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Cannabis for Depression: A Research Review

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Cannabis for Depression

The potential health advantages offered by the myriad molecules produced by marijuana—including cannabinoids such as CBD and THC and terpenes like pinene and myrcene—is great. Among the most commonly cited conditions for which cannabis is employed is depression.

A depressed woman sits in a chair and stares out a window.
Does cannabis help depression?

Below, Higher Learning LV examines the results of three peer-reviewed research studies regarding the wellness advantages that may be conveyed by some of the phytomolecules produced by hemp and cannabis.


What is Depression?

Cannabis for Depression. Depression, more technically called Major Depressive Disorder, is a mental disorder involving a minimum of two weeks of "low mood" that is accompanied by low self-esteem, loss of interest in activities, low energy, and pain—all without a clear cause (such as a trauma event or accident). It affects people of all ages, from young children to teenagers to senior citizens.


In 2019 about 20 million adults in the U.S. (or roughly eight percent of the population) suffered at least one "major depressive episode."

According to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, in 2019 about 20 million adults in the U.S. (or roughly eight percent of the population) suffered at least one "major depressive episode." Of those, about 13 million (more than five percent of adults) also suffered "severe impairment," many of whom sought or were prescribed professional treatment.


Cannabis for Depression Studies

Cannabis for Depression. A range of peer-reviewed scientific studies have been conducted with the goal of better understanding the true efficacy of cannabis—as well as its constituent cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids—for depression and mood disorrders.

A cannabis leaf.
Many studies on cannabis for depression.

Cannabis for Depression: 2021 Study

A 2021 study entitled "Antidepressant and Anxiolytic Effects of Medicinal Cannabis Use in an Observational Trial" that was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry explored the potential therapeutic role of cannabis consumption for the treatment of both depression and anxiety (conditions that are often closely related).


The study noted that "patients are increasingly using medicinal cannabis products to treat these disorders, but little is known about the effects of medicinal cannabis use on symptoms of anxiety and depression."

The study noted that "patients are increasingly using medicinal cannabis products to treat these disorders, but little is known about the effects of medicinal cannabis use on symptoms of anxiety and depression." The researchers said that the goal of their observational study was to "assess general health in medicinal cannabis users and non-using controls with anxiety and/or depression."

A cannabis plant.
Many depressed people use pot.

The study involved 538 human participants comprised of 368 cannabis consumers and 170 control subjects who did not consume cannabis. The results? The scientists initially found that those who used cannabis reported lower depression, but not necessarily anxiety. The marijuana users reported "superior sleep, quality of life, and less pain."


Perhaps the most convincing result of this study was that it found, during a follow-up period, "significantly decreased anxiety and depressive symptoms" in the cannabis consumers, but that it was an effect that "was not observed in [control subjects] that never initiated cannabis use."


The researchers concluded that medicinal cannabis use may "reduce anxiety and depressive symptoms in clinically anxious and depressed populations."

The researchers concluded that medicinal cannabis use may "reduce anxiety and depressive symptoms in clinically anxious and depressed populations." However, like other studies, the scientists noted that "future placebo-controlled studies are necessary to replicate these findings" and that important elements of the use of any medicine, including dose, consumption avenue, and overall formulation must be determined "to optimize clinical outcomes."


View the original study.


Cannabis for Depression: 2018 Study

A 2018 study entitled "Integrating Endocannabinoid Signaling in the Regulation of Anxiety and Depression" that was published in the journal Acta Pharmacologica Sinica investigated the potential role of the human endocannabinoid system (ECS) in anxiety and depression.


The study's authors noted that problems with the ECS may result in "negative emotional states and increased stress responses." They wrote that a better understanding of related cellular and neural (nervous system) mechanisms will allow the development of therapeutic strategies to treat conditions such as anxiety and depression.

A dog stands beside a large cannabis bush.
More research is needed.

"The most commonly reported reason for cannabis use by the majority of users worldwide is its relaxing effect," reported the study. It noted that "In recent years, a large body of data has demonstrated that the endocannabinoid system is involved in the regulation of the behavioral domains of anxiety and depression."


The researchers provided a convenient and terse definition of the ECS as a cellular signaling system populated by cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2 and the endocannabinoids (internally produced cannabinoids) anandamide (AEA) and 2-AG (2-arachidonoylglycerol), as well as "enzymes that catalyze endocannabinoid synthesis and degradation."


"In conclusion, the stress-induced downregulation of CB1 signaling in brain regions is of vital importance for the regulation of emotion processes such as depression," wrote the scientists.

"In conclusion, the stress-induced downregulation of CB1 signaling in brain regions is of vital importance for the regulation of emotion processes such as depression," wrote the scientists.


View the original study.

A woman sits on the floor.
Cannabis may help depression.

Cannabis for Depression: 2010 Study

A 2010 study entitled "Antidepressant-like Effect of THC and Other Cannabinoids Isolated from Cannabis" that was published in the journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior explored how certain phytocannabinoids may affect mood and potentially help alleviate or act as therapeutic support for conditions such as depression.


This rodent study, a precursor to similar clinical investigations involving human subjects that are significantly more revealing, demonstrated that the phytocannabinoids CBC (cannabichromene), CBD (cannabidiol), and delta-9 THC "exhibited significant effect" as antidepressant agents.


"Delta-9 THC, CBD, and CBC exert antidepressant-like actions in animal models of behavioral despair."

In addition, the study's results showed that CBG (cannabigerol) and CBN (cannabinol) "did not produce antidepressant-like actions." Both CBC and delta-9 THC were again tested, via different methods, to confirm the study's initial findings and were "further confirmed."


The researchers concluded that their results "show that phytocannabinoids, including delta-9 THC, CBD, and CBC exert antidepressant-like actions in animal models of behavioral despair."


However, like many other similar studies, the scientists cautioned that the specific biochemical mechanisms that potentially alleviate depression in rodents are not understood. One problem that prevents a clearer understanding of these mechanisms is "the fact that these compounds have varying binding profiles" for receptors in the ECS, including CB1.


View the original study.

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Did you enjoy Cannabis for Depression—A Research Review? Check out our new Cannabis for Cancer Hub that features links to all of our articles about marijuana for cancer.

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