it to help treat symptoms of depression. A recent study has found that from 2015 to 2016, people with depression were twice as likely to use the plant in the last month than they were a decade earlier. In addition, they were three times as likely to use cannabis on a daily basis. Unfortunately, the researchers who conducted the study have reservations about using the drug for depression.

Prior research suggests that cannabis has the potential to exacerbate mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

“Marijuana does not change anything in the underlying brain pathology that contributes to depression,” says Dr. Elie Aoun of the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

The drug can be effective at alleviating the symptoms of depression, but these effects are temporary. The high experienced by users is partially driven by a boost of dopamine in the brain triggered by THC, the component of the drug most responsible for the psychoactive effects.

In effect, the drug is likely used as a crutch, but it isn’t going to lead to any long-term improvements. Like many other psychoactive substances, users can develop a tolerance to the drug’s effects, so the study’s finding that depressed people are three times as likely to use daily is concerning, because these users will ultimately require large quantities of cannabis to reach the effects they desire.

This can also lead to worsened symptoms when the patient is not high, says Michael Wetter of the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine.

While it’s possible that the increased use is simply because of increased availability, there is also the possibility that the drug can be part of a cycle that causes depression symptoms to stick around; these risks are almost certainly worsened by daily heavy use.

While cannabis can be temporary reprieve from symptoms, patients should seek out more long term treatments such as medication or therapy.

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