Medical marijuana is gaining more understanding in more conservative groups as a medical aid for physical ailments — cancer, seizures and epilepsy, diabetes, multiple sclerosis — but when it comes to the intangible problems such as depression, bipolar, and borderline personality disorder, things tend to get harder.
The conversation around medical marijuana and depression can get especially tricky. It doesn’t help that many view marijuana exclusively as a “downer” drug, a gross miscategorization (their better placement is often called “Uppers, Downers and All-Arounders”). In their minds, how can a downer make someone who is already “down” better?
If marijuana isn’t an exclusive downer, though, are there ways in which this drug can help those who suffer from depression? Nearly 7% of the adult US population suffers from the disorder — that’s no small number. Here is how we see it.
How it Helps
One of the largest supports medical marijuana brings to the table for those suffering from depression has to do with serotonin. A neurotransmitter that is naturally occurring in our bodies, serotonin is responsible for regulating mood, appetite, and sleep — three things that people who are depressed can often struggle with regulating on their own. A 2007 study found that low doses of THC were capable of raising serotonin levels in rats while producing anti-depressant-like effects (researchers also found that too high of a dose, however, produced the opposite effect and made the rats’ depression worse).
However, it isn’t just about serotonin — traditional anti-depressant medications are also used to help spur along neurogenesis, or new cell growth. The research also speaks well for itself, in this 2006 study by Denson et al.
“We compared those who consumed marijuana daily, once a week or less, or never in their lives. Despite comparable ranges of scores on all depression subscales, those who used once per week or less had less depressed mood, more positive affect, and fewer somatic complaints than non-users. Daily users reported less depressed mood and more positive affect than non-users.”
How it’s Different
There are dozens of different medications used to treat depression, some on their own and some in conjunction with others. As with other mental health concerns, the medications available can often cause side effects that are either worse than the issue they are attempting to treat, or which greatly magnify the original issue at hand. These drugs are broken into four main categories, and have just a few of the following potential side effects:
- SSRIs: Loss of appetite, weight loss, insomnia, nervousness, nausea, headaches, sexual dysfunction
- SNRIs: All of the above, but add in liver failure and high blood pressure
- MAO Inhibitors: Weakness, headaches, tremors, dizziness, potentially deadly if mixed with other pharmaceuticals
- Tricyclics: Impaired thinking, blurred vision, worsening of glaucoma, fatigue, high blood pressure
But when it comes to medical marijuana, the side effects are much different. We like to think that this alone is a strong argument for the consideration of medical marijuana as a valid use in the treatment of depression.
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