More than 300 million people in the world suffer from depression, making it one of the most common mental disorders among humans. Does getting high help?
If you’re one of those 300 million (or your loved one), then you’ve probably already read hundreds of articles on how to beat depression.
Most of them revolve around things like “exercise”, “get a routine” or my favorite — “challenge negative thoughts”.
These tips probably make sense in some universe, but they are pointless in practice, as they are mostly written by people who have never experienced the unrelenting grip of this disorder.
Misunderstanding depression is why it can escalate to suicide — according to the World Health Organization, around 800,000 people die each year in depression-related suicides.
As humans, the more we do something the better we get at it.
That is why depression is so hard to get out of. It’s hard for humans to break the patterns of negative thinking, and thus we develop a breeding ground for all sorts of mental disorders.
Basically, what happens is there is an error in our brain which makes it hard for us to change the perspective of thinking and keeps us in a constant loop of a bad mood.
However, as medicine makes quantum leaps with each passing year, researchers are starting to wonder whether depression is actually fueled by a misalignment in our endocannabinoid system.
This became a point of interest when one study figured out that “depression and pain co-exist in almost 80% of patients” and that “the majority of patients who suffer from the comorbid depression and pain are not responsive to pharmacological treatments that address either pain or depression”. (1)
But guess what re-aligns the human endocannabinoid system?
Cannabinoids produced by a plant that’s been with humans for thousands of years — Cannabis sativa.
Let’s explore this relationship in greater depth.
What is depression and what are its signs and symptoms?
Depression is a disorder that causes one to feel sad and empty, intensely and for longer periods of time (weeks, months or years), sometimes with the added feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness.
There are a lot of things that can trigger depressive behavioral patterns.
Genetics and general personality are considered as the main suspects, however, genetics is literally blamed for every other condition so this does not really explain that much.
What does explain depression, to some extent is that it can be caused by childhood abuse (of some form).
To be precise:
Being a victim of mental, physical or sexual abuse in childhood is one of the main reasons for developing depression later on in adulthood.
Certain pharmaceuticals can also cause this unwelcome state of mind.
For instance, beta-blockers and antipsychotics may have a role in developing deep depression in certain patients.
Another two main suggested causes are a serious illness and substance abuse.
Losing our loved ones, going through big transitions in life, being involved in conflicts and chronic stress can also all play a part in inducing this mood disorder.
Symptoms of depression
Besides general sadness, there are a number of symptoms that can occur individually or in a combination, such as:
- Difficulty concentrating and remembering details
- Constantly feeling tired and not having enough energy
- Developing sleeping disorders like insomnia, as well as sleeping too much
- Having feelings of guilt, irritability, restlessness, hopelessness, pessimism or anxiety
- Losing interest in everyday activities
- Developing eating disorders
- Feeling the pain and having digestive problems
- Developing suicidal thoughts
Conventional treatment for depression
Fighting and beating depression is not an easy feat, but it is possible.
In conventional medicine, there is no single and effective treatment for it. It usually requires a combination of drugs and lifestyle changes.
Common treatment usually includes cognitive-behavioral or interpersonal therapy and/or antidepressant medication.
Some types of conventional treatments, such as specific pharmaceuticals, do not seem to have a satisfactory impact on all individuals, especially children.
And that is the main reason why people are turning to alternatives and a more holistic approach overall.
Research on cannabinoids and depression
Although marijuana is not the go-to treatment for depression today, throughout the history and up to the 17th century it was actually commonly used as an antidepressant.
To be precise, English clergyman Robert Burton, recommended marijuana for curing depression in his book “The Anatomy of Melancholy”.
As a society, we advanced quite a bit from the 1600’s, but when it comes to this particular topic it feels like we’re still far behind driving carriages and bathing once per year.
Yes, there are many people who use cannabis for medicinal purposes, but the large majority of those 300 million depressed people do not live in an area where medical cannabis is legal.
And still, self-medicating with cannabis is not an easy route these days, as the punishments in some countries go to the extremes.
Making a decision to start using cannabis for depression is difficult, so I’ll try to shed some light on this topic for you:
Humans have a network of cellular receptors called the endocannabinoid system. Think of it as a system responsible for psychophysical harmony.
This system consists of cellular receptors and activators (agonists).
The receptors — spread throughout the body, CB1 receptors are located in our central nervous system, while CB2 receptors are found in our stomach, white blood cells and peripheral nervous system.
The activators — endocannabinoids, created by the body but can be supplemented from external sources, such as cannabis.
These two elements work together to ensure our engine is running smoothly. For example, when our body needs to regulate the temperature, it sends cellular activators (endocannabinoids) to CB1 receptors located in the hypothalamus and basically tells them what to do.
Here’s where the possible link with the depression is:
According to researchers at the University of Buffalo, being under constant stress leads to producing less of these regulating chemicals in our brain, which increases the possibility of depression. (2)
Believe it or not, compounds found in marijuana (called cannabinoids) can supplement our very own endocannabinoid receptors, speeding up the recovery and growth of nervous tissues.
In theory, cannabis should balance and align the endocannabinoid system, which should provide relief for people who are depressed, in more ways than one.
Besides restoring a healthy cellular homeostasis, cannabis also offers a plethora of accompanying effects.
This is something that has been proved by researchers all across the world, starting with the University of Utrecht. (3)
Their study found that, when depressed individuals consume cannabis, a chemical called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) activates their endocannabinoid receptors and alters the negative responses to emotions and situations.
To quote the study:
“THC administration reduces the negative bias in emotional processing. This adds human evidence to support the hypothesis that the endocannabinoid system is involved in modulation of emotional processing.”
