A link exists between marijuana and depression. The stimulant and sedative properties of marijuana make it a popular drug of choice for many people with depression. However, cannabis is not considered safe for treating depression.
Is marijuana a depressant? In some instances. It is unclear if people who smoke cannabis are more likely to develop depression. While research has yet to confirm whether the drug causes depression, anecdotal evidence has shown that people who heavily smoke marijuana may have some risk for depression.
Article at a Glance:
Some important points to remember about the relationship between marijuana and depression include:
- Marijuana use can cause depression
- Federally, cannabis does not have any current medical applications
- Self-medicating with cannabis can lead to marijuana addiction
- Marijuana addiction is a neurological disorder that might require professional treatment
Table of Contents
How Marijuana Affects the Brain
Using marijuana is now somewhat mainstream even though the drug remains an illegal, Schedule I substance. However, some states have legalized marijuana use for medical and recreational purposes.
Society’s perceptions of marijuana are shifting. Decades ago, Americans widely viewed cannabis use as taboo. Today, many people think that the drug isn’t harmful and that it helps alleviate physical or psychological health problems.
While marijuana may have some medicinal benefits, people should not self-medicate with marijuana without first consulting with a medical professional. Unfortunately, self-medicating to treat depression is common in America.
How does marijuana affect the brain? When someone uses marijuana, the chemicals in the drug bind to cannabinoid receptors in the brain. These receptors can change the balance of the mind and can cause euphoric effects.
Marijuana affects specific parts of the brain:
- Amygdala: THC affects the amygdala, which is responsible for the regulation of emotions, fear and anxiety. People who use marijuana can feel a sense of paranoia or panic.
- Neocortex: The neocortex is responsible for more complex thoughts, decision-making and movement. When the neocortex is affected, people might struggle to drive.
- Nucleus acumens: The nucleus acumens regulates reward and motivation.
Marijuana changes the normal functioning of certain chemicals and alters the balance of the mind. This change is why some people might experience a decrease in depressive symptoms. For others, marijuana can cause health complications like cardiovascular problems.
The Conflicting Stories of Marijuana and Depression
For years, the medical benefits of marijuana have been topics of debate. Some people believe that cannabis can help people who deal with specific health problems, like post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. However, many others believe the drug does more harm than good.
Can Marijuana Cause Depression?
Since 2003, several meta-analyses examined the relationship between marijuana and depression. However, this research produced inconclusive results. The lead authors of each study could not conclude that cannabis causes depression.
A 2003 study published in the journal Addiction indicated that heavy marijuana use could increase symptoms of depression. However, researchers said that social and familial factors might have contributed to depression among the population sample.
A 2007 study published in The Lancet also examined the link between cannabis and depression. The report found that marijuana use increases a person’s risk of psychiatric conditions like depression. But researchers concluded that evidence supporting the idea that marijuana causes depression is not reliable.
In 2017, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine conducted the largest ever study on the health effects of marijuana. Researchers concluded that some evidence has found that cannabis creates a small increase in the risk of depressive disorders.
Can Marijuana Help With Depression?
Does marijuana help with depression? The euphoric effects of marijuana can cause relaxation and stimulation. When high on cannabis, individuals with depression may experience a slight decrease in negative thoughts.
However, research does not indicate that marijuana can cure depression. The National Academies study found no evidence of a statistical association between marijuana use and changes in depressive feelings.
Marijuana should not be the sole treatment for depression. Other treatments have shown effectiveness in reducing depression. These remedies include cognitive behavioral therapy, antidepressant medications (Related: How Does Marijuana Affect Antidepressants?) and physical activity.
Medical Marijuana for Depression
Medical marijuana and recreational marijuana are the two types of cannabis that exist. While cannabis is illegal on a federal level, 10 states legalized the use and possession of recreational marijuana as of December 2018. Currently, medical marijuana is legal in 33 states.
Recreational marijuana typically comprises high levels of THC and low amounts of cannabinol (CBD). THC is the ingredient in the cannabis plant that produces a high. CBD is a nonpsychotic ingredient that partially blocks the euphoric effects of marijuana.
Medical marijuana usually contains high levels of CBD and low amounts of THC. CBD has shown some effectiveness in treating mental illness and symptoms of epilepsy. The Food and Drug Administration has approved some medications that contain CBD.
The high levels of CBD in medical marijuana may help treat pain, anxiety and nausea in some individuals. More research is needed to determine whether or not any form of marijuana can help reduce symptoms of depression.
Co-Occurring Disorders: Self-Medicating With Marijuana
Self-medicating with marijuana can lead to severe health complications. Healthline states that using cannabis to reduce health issues can lead to a worsening of depressive symptoms. Severe depression can contribute to suicidal thoughts.
Self-medicating with cannabis can cause a person’s tolerance to the drug to increase which could develop into marijuana addiction. As their tolerance increases, they may need more of the substance to be able to function. People who self-medicate with marijuana deal with intense cravings that can lead to more frequent drug use. Cannabis addiction is a neurological disorder that might require treatment.
Depression and marijuana addiction can co-occur. It is important to treat co-occurring disorders involving depression and substance abuse at the same time. Addressing one disorder without treating the other could lead to a recurrence of cannabis use.
If you use marijuana and want to learn more about your substance use behaviors, take The Recovery Village’s marijuana self-assessment. This quiz can help you recognize the presence of marijuana dependence or addiction. To learn how treatment can help you better manage your marijuana addiction, contact The Recovery Village. An admissions representative can talk to you about the effects of marijuana and help you locate a rehab center that suits your needs.
Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. “Some Heavy Cannabis Users Experience Withdrawal After Quitting.” October 23, 2018. Accessed December 3, 2018.
Degenhardt, L., Hall, W. & Lynskey, M. “Exploring the association between cannabis use and depression.” Addiction. November 2003. Accessed December 3, 2018.
Drug Enforcement Administration. “Drug Scheduling.” (n.d.). Accessed December 3, 2018.
Holland, Kimberly. “What to Expect from Marijuana Withdrawal.” Healthline. September 28, 2017. Accessed December 3, 2018.
Moore, Theresa H.M., et al. “Cannabis use and risk of psychotic or affective mental health outcomes: a systematic review.” The Lancet. July 28, 2007. Accessed December 3, 2018.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. “The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: Committee’s Conclusions.” January 2017. Accessed December 3, 2018.
Watson, K. “Recognizing Forms of Self-Medication.” Healthline. May 29, 2018. Accessed December 3, 2018.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.