How Does Weed Affect Depression?

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What is weed?

Weed is a slang term for marijuana or cannabis. Weed is used for both recreational and medicinal purposes. However, the research regarding its risks and benefits is limited — therefore, marijuana is not commonly prescribed in clinical practice. 

In recent times, there has been an increased interest in this area, and the prescribing of marijuana may change with emerging research. 

Despite the limited research, there is evidence that a number of US adults are using marijuana as they feel that it helps with several medical conditions. 

This highlights the importance of ongoing research into the medicinal properties of marijuana — if there is evidence to support its use, it can be appropriately prescribed by medical practitioners. 

To date, the FDA has not approved cannabis for the treatment of any disease or condition. However, it has approved one cannabis-derived and three cannabis-related drug products. These all require a prescription from a healthcare provider and are licensed to treat certain conditions. 

Cannabidiol has been FDA approved for:

  • Treating seizures associated with Dravet syndrome, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, or tuberous sclerosis complex in patients older than one year 

Although it has not been FDA-approved, marijuana has also been associated with off-label clinical uses, including:

  • Neuropathic pain

  • Nausea and vomiting related to chemotherapy

  • Anxiety disorder

  • Improvement in muscle spasms and pain

  • Sleep disorder 

How marijuana affects the brain

You can take marijuana in several ways, including orally, sublingually, and through inhalation. The cannabis plant contains over 400 chemical compounds, which together contribute to the unique properties of the plant.

When marijuana is taken, the cannabinoids present in the plant interact with specific cannabinoid receptors within the brain and body to exhibit effects. In particular, the CB1 receptors in the brain are present in areas associated with memory, anxiety, cognition, and pain sensory perception — which could explain why anxiety relief and pain relief are some of the main uses of medicinal marijuana. 

Common behavioral effects include feelings of relaxation, euphoria, and memory and mood changes.  

Is marijuana a stimulant or a depressant?

Interestingly, marijuana can act as both a stimulant and a depressant. Depressants are known as drugs that have a relaxing effect on the brain and body. Stimulants are drugs that elevate mood and can provide a “euphoric high.”

The effects of marijuana can include pain relief, relaxation, and increased energy and mood levels. 

Marijuana and depression

The use of marijuana has been associated with worse outcomes for individuals with a diagnosis of major depressive disorder. Further, research has indicated that prolonged cannabis use (especially in adolescents) can actually increase the risk of developing a depressive disorder later in life. 

Some individuals argue that marijuana can be beneficial for those with depression as it can help to address some of the symptoms of depression, such as poor sleep. There is limited evidence to support this. 

Psychotherapy and antidepressants remain the primary treatment options for individuals with depression. If you are using marijuana to self-treat symptoms of depression, you should see your doctor, as your marijuana use may be making symptoms worse. 

What are the risks of marijuana use for depression?

Using marijuana to treat symptoms of depression may actually be making your depression worse.

There is also evidence that the compounds present in cannabis (CBD and THC) can interact with medications that are prescribed for depression.

Due to these significant SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and cannabinoid interactions, it’s worth letting your health professional know if you’re taking or thinking about taking marijuana if you’re on antidepressants. They can advise about potential drug interactions. In addition to making your symptoms of depression worse, research surrounding the safety of cannabis has found some consistent findings. Some of the acute and long-term adverse effects of marijuana include:¹

  • Reduced working memory

  • Increased impulsivity

  • Deficits in attention span

  • Impaired motor coordination

  • Addiction

  • Increased risk of lung cancer (when marijuana is inhaled)

  • Increased risk of chronic psychosis disorders (like schizophrenia)

Adverse consequences of marijuana use 

The side effects of marijuana use will vary, depending on whether it’s acute (present during intoxication), persistent (lasting longer than intoxication, but not necessarily permanent), or long-term (the cumulative effects of repeated marijuana use). 

Acute consequences include:

  • Dry mouth

  • Dizziness

  • Increased anxiety

  • Increased appetite

  • Irritability

  • Sedation or drowsiness

  • Impaired motor skills 

Persistent consequences include: 

  • Trouble falling or staying asleep

  • Impaired coordination or performance

  • Suicidal tendencies

  • Mood disorders 

Long-term consequences include:

  • Increased risk of lung, head, and neck cancers

  • Increased risk of psychosis

  • Reduced memory 

  • Cognitive impairment

Seeking the help of an expert 

It’s important to seek the help of a health professional if you are experiencing adverse effects of marijuana that you’re worried about. In most cases, they will advise you to reduce and cease your marijuana use. There are a number of strategies that can be used to help you with this.

Marijuana dependence and abuse can be harmful to the individual. Those with marijuana dependence usually continue to take the drug despite adverse social or psychological effects. 

A health professional can help with strategies to reduce your usage, including therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy or the use of motivational interviewing. These treatment options have been evaluated by research and show promise in successfully treating marijuana dependence. 

Managing depression 

Depression is a complex mental health condition. Treatment usually involves patient education, the use of evidence-based treatments (medications and therapy), and close follow-ups to ensure improvement and potential adjustments of treatment options.

Many researchers also suggest the importance of managing external stressors, having strong community support, and managing disorders that may arise, like anxiety.²

Because depression can be a side effect or symptom of other health conditions, a complete physical examination will often occur. The doctor will usually look at evidence of nutritional deficiency, look for thyroid swelling, take a blood test, and look at liver function, among others.

If you’re displaying some common signs and symptoms of depression, it’s worth letting your doctor know. They will be able to advise on the best course of action and refer you to specialists that can help you manage the severity of your symptoms. 

The lowdown 

More in-depth research is required before any conclusive evidence can be made about the beneficial properties marijuana may have on depressive symptoms. Although the research around marijuana and depression is still being undertaken, previous research has found that marijuana may worsen depression and has a number of negative short and long-term health effects, including cognitive impairment and psychosis. 

If you do currently use marijuana or are thinking about it, then you should let your health professional know. 

People also ask

What does weed do to your brain?

Taking weed can have direct impacts on your brain, including memory impairment, stimulating parts of your brain that respond to pleasure, and affecting decision-making, emotions, and coordination. 

Can getting too high cause permanent damage?

Exposure to marijuana (especially during development) has been shown to induce long-term adverse changes in the brain. 

Does weed make you angry the next day?

Because marijuana use can affect emotions, anger associated with weed can occur after intake or the next day as part of withdrawal. 

How long does weed paranoia last?

In some people, weed can result in symptoms of psychosis. These can last during the period of acute intoxication or can persist. If you experience these symptoms, it is important to see your doctor immediately. 

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