Now, at this point, you’re probably like — “this sounds great, but why do so many experts claim that cannabis actually causes depression?”
Well, a research from 2006 surveyed 4400 participants about their cannabis use and feelings of depression. (4)
According to their findings, there is no apparent connection between cannabis and depression.
Marijuana users, both occasional and daily, actually have a much lower risk of depression than those who don’t consume the herb.
As they concluded:
“These data suggest that adults apparently do not increase their risk for depression by using marijuana.”
That being said, the link between cannabis and depression still remains somewhat mystical, as there have only been a handful of dependable studies that we can cite.
When you Google “does cannabis cause depression”, you can only see conflicting views.
Which is something that we cannabis users are used to, at this point.
It’s certain that there is a relationship between marijuana and depression, but no clinical trials have yet proved that marijuana causes depression.
It seems that clinicians like to stick to the popular opinion that high doses of marijuana can cause depression, while low doses can relieve it.
Scientists from the McGill University noticed that higher doses of synthetic THC seem to worsen the symptoms of depression and that lower doses of the same substance have an antidepressive effect. (5)
In my personal opinion, these findings are pretty logical, considering how cannabis produces biphasic effects.
10 weed strains that are good for depression
There are more than 800 unique cannabis strains in the world.
So when you are looking for the best strain for depression, there are a lot of questions that can pop up — should I use indica or sativa for depression? Do I need a strain high in THC or CBD? Is CBD oil good for depression?
Like everything related to cannabis, there is no definitive answer to any of these questions.
It all comes down to doing the research and finding that one strain that suits you the best.
It’s all personal.
Here are 10 strains that should produce minimum paranoia but plenty of health benefits, that will help you get one step closer to improving your mood. You can use these strains to make edibles or to make your own cannabis oil.
Whatever floats your boat.
Harlequin (THC: 4-7%, CBD: 8-16%)
Harlequin has a 1:1 THC to CBD ratio, which is considered the most therapeutic range. CBD is a non-psychoactive compound of marijuana, which diminishes the effects of THC, so by using Harlequin, your mind will stay clear while THC does its job in balancing out your cellular processes.
Northern Lights (THC: 16% – 21%)
If you’re looking for a good strain to use after a tough day, this is the one. This extremely potent indica will calm down your mind and body, relieving it from chronic stress and depression. Be prepared for munchies and that ever-so-welcome couch lock.
Kill Bill (THC: 15-19%)
Kill Bill is a great strain for treating depression and its side symptoms such as stress, pain, and appetite loss. It will relax your entire body but also provide you with a lot of motivation, which is completely necessary for day-to-day activities.
Amnesia Haze (THC 20-22%, CBD: 1%)
An extraordinary strain popularized in Amsterdam, Amnesia Haze is very high in THC, with just enough CBD to help you unwind. It’s perfect for daytime use, as it is energizing and euphoric.
Jack Herer (THC: 23%, CBN: 1%)
Jack Herer is a very uplifting strain, great for boosting energy, happiness, focus, and creativity. It’s recommended for daytime use since it induces euphoria, while coincidentally making the mind a bit more clear.
Sour Diesel (THC: 26%, CBD: 2%)
One of the best strains for medical patients, Sour Diesel provides instant relief, an influx of energy and a gust of creativity. It’s very commonly used among depression and anxiety patients.
Pineapple Express (THC: 25%, CBN: 1%)
Pineapple Express is used for a number of medical conditions, especially for treating stress and depression. It will give you enough energy to go about your day but will calm you down once it starts to wear off. This one is also best used in the day.
AK-47 (THC: 13-20%, CBD: 1%)
AK-47 is a good choice for those suffering from pain and other symptoms of depression. It will relax your body while helping you become very social and creative.
Lamb’s Bread (THC: 19-25%, CBD: 1%)
This strain originated in Jamaica. It produces uplifting, happy, euphoric and creative effects. Perfect for daytime use, Lamb’s Bread eases depression and everyday chronic stress almost immediately.
Jilly Bean (THC: 16-21%, CBD: 1%)
When you try Jilly Bean, you’ll feel its effects just a few moments after you smoke it. It will make you euphoric, happy, and productive. As it starts to wear off, it will relax your body, which makes it perfect for fighting depression.
Before you start experimenting with marijuana for depression, talk to your cannabis-friendly doctor who can check all your symptoms and give you some more advice on choosing the right strain.
Remember, finding the right strain is a process, so stay patient and informed.
- Wen-Juan Huang, Wei-Wei Chen, and Xia Zhang. Endocannabinoid system: Role in depression, reward and pain control (Review). Molecular Medicine Reports; 2016 Oct; 14(4): 2899–2903.
- Samir Haj-Dahmanecorresponding, Roh-Yu Shen; Chronic Stress Impairs α1-Adrenoceptor-Induced Endocannabinoid-Dependent Synaptic Plasticity in the Dorsal Raphe Nucleus; Journal of Neuroscience; October 2014; 34(44):14560–14570.
- Bossong MG, van Hell HH, Jager G, Kahn RS, Ramsey NF, Jansma JM; The endocannabinoid system and emotional processing: a pharmacological fMRI study with ∆9-tetrahydrocannabinol; European Neuropsychopharmacology; December 2013; 23(12):1687-97.
- Denson TF, Earleywine M; Decreased depression in marijuana users; Addictive Behaviors; April 2006; 31(4):738-42.
- McGill University; Cannabis: Potent Anti-depressant In Low Doses, Worsens Depression At High Doses; ScienceDaily, October 2007.