I’d like to preface this article by saying: I am not a doctor. I have never been to medical school. I didn’t even pass Bio 11. Even after I had to take it twice in summer school. I have, however, and still do, suffer from depression. I’ve dealt with it since I was young and have been put on a variety of medications and treatments. I write this because I have a lot of experience in using cannabis to help with my depression. When I used it irresponsibly, it ended up making it worse. However, when I learned to medicate responsibly, it became one of the most useful tools for my mental health. I still use it to this day to help with depression, anxiety, and OCD, so I want to share my experience and my advice.
If you are struggling with your mental health; I cannot encourage you enough to speak to someone. A doctor, a family member, a friend. You can even reach out in our customer service and ask for Jackson and I’d be happy to try and help you find the right help in your area when I’m in the office next. You never have to go at this alone.
Mental Health in Modern Society
Mental health awareness is becoming more and more common in society, however, that was not always the case. For a long time, much of the public, at least in private, regarded mental illness not as a medical issue, but as something more sinister. Something to be feared and cast aside. As society’s understanding of mental health has grown, so has the space for people to come forward and discuss their struggles, as well as options for treatment. We have since learned that depression is one of the most common ailments that affect people’s mental health.
While great progress has been made, there is still a long way to go. As much as corporations are willing to attach their names to mental health awareness day and send out a hashtagged tweet, the amount of actual resources and attention being put towards mental illness awareness and treatment is insufficient.
There are many options for treating depression such as counseling and medication, just to name a few. For a long time, doctors would be quick to simply prescribe pharmaceuticals. And for many people, it worked. And still works! There is a strange attitude I’ve noticed that concerns me when talking to others that struggle with their mental health. A bravado or type of pride in not using medication. While big pharma is certainly deserving of many criticisms, there is absolutely no shame in taking medication when you are struggling. This idea that you are weak or a lesser person for taking medication is just plain wrong and incredibly damaging.
As treatments have progressed and we’ve learned more about depression; we have learned new ways to help people that are struggling. Where doctors would previously be quick to recommend medication, they are now suggesting alternative methods as well. Exercise, it turns out, plays a huge role in our mental health. The same goes for diet and sleep.
One increasingly popular method people are turning to for their treatment of depression is cannabis. A 2016 survey revealed that, of their 1,429 respondents, 58% used cannabis to control their anxiety problems, while 50% used cannabis to manage their depression.
Cannabis does indeed have antidepressant properties. It can relax the body and quiet the mind. More importantly, it helps stabilize mood and uplift the spirit. Research studies have shown that cannabis acts on several biological systems that modulate moods and emotions. Through its activation of these biological systems, the symptoms of depression can be controlled.
Using cannabis can allow for a new perspective on the issues that are troubling you. It can help you look at yourself and your problems with more self-love and compassion. We can be so hard on ourselves sometimes and cannabis can help you be less critical of yourself. Relaxing with cannabis and a good show, some nice music or some delicious food can do wonders for your mental health and helps a lot of people in battling depression.
While cannabis can definitely benefit many people with depression, there are some precautions that users should be aware of. In some cases, cannabis can make matters worse if the overall problem is not being addressed. Listening to your body and medicating responsibly is key to treating depression.
The Effects of Cannabis on Depression
Depression is not just a fleeting feeling of extreme sadness and hopelessness. It is a mental state that can last for days, weeks, months and even years. The symptoms, often hidden and silent, can be devastating and debilitating to the sufferer. They can affect not only your day-to-day activities but your relationships, as well.
Gatekeeping people’s depression is unnecessary and harmful. There is no amount of depression or despair necessary to qualify as depressed. Some may see how others struggle and think that since their own depression is not as debilitating, it cannot be real depression. Please don’t do this to yourself. If it is affecting your life and impacting your health then it is just as valid as anyone else.
For some, depression is something they can hide, struggling internally except for in the moments where it becomes too much. For others, there is no hiding their depression. It physically consumes them. It keeps them in bed. Trapped in their own heads. All forms of depression are worthy of treatment and care.
Causes of Depression
Many factors can cause depression – personal and financial problems, genetic predisposition, trauma, abuse, chronic medical illnesses, death of a loved one, substance abuse, among others. These conflicts and extreme stress cause changes in the neurotransmitter levels in your brain. These changes, in turn, alter brain structures and the way they normally function.
