The connection is not clear, but most experts warn against pot use when depressed.
This article is based on reporting that features expert sources.
The connection between alcohol use and mental health disorders like depression is pretty well-understood. Pot? Not so much. And that’s somewhat problematic.
As marijuana becomes increasingly destigmatized, not to mention decriminalized, in much of the country, understanding its association with mental health is more important than ever. Medical marijuana advocates even claim that certain strains of pot can be used as treatments for depression. What does the science have to say? Not a lot.
Marijuana and Depression
While there is substantive evidence that pot increases the risk of psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, the link to depression is unclear. “If there is an association, the data are not as robust as with psychotic illness. It’s just conjecture,” says Dr. Eric C. Strain, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment and Research and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Compare that stance with alcohol. “Alcohol is an extreme depressant, and the combination of alcohol and depression is a very malignant condition,” says Dr. Andrew Saxon, professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington and director of the Center of Excellence in Substance Abuse Treatment and Education (CESATE) with VA Puget Sound Health Care System. “From my clinical experience, alcohol is worse than marijuana,” says Saxon, who is also director of the addiction psychiatry residency program at the University of Washington in Seattle.
That doesn’t mean pot and depression are benign partners, though.
Link Between Pot and Depression
There is evidence of a toxic relationship between the two. A study published in the journal Addiction found that teenagers who suffered chronic depression were more likely to develop marijuana-use disorder later in life.
But there’s also evidence of pot helping with some symptoms of depression. A study out of the University at Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions, for example, studied chronic stress and depression and the relationship with endocannabinoids, naturally occurring brain chemicals that are similar to chemicals in marijuana.
“Chronic stress is one of the major causes of depression,” said senior research scientist Samir Haj-Dahmane in a university press release. “Using compounds derived from cannabis – marijuana – to restore normal endocannabinoid function could potentially help stabilize moods and ease depression.”
Before you run out and get your medical marijuana card, however, note that this research was conducted on animals, and “there is still a long way to go before we know whether this can be effective in humans,” Haj-Dahmane said.
Published: October 02, 2021
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