Does using marijuana qualify as a valid treatment for depression? Although marijuana is an illegal substance, it’s usually easy to get, and some people suffering from clinical depression swear it works as a great treatment. But according to the White House Office of National Drug Control, this is one of many marijuana myths. People who try to self-medicate with pot may actually make it and other mental health problems worse. Marijuana abuse isn’t the answer to depression.
So why do some people praise the effects of marijuana on depression? Many people believe marijuana produces serotonin in the body. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in the brain that regulates mood. When serotonin levels are low, people can experience depression and anxiety. The newest drugs for depression, such as Zoloft, Lexapro and Paxil and Prozac, are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These drugs raise the level of serotonin in the brain. When a depressed person takes SSRIs, he will begin to feel less depressed. But marijuana does not produce serotonin.
Instead, marijuana affects anandamide, a substance in the brain that causes a soothing sensation in mood when it interacts with THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the active substance in pot. And, according to Columbia University Health Services, the dangers of marijuana can actually contribute to clinical depression. Studies show that smoking marijuana can lead to a higher risk of developing depression in the future. The studies also show that people who are already at risk for schizophrenia are more likely to develop this disorder if they already smoke marijuana. The negative effects of marijuana are well-known, but many do not realize high doses of pot can cause an acute psychotic reaction.
Dr. Oscar Bukstein, associate professor psychiatry at the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Medicine, says mental illness and substance abuse often co-exist. About one in ten teens that smoke pot go on to develop substance abuse problems, and about one in ten who become dependent on pot have symptoms of psychosis.
Researchers further caution that since marijuana is not controlled in the same way SSRIs are, users are taking dangerous steps to control their depression. FDA approved drugs for depression have been tested over and over again, and people who are taking them are under a health professional’s care. And mixing antidepressants and marijuana is also a risk. Side effects of SSRIs, such as nausea, dizziness and sleeping problems, are also side effects of marijuana. Combining the two drugs can be dangerous.
Clinical depression is a common mental health problem. Symptoms include a feeling of hopelessness, sleeping problems, trouble concentrating, fatigue, irritability, loss of interest in daily activities and even suicidal thoughts. About eight percent of adults in the U.S. suffer from depression, and about four percent of teenagers develop depression each year. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for people age ten to 24. Unfortunately, about 80 percent of people with clinical depression don’t receive treatment. But the good news is that there are safe, legal ways to treat depression. Doctors say a combination of the right medication and counseling is the best way to treat depression, and that with this treatment, almost all depressed people will improve.