Chronic stress, for example, triggers the brain cells to continuously release excitatory neurotransmitters. These excitatory neurotransmitters continuously activate the brain centers responsible for processing stress, fear, emotions, and mood. Their continuous activation can then lead to structural changes in the brain. These changes affect how the structures normally function in regulating negative moods and emotions. The brain cells also lose some of their ability to reabsorb the excitatory neurotransmitters. There’s also a reduction in their release of inhibitory neurotransmitters that help stabilize the abnormal neurotransmitter levels.
Many people with depression, such as myself, take antidepressants to control their symptoms. These drugs help stabilize the imbalance in neurotransmitter levels by increasing the levels of happy hormones like serotonin and dopamine. While these drugs work, long-term use can lead to adverse side effects like somnolence and decreased libido in some cases. It is often a matter of working with your doctor to find the right medication and dosage. This can be a frustrating process as it often takes time before you notice any changes, however, countless people’s lives have been saved by going on antidepressants.
Cannabinoids have an effect on the neurotransmitter levels via the brain cell’s endocannabinoid system making it an effective form of treatment. The endocannabinoid system’s main role is to regulate and promote homeostasis in the brain and the body. Activation of the endocannabinoid system helps the brain cells release happy hormones and, at the same time, reabsorb the excess excitatory neurotransmitters. Its activation also results in the modulation of moods, emotions, fear, anxiety, stress, appetite, memory, among others.
Cannabinoids also act on other biological systems that control emotions, stress, anxiety, and mood. These include the serotonin and adenosine receptors.
Our brain cells naturally produce cannabinoid-like chemicals called endocannabinoids. These are, of course, the primary chemicals that activate the endocannabinoid system. Unfortunately, chronic physical and mental health problems often reduce their levels and even impair endocannabinoid system functions. The introduction of cannabinoids helps boost endocannabinoid levels and, at the same time, activates the endocannabinoid system. This is one of the reasons why many people feel symptom relief when using cannabis.
Conflicting Views of Cannabis for Depression
Some studies have shown that cannabis can help control the symptoms of depression. However, some studies also revealed conflicting results.
One study stated that prolonged and chronic use of cannabis for depression can lead to amotivational syndrome. This is a condition wherein the user becomes apathetic and loses the ability to feel motivated and productive. The thing is, these symptoms are already symptoms typical with depression first place. It’s just that in those cases when only cannabis is introduced as the only treatment, it can make it worse.
As I discussed in our recent blog, Staying Productive with Cannabis, if you are already feeling apathetic and unmotivated and then use cannabis, without enacting any other change in your life, it will often make it worse. You will become gradually more and more accepting of the lack of drive until cannabis just becomes part of the problem.
This is why it is vital to not just rely solely on cannabis to treat your depression. While it has many properties that help with the symptoms, it is not a cure-all. One does not exist, otherwise, everyone would use it. Even antidepressants don’t magically fix everything. It is through a combination of many factors and changes that people find long term relief from depression. When used responsibly, cannabis can play a significant role in your improvement but you cannot count on it to fix everything.
We still need more studies on cannabis and depression to better understand how cannabinoids interact with our brains. We also need more clinical trials to assess the positive and negative effects of cannabis on depression, including its long-term effects. Hopefully, with cannabis legalization, these studies will go forward.
Things to be Aware of Before Using Cannabis for Depression
In light of the conflicting views, you should exercise some caution in using cannabis for depression.
If you have a psychiatric condition that makes you prone to psychosis or are predisposed to schizophrenia, using cannabis can trigger the development of these conditions. In these cases, it is not worth the risk as there are other proven methods that do not leave you so vulnerable.
It’s also important to know the different methods of cannabis administration, especially since they can have varying effects. If you want fast relief, then smoking and vaping offer the fastest onset of effects. The cannabinoids go directly into your bloodstream. However, the duration of their effects is shorter than edibles. Edibles, on the other hand, can take anywhere between half an hour to a couple of hours before you start feeling the effects. The cannabinoids have to pass through the gastrointestinal system and the liver before they enter the bloodstream. Of all the modes of administration though, edibles offer the longest duration since the cannabinoids stay longer in the system. They can also be quite a bit stronger so be careful and go slow.
