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.

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, research has not yet proven that cannabis is effective for treating depression.

It is also 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

How Marijuana Affects the Brain

Using marijuana is now somewhat mainstream, even though the drug remains an illegal Schedule I substance on a federal level. 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, including:

  • Amygdala: THC affects the amygdala, which is responsible for the regulation of emotions, fear and anxiety. People who use marijuana may 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 accumbens: The nucleus accumbens 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.

Is Marijuana a Stimulant or a Depressant?

Marijuana can have the effect of a stimulant and a depressant. Different strains of marijuana impact people differently, and two of the most common strains are sativa and indica. Sativa is known to have more of a stimulant effect, and indica can have more of a depressant effect.

Sativa is more uplifting on someone’s mood. People who use a sativa strain of marijuana might expect to feel more euphoric, energetic or creative. Some people refer to sativa strains as providing a “mind high” feeling. 

Indica strains can cause people to feel more relaxed and calm. It has more of a sedating effect and can decrease energy. People who have used an indica strain of marijuana have described feeling the “couch lock.” They feel very mellow, like they are stuck on the couch and cannot get up from it.

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 those who deal with specific health problems, such as 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 have 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?

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 and physical activity.

Related: How Does Marijuana Affect Antidepressants?

Medical Marijuana for Depression

While cannabis is illegal on a federal level, many states have enacted laws related to legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational usage. Currently, 37 states, three territories and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis products. Also, 19 states, two territories and the District of Columbia have created laws to regulate non-medical use of marijuana.

More research on medicinal use of marijuana for depression is needed. Many people choose to use medical marijuana to treat their depression symptoms, but there is still not much information known about how medical cannabis can treat the symptoms. Some current research does suggest that medical marijuana may help to decrease symptoms of depression.

Combating Negative Thoughts While High

Some people who use marijuana have negative thoughts. This reaction happens most often if someone uses too much marijuana, the marijuana has a higher strength or the person has less experience in using marijuana. These negative thoughts may involve:

  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Distrust
  • Panic
  • Paranoia

There are some things that may help to calm these negative thoughts. It can be helpful to try to relax by:

  • Creating a relaxing environment with soothing music or soft lights
  • Doing relaxing activities like coloring, stroking a pet or listening to music
  • Practicing breathing exercises
  • Going to a calm and quiet space
  • Talking to a trusting person

Co-Occurring Disorders: Self-Medicating With Marijuana

Self-medicating with marijuana refers to using marijuana to reduce any physical, psychiatric or psychological symptoms. It’s become more common for people with depression or anxiety to use marijuana to cope with the symptoms. Some of the most commonly reported reasons for self-medicating with marijuana are:

  • Anxiety
  • Sleep
  • Depression
  • Pain
  • Loneliness
  • Social discomfort
  • Concentration

Research suggests that when people self-medicate, they have more difficulty in decreasing their usage and are more likely to develop a cannabis use disorder. They are also more likely to experience withdrawal symptoms. These withdrawal symptoms can exacerbate psychiatric or psychological symptoms that lead to the desire to self-medicate. For example, someone who self-medicates with marijuana for depression may feel more depressed when not using the marijuana due to the withdrawal effects. Consequently, this person may then continue to use marijuana at a potentially higher rate.

Since 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.

Feelings of depression or anxiety can lead to suicidal thinking. If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts or tendencies, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

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.

Jonathan Strum
Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Sara G. Graff, LCSW
Sara Graff is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) in Florida. She earned both her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and her Master of Social Work (MSW) degree from Washington University in St. Louis. Sara has over twenty five years as a social worker and has worked in many areas of mental health. Read more

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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.