Marijuana Treatment for Depression

Marijuana and depression have a sort of love-hate relationship. Some experts believe that marijuana can lessen the effects of depression. Others say using it can cause depression.

The Mayo Clinic says the two conditions often accompany each other. However, there’s just not enough evidence to prove that marijuana – or cannabis – can cause depression. The jury’s still out.

According to Fox News, a study showed that at low doses, marijuana is a powerful antidepressant. However, if an individual uses high doses, the symptoms of depression actually get markedly worse.

When an individual smokes marijuana at low doses, the active ingredient in the plant, THC, increases serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates the mood. The effect is similar to the one achieved by taking SSRI antidepressants such as Prozac.

The study to which Fox referred appeared in the October 24, 2007 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience and used laboratory rats as subjects. The research was conducted by staff members from McGill University, Le Centre de Recherche Fernand Seguin Hopital in Quebec, and l’Universite de Montreal in the city of the same name.

The researchers injected the rats in the study with a synthetic cannabinoid. They followed up by testing the animals for so-called “depression” by using a standard technique known as the forced swim test.

When THC is smoked at high dosages, the opposite mental state occurs. Depression can get worse, and other psychiatric conditions such as psychoses might appear. During the study, researchers witnessed an antidepressant effect from the cannabinoids. The neurons that make serotonin and affect mood experienced an increased in activity as well. Upping the cannabinoid dosage above a certain point, however, obliterated any benefits from the drug.

The link between marijuana and reducing the symptoms of depression is the intoxicating effects of the plant. Scientists believe this is because of the chemical similarity of marijuana and natural chemicals in the brain called endo-cannabinoids. The human body releases these substances when it experiences pain or extreme stress.

By utilizing structures known as cannabinoid CB1 receptions, endo-cannabinoids are able to interact with the brain. Results of the rat study suggest that these receptors directly affect the cells that manufacture serotonin.

Does this mean that if marijuana use were legal in all states, an individual could count on using the plant in some way to relieve depression? Hardly. Probably the biggest reason is that it’s so difficult to control the dosage of natural marijuana. This is particularly true when it’s smoked, perhaps the only practical way to use it as an antidepressant. The greatest value of this study might be that it suggests that excessive use of cannabis by people who are already depressed could result in psychosis.

If the medical community ever recognizes the plant as a legitimate treatment for depression, patients will still face the hurdle of getting their hands on it. According to ProCon.org, 14 states have approved the use of medical marijuana. Most assess an identification card fee. The possession limits also vary greatly from one state on the list to another. All 14 states require proof of residency to be considered a qualifying patient for medical marijuana use.


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