Some people find that Indica’s work great for their depression. Other’s swear by Sativa’s. There are also those who prefer CBD. There are no right or wrong strains. It’s a matter of finding what works best for you. That said, strains rich in Limonene and Myrcene terpenes, like Sour Diesel, are often cited as being the most effective in battling depression. Refer to our article on terpenes to understand how significant of a role they play in your experience.
Cannabis can greatly benefit patients with depression in numerous ways. It can help stabilize imbalanced neurotransmitter levels in the brain, as well as enhance the function of several biological systems that regulate mood, emotions, stress, and anxiety.
That said, using cannabis for depression also requires its own precautions. THC is not a good option for people with psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia and psychosis.
If you want to try cannabis for your symptoms, be sure to do your research. Knowing your family’s mental health history is very important if using cannabis to benefit your mental health. If you are comfortable with it; talk to your doctor, especially if you are taking other medications, to be sure they will not have a negative interaction. Take time in finding the right strain with a good balance between its THC and CBD levels that works for you. We are always happy to help you find the right dosage and the best mode of administration that suits your needs.
If you find that cannabis is making matters worse, don’t try and push it. Give it a break and see if you notice any improvements.
More than anything, be good to yourself. The world can seem incredibly bleak at times but there is still so much beauty in it. It’s just a matter of seeing it again. If you’re having trouble finding the beauty, reach out. You’re loved ones are just that; loved ones. They care about you and want you to be as happy as we all deserve to be. There may be times where things seem like too much, or that you can’t handle it all. I have been there. I promise you, you can handle anything. There is always light to be found. Sometimes you just have to stumble through the darkness for a bit to find the switch.
If you need to speak to someone right away, use these numbers below. If you are in crisis, please call an ambulance. There is no shame. If you live in Vancouver you can call also for Car 87.
Car 87 teams a Vancouver Police constable with a registered nurse or a registered psychiatric nurse to provide on-site assessments and intervention for people living with mental illness. The nurse and the police officer work as a team in assessing, managing, and deciding about the most appropriate action, which may include referrals for community-based mental health follow-up or emergency intervention.
In addition to Car 87, the Access & Assessment Centre operates a telephone crisis line where nurses assist callers in crisis, provide information pertaining to resources and triage situations to the appropriate resources: Car 87, ambulance or police as required.
Car 87 can be reached via the Access & Assessment Centre’s 24-hour crisis line at (604) 675-3700 or via 9-1-1.
The new Canada Suicide Prevention Service (CSPS) by Crisis Services Canada, enables callers anywhere in Canada to access crisis support by phone, in French or English: toll-free 1-833-456-4566 Available 24/7
- KidsHelpPhone Ages 20 Years and Under in Canada 1-800-668-6868
- First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness 24/7 Help Line 1-855-242-3310
- Canadian Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line 1-866-925-4419
- Trans LifeLine – All Ages 1-877-330-6366
- Alberta Crisis Line – All Ages 403-266-4357
- British Columbia Crisis Line – All Ages 1-800-SUICIDE
- British Columbia Mental Health Support 310-6789
- BC211 – Referral Hotline 24/7 Dial 211
- Manitoba Crisis Line – All Ages 1-877-435-7170
- New Brunswick Crisis Line – All Ages 1-800-667-5005
- Newfoundland and Labrador Line All Ages 1-888-737-4668
- NWT All Ages 24/7 1-800-661-0844
- Nova Scotia Crisis Line – All Ages 1-888-429-8167
- Nunavut Line – All Ages 7 pm-11 pm (EST) 1-800-265-3333
- Ontario Crisis Line – All Ages 1-866-531-2600
- Ontario York and Simcoe Support Services Network 1-855-310-COPE (2673)
- Prince Edward Island Crisis Line – All Ages 1-800-218-2885
- Ontario College and University Students 1-866-925-5454
- Ontario – Kenora, Dryden, Fort Frances, Rainy River and everywhere in between 1-866-888-8988
- Quebec National Crisis Line – All Ages 1-866-277-3553
- Saskatchewan Crisis Line – All Ages 1-306-525-5333
- Yukon Crisis Line – All Ages 7 pm-12 am (PST) 1-844-533-3030
- Trans LifeLine – U.S.A. 1-877-565-8860
- The Trevor Project Lifeline 866-488-7386
- U.S. National Suicide Prevention LifeLine 1-800-273-TALK
- Military Veterans Canada and U.S.A. 1-800-273-8255 Press 2 for Spanish